Vista follow-up

So, my post about Vista inspired the most comments on any blog post I’ve written, I think (second being the one about being a REALLY SHITTY COMPANY). Its been a week since then, I’ve had a greater chance to use it and I’ve since reinstalled Linux (on a separate partition) on this computer too. A quick confirmation of a few things I think people missed; Firstly, I never said that Vista was better or worse than Gnome, I just pointed out that it’s not bad and has a few features that certain Gnome desktop applications could learn from. Secondly, I also never said I preferred Vista to Gnome – I’m pretty tied to the platform in terms of the coding I do and I do believe that free software and open source development methods are both Good Things. That probably answers about a third of the comments, but I’ll answer each individually now anyway, because I’m in pain and don’t really have the energy to do much else πŸ™‚ (nb: this may also make my answers sound a bit bitter/bitchy) (also nb: this is a very long post)

josh says:

I look forward to your followup after using it for more than a few hours. the first couple of weeks I was lulled into thinking it wasn’t as bad as all the hype. The Ui is much, much nicer than XP afterall.

But soon enough you will realize Vista is truely terrible. My brand new high end Dell laptop runs slower than my 4 year old dell laptop running XP. SP1 simply refuses to install on it after bluescreening several times during the application.

MS should seriously consider pulling vista.

Well josh, what can I say to that? I still don’t think Vista is truly terrible and it performs at least as well as XP did on this machine. It’s funny how when Linux fails on hardware compatability, it’s ok, but when Vista fails, it’s cause to pull the entire operating system… Either way, I suggest that given you bought your machine from Dell, you should’ve taken advantage of their excellent customer support. Or, given you paid for Vista (you did, right?) that you take advantage of their support. Or a combination of both.

iain says:

You think wmp is good?
I couldn’t get any of it to work at all.
It played mp3s on the hard drive and that was about it
Trying to import from a usb key was hopelessly complicated, and you couldn’t play them off the key.

And just wait til you’ve installed a few applications, the UAC will start getting very annoying very quickly, and it just keeps getting slower and slower.

That was my impression after using it on a not newly installed laptop for a weekend. The laptop user is constantly complaining about how bad it is.

I suggest trying it on one of your own machines sometime. I always find using someone else’s machine terribly frustrating, I think it’s hard to judge something when someone else has been working hard messing it up/customising it to their taste. WMP worked (and still works) perfectly for me and all my media is on an external disk, which I guess is kind of like a USB key… And UAC is still just as nippy as it was when I first installed. Certainly a lot quicker than having to type my password in Ubuntu. Not to say that this makes Ubuntu/Vista better/worse, just a statement of fact.

Alex says:

I use both Vista and Gnome regularly and i disagreed about several points.

I never use WMP 11, at the end of the day it just seems like it neither plays video or audio well. For my music jukebox player I expect AAC to just work out of the box and WMP most certainly doesn’t support that. Yes I’m used to codec fishing on GNU/Linux but on windows most competing players support it just fine (Songbird, foobar, WinAmp, iTunes, etc. (3 of these 4 also support Ogg Vorbis and FLAC out of the box too.)) As far as video goes It simply doesn’t have the troubleshooting features that MPC or VideoLan has out of the box. And considering that Microsoft wrote a reference implementation of MPEG-4 (there were two) there is no reason for MPEG-4 support to be missing (as far as patents go, my best guess is that most of the MPEG-4 part 2 patents also apply to WMV/VC1).

As far as IE7 goes, I actually miss the extra toolbar stuff. If I don’t use a button I remove it from my Firefox toolbar and put stuff I actually use there. My firefox toolbar is one of the densest areas of useful buttons anywhere on my computer with the exception of the start menu.

As far as “Windows Explorer doing a very good job of automatically selecting particular views for different folders” WMP almost always false positives to the Music view, sometimes it seems like one solitary music file in a large folder will trigger it. And I can’t for the life of me figure out how to stop it from autodetecting. on new folders. And even when it is correct it forces fields I don’t use on me (like Rating) and hides fields I like (like Size and MTime), I can only seem to change these on a per folder basis. And on some files it doesn’t detect the tags even though my audio player does.

I do wonder about the legality of some of the players you mention, but fair point. That said, it doesn’t take much effort to find and install ffdshow (about the same effort it takes to install gstreamer-plugins-*/ffmpeg and WMP11 certainly has a superior interface to all the other applications you mention, and that’s important to me. As for trouble-shooting features, I really don’t know, I didn’t have any trouble to shoot. Last time I tried WinAmp, it prompted you to install a load of advertising nonsense, and let’s not even get into iTunes… Songbird might be cool, I should probably give that a try at some point, but then WMP pretty much fits my needs and it’s pretty and fits with the rest of the Vista interface, so what’s the point?

IE7 I’ll concede isn’t great, but it does a lot of things well. I *still* think the interface is the best of most available browsers, by default. Its lack of customisability sucks, as do some of its ‘features’, say, for example, the inability to download files without randomly corrupting them… But then you see the eye-sore that is Firefox in Windows, Safari with its Mac-style interface and blurry fonts… No competition.

I’ve not really run into this problem with explorer that you mention, but that doesn’t sound good at all – I do still wish Nautilus was a bit cleverer with its usage of screen-space though. It could do with learning a few UI lessons from Explorer. I should probably file bugs instead of whinging…

tm says:

Nice entry – great work, and with constructive suggestions! It also looks that most of stuff in nautilus could be easily enhanced (say, adjusting defaults for starters) As for the rhythmbox – although i do have “text beside icons” for toolbars, it seems to work quite well till about 500 pixels in height

just a GNOME user πŸ™‚

Thanks tm πŸ™‚ Yes, most of the things that really bother me could very easily be changed. I guess it’s a case of somebody actually doing the work to justify said changes though. But Rhythmbox is really, really bad (in terms of UI – great otherwise!)

jpobst says:

Thanks very much for the nice writeup. All too often the OSS community dismisses something for political/egotistical reasons (M$ $UCK$!), when instead we need to look at the alternatives, find out what they do better than us, and work to fix our shortcomings.

Vista is far from perfect, but there are plenty of things that is does right, and we need to learn from what works to make our desktop better.

Spot on.

tf says:

Comparing vista and gnome on a laptop, I find that I always have more room and the desktop does not feel claustrophobic, whereas gnome has a lot of huge buttons wasted blank space and no matter how much I try, I cannot make these things smaller.

The folder views in vista get annoying “very” fast. They always seem to default to image type columns, where I have a folder full of documents and I have columns of assorted exif data. Not only that, it seems to forget folder settings after a while as vista only caches the settings of a certain number of folders so after a while you have to change the settings all over again grrr.

In terms of functionality and consistency I MUCH prefer gnome, but in terms of desktop usage and interface design I prefer Vista

I guess the fact that I’m only using Vista for simple tasks (games, light browsing, media) means I haven’t run into the problems with Explorer that you and Alex mention. I somewhat agree with your final paragraph though. The core Vista apps are *very* nicely designed, and snappy. As soon as you wander a bit off the beaten track, it all starts falling over pretty quick, but still the core apps are nice. Gnome easily beats Vista in terms of consistency, no competition at all.

Mike says:

The review is so glowing (and filled with impressions that are 180 degrees from my experience) that I was waiting for some sort of ironic twist at the end that would turn the post on its head. Is that twist left as an exercise for the reader?

April fool! AREN’T I FUNNY.

zelo says:

After reviewing the OS, try to review office suits (office 2k7 vs. openoffice, abiword), PIM (outlook 2k7 vs Evolution) and development tools (visual studio 2k8 vs eclipse, VIM, Emacs, Anjuta). Media center solution, etc.
You’ll be surprised how incredibly high are the odds stacked against gnome and the free software stack

I don’t think I would be surprised (yes, they are better), but I’m not going to pay for any of that software to find out πŸ™‚ Anjuta is really coming along though, I find it more comfortable to use than Visual Studio (though Visual Studio’s debugger is very impressive).

markrian says:

I’d have to agree with zelo. I’d say, controversially, almost all desktop OSS software is less usable than proprietary stuff. The trade-off, of course, being between freedom and usability.

Such distinctions on things such as security, code quality and the like aren’t so obvious.

This blog post should be titled “Software with thorough usability research and testing in “actually pretty usable” shocker!”.

I thoroughly disagree with this. The logic behind this not only makes the assumption that zero research goes into OSS software (which, hey, might be the case in a lot of situations, but then it’s also the case in a lot of proprietary software too), but that OSS software can’t benefit from the research that goes into proprietary software. What I do tend to find is the larger applications, such as media players, groupware/PIM suites, office suites, etc. tend to have superior proprietary products, but OSS wins thoroughly for the smaller things. And browsers.

jku says:

> It’s certainly a LOT faster than the Gnome desktop I removed.

The reason many people think Windows is slow as hell is the antivirus crap (not to mention the preinstalled annoyances)… A week ago I disabled always-on AV on my moms machine (as she understands the implications and has safe habits) and suddenly the excruciatingly slow machine turned into a fairly fast computer.

Oh, about Windows Mail: the Import/Export functionality is still the same shit as it has always been with the free offerings: don’t even think about e.g. importing stuff from Outlook on one computer to Mail on another… because that, apparently, is such an outlandish idea that it’s not supported.

Funny, the people that would theoretically benefit from AV software are always the people for whom it makes only a negative difference anyway, I find… Reminds me of a time at uni where a flat-mate had a problem with their laptop and as I was going to take a look, the laptop took a full FIVE minutes to get to the desktop. Of course, all sorts of adverts and crap in the systray and so on were there… I refrained from commenting.

Still, since reinstalling Ubuntu, Gnome is a lot faster for me now – I’ve gone with 64-bit and gotten rid of a couple of things, that accounts for some, but I do wonder where the slow-down was coming from… Perhaps my local GConf directory had spiralled out of control, or recently used files? Or perhaps my hundreds of megabytes of thumbnails? Unfortunately, Gnome has its own similar problems πŸ™ I’ll have to take back some praise from Windows Mail, incidentally, as its filter function arbitrarily doesn’t work with IMAP folders. Which makes it useless for anything but my GMail account.

fraggle says:

I think you should check your calendar. April Fool’s is next monday.

Actually, it was Tuesday… But perhaps this is a very subtle joke?

nice says:

Very nice article Chris. From my point of view it is important to have a look on other platforms, get an idea what they do better and try to evaluate what could be usefull for the linux world. I have to agree with two things regarding to your posting:

1: Speed:
Gnome ist damn slow. I’ve installed Gnome and Windows XP on an old Toshiba (1.4 Ghz) notebook and compared the performance. It is amazing Windows is much more responsive than Gnome. Youtube (flash) works in fullscreen mode with no problem, while Gnome+Youtube suckst to hell getting only stuttering video.

2: Space:
Gnome wastes so much space on smaller resolutions. You have big buttons, wasted free space between the buttons, you can’t resize it to your needs. The space where you really work on is very very limited. With Windows everything seems to be thiny and not so bloated. Best example on gnome side ist Brasero. You have free space over and over the whole application. It seems like it is made for tapping on the buttons with your fingers.

It’s a little unfair to compare YouTube performance, as Adobe’s Linux flash is atrociously bad. At least on my computer, flash is noticeably faster under wine than it is in native Linux. But Gnome could be nippier. Yes, space-wastage does seem to be a bit of an issue with Gnome… Some apps are fine, but others (Nautilus, Epiphany (by default), Rhythmbox, Brasero…) seem to almost go out of their way to waste space. I’m sounding like a broken record now, so I’ll try not to bring up this point again.

mallum says:


Please don’t fire me πŸ™‚

Sander says:

Nice post! I’ve been using Vista for some time too now. Did a similar post some months ago: [Link] Still feel more at home and stable in Ubuntu.

There are some very nice apps for Windows, like iTunes, Safari and Enso from Humanized.

It isn’t even that bad as a development environment, except for the lack of good package management. All tools you’re used to in Linux are available for Windows too (using Emacs, the JDK, Cygwin and Mingw32 here), and some people even prefer Microsoft’s IDE. I miss some GNOME apps though, it would be great to have them here.

I’ve read that Microsoft wants to make Windows the best OS for free software development. Would be nice if they succeed — as far as I know Apple did a nice job.

hmm, although we both agree that Vista is pretty nice, I think we disagree on the details. I think iTunes and Safari are pretty awful (and even if they were good, Apple just beg you to hate them with their obnoxious advertising) and I don’t think Windows makes a good development environment, at least not for OSS. Certainly though, if they’re trying to make it better, more power to them – it’d be better for all of us.

z_pod says:

I tried to install Vista UE in my vaio. I ended up with 0 network, nice 640x480x16 graphics and 0 sound. Fortunately I had a mandriva 2008 one cd at hand so I could get to the vaio site and download a solid 80 Mb driver package for Vista (while I was waiting I could enjoy myself listening to some good music from my collection and check some nice pics at 1280x800x24, I also watched a good divx trailer). Tried drivers installation, which for some reason ended up in pain. I am strill trying to get my wireless to work….
I’d say Vista is not ready for the desktop, yet. Going to nuke it quickly.

Just my 2 cents..


See my reply to iain above. It’s very possible to have equally bad experiences with Linux, I don’t think this is really a fair evaluation.

Maxo says:

My school went Vista in the Computer building, and that was a nightmare. Even some nice and powerful machines took a long time to boot and interacting with the OS was a real chore. That was my first impression of Vista.
Then I needed Windows to do some school work, and my school offered Vsita for free, so I installed it in a small partition on my home machine. My experience on my home machine is similar to yours. Install was fast and easy. Using the desktop is quick and sleek. It also feels very professional. The only install of Vista I’ve enjoyed is the one on my home machine. The installs here at work have left a lot to be desired.
On the other hand, my experience with Gnome on my home machine is also very pleasing, and I much prefer it to Windows XP & Vista, though all OSes have their pluses and minuses.

It seems businesses/institutions can never get installs right. My former university (Southampton University), although it was great, had terrible lab builds. Funnily, there were Linux, Mac, XP and Vista machines and pretty much all of them were terrible, compared to the same OS installed competently (no offense meant to anyone of course, administering many computers is a hard job and there’s lot of bureaucracy involved too).

jeff says:

I think I agree with you as far as desktop-wide search.

But yea, generally if I want to lookup an email from someone, I just start Evolution and search. If I want to search for an mp3/ogg, I launch Banshee and search.

I think that it is more important for desktop applications to have their own search functionality than to have desktop-wide search. And lets face it, generic indexers will never be able to replace tailored search support in applications.

100% fact. I’ll take back this opinion when any desktop-wide search proves it wrong πŸ™‚

Henry says:

Co-sign on rhythmbox’s UI. I use a 12″ notebook with a 1024×768 res, and rhythmbox is unusable on it. It doesn’t even fit widthwise, and so much space is used by the toolbars that you can see about 5 lines of the db and another 5 lines of the playlist. I sure hope it doesn’t become an official Gnome DE component in its current state.

I tried Banshee (svn trunk) recently and found, although there were bits that weren’t great (like the menus, for example), the main interface is quite nicely implemented. The option of being able to put the browser vertically is a good idea, and integrating all the controls on a single, compact toolbar is another one too. If any Rhythmbox devs are reading, what’s up with this? Would you be accepting of patches that made the interface a bit more sane?

troll says:

Yeah WMP is awesome. Some 5+ years ahead development if you compare to the open source crap that has no libraries, does not integrate video AND media playing properly, and most of the UIs are like shuttle cockpits (amarok cough cough)


remm says:

This didn’t make any sense to me, starting with the most glaring nonsense about WMP. I use Windows (XP) a lot, but I am not using this piece of junk (instead relying on vlc, like on Linux, which supports everything without hassles and drm). Everything else in the post is similar, and doesn’t make any sense to me either. I have seen Vista in action, and it is a totally useless OS besides the fancy toyish look which gets old two days later. BTW, are you working at Novell ?

Well, the fact that you use VLC and judge an operating system purely on sight pretty much says it all really. Is expressing opinion one of the first steps to working at Novell?

sdf says:

if ie7 renders FASTER than ff3b4 for you, there’s something wrong with your ff install. seriously, dude. i have tried both on over twenty systems (at work) and ff reliably left ie7 in the dust.

Ah, I’ve been looking forward to following this one up. IE7’s impression of speed is superior to that of Firefox, and I’ve spent a while (well, 5 minutes?) on figuring out why. It comes down to three things, really; Firstly, it doesn’t choke massively on certain fairly common features (say, static backgrounds (go to pretty much any myspace page)); Secondly, it’s UI and renderer run in separate threads so the UI remains responsive, regardless of the page loaded (this one is particularly important); Thirdly, it doesn’t choke with plug-ins. If you find a page that combines all three of these things (say, a large myspace page with plenty of embedded flash and a static background), you’ll find that IE7 handles it in its stride, where as Firefox becomes unusable.

Synthetic speed tests are useless if they miss cases like this. Being five times as fast as something that’s already fast doesn’t make a huge amount of odds in terms of impression. However, being EXTREMELY slow in certain cases does. Also, Firefox is a real eye-sore in Vista πŸ™

Chris says:

I see both positive and negative things in Vista. It seems quite stable and fast on Core 2 Duo machines, however it uses too much memory.

Fast user switching on Vista is fast and simple while in Gnome it is very clumsy.

Unfortunately there is no UI consistency in Vista while Gnome rocks here. Gnome also is much unintrusive than Vista: it seems the Gnome developers really has done a good job here.

Regarding desktop-wide search: it is better implemented in Vista while Gnome offers a half-baked solution.

Shutting down while having apps open shows an overview of the open apps so you have a chance to save your work before closing. Such a thing would be nice for Gnome to have.

Overall, the Gnome environment is more pleasant to work in – for me.

Agreed with everything said here, including Gnome being a more pleasant environment. I’ve not seen Vista take up too much memory, though, I’ll have to take your word for that.

JoΓ£o Rocha says:

Vista doesn’t detect the hardware. The hardware makes sure it is detected by Vista.

In Soviet Russia…

read-the-HIG says:

Dude! The text under the icons in the toolbar are there for a reason! When using Windows, I’m always asking myself: “What’s this little icon?”… and then I have to place my mouse cursor on top of it, and wait a whole second for the tooltip to appear…

Besides, you can hide the text in the gnome settings.

I understand it’s there for a reason, but I don’t think text-under-icons should be the default. I’ve really not found myself ever asking ‘what does this button do?’ in Vista at all (and rarely in Gnome) – and if there’s any uncertainty, you can click it, or hover over it. I don’t think one-shot destructive actions should be on a toolbar, so I don’t see why every button should be labelled. Sure, have the option, but perhaps default to text-beside-icons and have apps correctly mark ‘important’ buttons?

The end.


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