Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vista Failure: A reason for celebration

Apple is selling record numbers of computers, it has gotten to 8% market share. Ubuntu launched "Gutsy Gibbon" with the cool 3D interface Compiz Fusion, Ubuntu also cracked Dell and is now a preinstalled O.S. in Dellland, users all over the world keep demanding XP in their computers rather than Vista, which still is plagued with incompatibilities, even 100% userland applications like Firefox are able to "blue screen of death" it, and I am still thinking of Jim Louderback, one of Vista's major media cheerleaders deserted it.

Despite all the media spin [ that I will speak about ], we can say that Vista is a failure and Microsoft's insistence in shoving it to users is creating so much frustration that many users are divorcing Microsoft to discover that Mac OS X is very cool and that Linux is actually usable.

Why is Vista so unsuccessful?

In the above link [ incompatibilities ], we begin to get an answer: Vista requires to do things differently, both for users and vendors.

It could be said that this is the price of any progress, but is Vista any better than, let's say, XP? There are many ways to compare how good (or bad!) Vista is relative to XP. Is it easier to use? faster? allows better hardware? is it at least less vulnerable to virii and worms and all kinds of nasty intrusions?

My wife uses computers 100% of her working time, although her work is not technical, she is just a user. Since her old laptop wasn't up to her demands, we bought an excellent HP Turion dual core with 2 Gb of Ram around February. Naturally, it came with Vista Premium preinstalled. Ever the techno-adventurer, I advised her to try to get used to the new way to do things in Vista that she may ultimately like it, because if she ran into trouble, I was volunteering to help her (so that I could have first hand Vista experience). Well, it didn't work for her, she got tired of not having the things were she was used to for no good reason. In the absence of any benefit, there was no reason to insist in Vista's, she asked me to install XP. Oh! amazing!, the speed jump was extraordinary, really! I had no idea how fast, smooth, responsive, this laptop could be.

Peter Guttman explains in full technical detail what's the matter with Vista's performance. The problem is that Vista spares no effort to control the user, it makes so much effort on enforcing the restrictions on usage that media companies demand, that it renders the Operating System, performance wise, defective by design [ I like the phrase very much, you may also go to the site ]. The computing power is spent distrusting the user, distrusting what he installs in the computer. That's why it is inherently slower and requires more resources (computing power, memory, disk space, etc), not to please the user, but to restrict him more effectively.

With all the distrust even among hardware devices in the computer, to the point that if Vista doesn't like a device then it sends "tilt bits" that command all other devices to cease to function; naturally the drivers are also harder to make; so, like [ incompatibilities ] tell us, companies that otherwise might offer drivers for the new Operating System for products just one year old, may not even bother, too hard. Others, less smart vendors, may think that since drivers for Vista and older Microsoft Windows are so different, and supposedly Vista is the future, then they shouldn't even bother to develop the drivers for the older Windows.

The same situation regarding hardware drivers apply to Vista applications, albeit in a not so acute way; but Microsoft insists at it: Microsoft refused to back port DirectX 10 to XP, and it argued many excuses, but in the end, it is all bullshit:

For instance, like "The Inquirer" reported in July, [ thanks sgrady @ investorvillage ], apparently good technical reasons like the incapability of XP to virtualize memory prevented XP from being able to run full specification of DirectX 10. But since nVidia sort of never really cared much about DirectX 10 [ opposed to ATI that bent over backwards and got out of its ways to be the prime partner of Microsoft with Vista and DirectX 10 ], never implemented this feature, so, what did Microsoft do?, it made memory virtualization optional [ tossing away ATI's extra effort ]. So, Microsoft compromises everything to get nVidia on board with DirectX 10, but XP compability? out of the question. This demonstrates that Microsoft routinely exercises its power over its users, treat them like pawns.

Microsoft promised that Vista was going to be a secure Operating System, and it really had it going to become a secure O.S., after all, the fundamental principle of its construction was distrust.

But just like repeated accounts report, Vista crashes very often. The dim-witted Fuad Abazovic generated news by blaming Firefox on Vista blue screens of death. The guy is a moron, because in no way it could be blamed an application that doesn't have any privileged driver code, totally "userland" like Firefox, for any Operating System crashing; on the other hand, if decidedly non-malicious userland applications may drag Vista into a blue screen of death, what is possible for malware?, that's the real news.

Userland applications crash Vista. It can't be any other way. I've spoken repeatedly about the architectural deficiencies of Windows [ you may read the articles indexed by this post ], so no point in repeating them here. While Vista can be very obnoxious in restricting the users, it is the same shit when it comes to protecting him from malware. So, I must amend my previous assertion that the fundamental principle of Vista is distrust to make it distrust of the user!

Media Spin

In our technical world, Microsoft is a giant. Naturally, media companies must bend their ethical principles of journalistic integrity to the practicalities of marketing dollars. I think no magazine as big as PcMagazine may be as big without Microsoft money. Since they can not outright lie regarding the true merits of Microsoft products, because they would lose credibility, then they do the next best thing: to sugar coat as much as possible the shortcomings, to emphasize the few advantages as essential, to discredit criticism.

I invite to read Jim Louderback's farewell editorial in PcMagazine, even though it dates to August:

I've been a big proponent of the new OS over the past few months, [ and very vocal, being the editor of PcMagazine, ] even going so far as loading it onto most of my computers and spending hours tweaking and optimizing it. So why, nine months after launch, am I so frustrated? The litany of what doesn't work and what still frustrates me stretches on endlessly.

Take sleep mode, for example. Vista promised a new low-power sleep mode that would save energy yet enable nearly instantaneous resume. Poppycock. The brand-new dual-core system I built a few months ago totters off to sleep but never returns. I have to cold-start it to bring it back. This after replacing virtually every driver inside. It's gotten so bad that I've actually nicknamed it Chip Van Winkle [ a mention to the fictional character "Rip Van Winkle"]. And I've nicknamed my primary Dell notebook Philip Marlowe [ the main character of "The Big Sleep" and "The Long Goodbye" ].

But it's not just the long sleep. My home notebook acts as if it comes from Starbucks rather than HP [ that is, very hot? ]. It used to snooze—but now, after a recent Vista update, it never goes to sleep at all. Its new nickname: Compuccino
I've never read such a devastating critique of a flagship Microsoft product by someone as encumbered as Jim Louderback while editor of PcMagazine, I find no coincidence on the fact that he was leaving, on the contrary, I think the very reason we could afford such "sincerity" was that he cut loose, at least temporarily, from Microsoft advertising budgets.

The [ incompatibilities ] article mentions something very worrysome: Products certified for Vista don't need to be full-featured in Vista, they merely must be able to offer any functionality. That is misleading, but both vendors and Microsoft are partners in this scam. In any case, this is more marketing spin, another example of how it is possible to bend the facts to make them fit into a description like 'Certified for Windows Vista'.

Please, dear visitor, do not fall into the media spin/marketing trap!


In any case, Microsoft wields a lot of power over us and we are in varying degree forced to use whatever it wants us to use while waiving rights in the process. This power stems from the mass of users, and that's where Vista helps, because it is forcing users to look for alternatives, and the users are actually finding them.

In a previous article I explained that Vista is Microsoft's gamble to become the de facto distribution channel of multimedia. The strategy is more or less as follows: There is a phenomenon of convergence in which people is increasingly enjoying multimedia through a computer, but the market hasn't saturated, thus there still are huge opportunities there. To become the primordial distribution channel of multimedia, Microsoft sells to the media companies the illusion that the usage of the content will be as restricted as the media provider wants, thus the emphasis on distrusting the user. Then, the media companies will buy the illusion, and Microsoft will become the primordial distributor. I will next explain that it is a given that Media companies are as stupid as to buy the illusion; the challenge in Microsoft's strategy is that the restrictions will necessarily alienate a large portion of its users; thus, Microsoft is risking its monopoly position to become the primordial media distribution channel.

The media companies are as stupid today as they were when the studios gave Macrovision the complete monopoly on DVDs, in fact, for the most part, they are fighting teeth and nails the technical changes that have obsoleted a great deal of their business practices, buying legislators left and right and promoting aberrant laws that are causing great harm wherever they are enacted; but that is not a problem for the rest of the world, because, as I explained before, this is a process of natural selection, those who are incompetent to live in a world in which bits move freely will be displaced by those who know how to profit from free movement of bits; to fight the free movement of bits is ultimately futile.

Incidentally, all of these topics are important regarding ATI/AMD, Intel and investment in other technology companies. Regarding ATI/AMD in particular, I have written in several occasions: 1, 2, 3

I must thank Jonathan Schwartz [ CEO of Sun Microsystems ] from convincing me that the future is not as gloomy as I though it was, with Media companies purchasing legislators to take essential freedoms away from people. The following words awakened me to the realization that those who fight technical developments will just be displaced, from his blog, "Better Honest Than Polite":
I found myself talking to a group of media company CEO's. I asked a simple question, "do you have a general [legal] counsel reporting to you?" The answer was universally, yes.
But then I asked a harder question: "Do you have a chief technology officer reporting to you?"
[...M] ost did not[, w]hich seems backward for a media company. Why?
Because convergence isn't a legal phenomenon. It's a technical and social phenomena first and foremost - that's why you can't talk about media without talking about software (what is an MP3? AAC? Java? Flash?). You can't talk about distribution without talking about free media, social networking or mobile devices (technical assets that reach more of the planet than all other network outlets). Ask Eric [Schmidt, CEO of Google] or Terry [Semel, Yahoo] (or Steve [Jobs, Apple?] or Mark [there is another Mark, Shuttleworth, Ubuntu] if they have CTO's reporting to them. Of course they do, they're media companies using technology to win. Or vice versa. It doesn't matter, they've converged.
Which brings me to a simple, and heretical conclusion - for which I'm sure I'll be apologizing for years to come. But I'd rather be honest than polite.

Media company CEO's without a CTO on their staff should prepare to be acquired or broken up - they are fighting the future rather than monetizing it. [ My emphasis ]

Everybody wants to use computers to enjoy multimedia, audio, video, games, and they are the natural device to enjoy content: Play it whenever you want, the fragment you want, with whoever you want, etc. that can only be accomplished by programmable, configurable, general purpose computers. Nevertheless, media companies think that people is going to use computers for purposes at which mono-application devices such as a TV set are better suited...

Really, there are reasons to think that enough users are discovering that Windows just doesn't work. Windows is a phenomenon of mass-conditioning of people. People has been conditioned by Microsoft to accept that computers crash every once in a while. That they must protect from Virus. That they are cranky and complicated.

Mac OS X dispels all of those assumptions, so, I guess that other than being locked by an abusive vendor as Apple into a non-mainstream Operating System and its lack of choice, Apple computers are superior to Microsoft. And there is yet another option, to roll up the technical sleeves and go Linux.

Under the hood, both Mac OS X and Linux are Unix. I have been trying to track a phrase that I attributed to Ken Thompson, that in the early eighties was asked what the Operating System of the new millenium was going to be, and he replied that he didn't know what the name was going to be, but that for sure it was going to be Unix. Operating Systems is something that was figured out over three decades ago, it is Unix. Just like Henry Spencer said, "Those who do not understand UNIX are condemned to reinvent it, poorly", but of course, Unix has a catch: It appeals to the technically oriented people, because it is them who can make the most of it and that makes it disagreeable for the less technically oriented. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because the technically oriented people, thanks to the innovation of the Free/Open Source model for Software Engineering, end up developing Operating Systems and applications so good that they inexorably displace the applications developed through less efficient models [ Note: Mac OS X has roots both in the classical Unix tradition that in modern language would be called Free/Open Source; is itself a derivative of Free/Open Source Operating Systems. ].

With users increasingly aware that computers may "just work", a small migration of users to Unix/Linux may empower the developers of Free/Open Source software with more market awareness, and more money. Those extra resources may express in increased migrations; that is, a virtuous cycle that may turn into a runaway growth of software and freedom development. To be able to see the dawn of a better era is a privilege worthy of celebration.


howling2929 said...


I will not discuss the DRM aspects of your article.

But I'll point out that all MS OSes after Win95 at launch have been slower, crappier and less compatible than the ones before, and just after a while, strout their stuff.

Do you remember when many gamers refused to go to XP and stayen in Win98 because of XPs HW demands?

My Vista Machine is configured to look just like XP, but is Vista all the way. You shoud have tried doing that for your wife. I did for one of my cousins, and now he is going along just fine.

For what is under Vista's Hood, I give you these two neat articles from Ars Technica:

Is this enough to warrant the pains? Will Vista be the next ME? Only time will tell. I know That next Year I am finally (waiitng since Oct 2005) getting my MacBook, and you know it will dual boot for a loooong time.

About your two quotations, you actully got them wrong. the one from Ken Thompson was:

«I do not know what the OS of the future will be like, but I do know that its name will be Unix». This was told to me by our mutual (and respected) friend CdB.

The other quote has been paraphrased time and again, but the root of it is "All those who do not understand VMS (or was it multics, I am 99% sure it was VMS) are doomed to reinvent it, badly"


Eddie said...

Do you remember when many gamers refused to go to XP and stayen in Win98 because of XPs HW demands?

Sure, I remember. And that was a valid reason not to move to XP when it was launched. Eventually, the line NT/2000/XP proved too much superior to 95/98/Me. But there isn't even today good reasons to use XP, which is just a repackaging of 2000 of dubious merit.

2000 could have been updated, but again, since Microsoft's plans were to force people into XP, 2000 has suffered abandonment.

I said in the article that the price of progress is change. But you seem to say that change is evidence of progress.

My Vista Machine is configured to look just like XP

That's very foolish, you should rather have an XP machine, then. 'cos it is a non-controversial fact that Vista is substantially slower. If you are to compare Vista to XP, let us know what are the advantages you see in Vista, not that you can tweak it to look like XP.

Regarding theoretical Vista advantages, I point you to other Microsoft attempts at innovation: Clippy (the "assistant" in Office), Rover (the XP search dog). The truth is that Microsoft introduces features in Windows so poorly implemented, that you are better off without them. Nevertheless, they are marketed incessantly.

Regarding the quotations,

How was Thompson going to predict a name but not an OS? he predicted the OS but he couldn't know how is it that it was going to be called