On Vista


Everyone knew this was going to be an interesting one to watch. Die-hard Microsoft fans were sure Vista would be the final nail in the Open Source coffin, die-hard Linux fans were sure that the release would be Microsoft’s demise. Myself - I’m sitting and enjoying the show.

It’s always very interesting to show Beryl to non-Linux users. They are almost always highly impressed, and are often completely in shock that Linux is a graphical system - many people still believe Linux is command-line only. But the funniest thing is that they always seem to care more about useless, spinning, transparent desktop cubes than, say, security. This holds for Vista’s flashy new graphics, as well - mainstream media seems to be focusing on Vista’s GUI a lot more than they are about its controversial new security features. Very interesting, keeping in mind that Windows has never been “not pretty enough” in consumer’s eyes, but rather too unstable or virus-prone.

Controversial security? Yup. And I’m not even talking about the actually controversy-worth topics, like DRM… I’m talking about the system asking if you’re sure you want to set the clock. I’ve heard more noise about this than the fact that all of Vista’s new features pale in comparison to 7-year-old OS X which, incidentally, also “asks if you’re sure” that you want to set the clock. Nobody complains about that however. Why? In my opinion - it’s the password prompt.

Just as people complained about Windows XP’s “Fisher-Price” theme, they’re now complaining about being treated like little kids. “Are you sure you want to set your clock?” - how condescending of the operating system. The reason it works well in Linux and OS X is that the system phrases the exact same question completely differently - “You are attempting to run “system-config-date” which requires administrative privileges”. Cryptic, right? I think they changed that for Ubuntu, too (I’m writing this off a Fedora box). But most users won’t have a hard time understanding that this, coupled with the password entry box, means that the system wants to make sure you are indeed someone allowed to set the clock. Hell, I believe that most people won’t have a problem making the logical leap from there to “hmm, perhaps setting the clock (im)properly can really mess up my system”. Either way, it’s much more pleasing than Vista’s seemingly endless, senseless sequences of “Are you sure?” dialog boxes. A password prompt like this tells the user - “You’re opening the hood here, watch your step”, the idea being that the user takes a hint and, realizing he has arrived at a password-protected part of his system, will indeed watch his proverbial step.

But nobody is going to ditch windows over a couple of dialog boxes. There are much more interesting reasons to do that - I’ve heard of much instability, inavailability of drivers, confusions in the user interface… all of the things that Microsoft worked very hard to get rid of when XP was released, making Vista look like a step back. But most of all - it’s the timing. Vista’s 2007 release has given the world time to hear about shiny new Linux distributions, macs that run all of their old software, indexing services at least as powerful as Vista’s (now that WinFS has gone down the drain), more advanced graphical “shinyness” which works on older systems, and the horrors of DRM (thanks for that one, Sony). With nothing really new to give them, a high price tag (because it often includes a new computer), and several years of not being in the habit of buying a new OS, people have very little motivation to upgrade to Vista.

But I don’t think that Microsoft and Windows are going anywhere, anytime soon. I do think Vista’s lost the battle - but to XP. Vista’s launch made people realize how successful XP was as an operating system, and the sheer momentum will keep people there. If Microsoft locks people out of technologies like DirectX 10 by making them Vista-only, this will keep people leaking away to OS X and Linux. But in the immediate future, I don’t think any OS will be taking a serious bite out of the XP userbase.