It has been more than 16 months since Windows Vista was first sold to consumers. Since then, Vista has developed a reputation that has been less than stellar.
Whether Vista is a success or a failure depends on who's making the assessment. Microsoft says it has sold more than 140 million copies—most of them pre-installed on new PCs—and that it's starting to gain a foothold in the traditionally conservative business market.
Many tech bloggers and pundits will tell you it’s a disaster, with users suffering through nasty bugs and poorly thought-out features. Some even blame Vista for the steady rise of Apple’s Macintosh market share.
Most users I talk to give mixed reports. Some have no problem with Vista, and many even—gasp!—like it. Others hate it and ask me whether they can fall back to Windows XP on the new PC they just bought.
The fact is that Windows Vista, installed properly on a machine with hardware powerful enough to support it, works quite well. Many of the problems people have with it come from either a) buggy hardware drivers that haven’t been updated; b) the junkware that most mainstream PC makers put on computers sold at retail or online; or c) attempts to make it work with outdated peripherals and software.
The recent release of Vista’s first service pack—a roll-up of tweaks, security patches and bug fixes—smoothed out a lot of bugs. And it has been long enough that hardware developers have worked the kinks out of flawed drivers that were released early in Vista’s life cycle.
The issue of junkware remains a problem. But even that has gotten better in a couple of ways. Vendors such as Dell and Sony offer ways to opt out of junkware on some of their machines. And the software they do include has, as is the case with drivers, been improved.
So, the outlook for Windows Vista is rosier than it was earlier. If you need a new computer and have been holding out, waiting for Vista to mature a bit, the time may have arrived to make your move.
But—and you knew there was a “but”, didn't you?—there's another factor to consider. Coming soon to a PC near you is the next version of Microsoft’s operating system. Currently known as Windows 7, it’s under development and an initial version, dubbed Milestone 1, has been quietly released to select partners. Windows 7 is on a fast track, as Microsoft is determined not to let more than five years go by between OS releases, as happened with Vista.
The company has said its target date for Windows 7 is about three years after the release of Windows Vista, though development and quality issues could delay or accelerate that. Vista was released to manufacturing in late 2006, sold to businesses in November 2006, and offered to consumers in January 2007. That means you could probably expect a Windows 7 release—provided Microsoft keeps to its timetable, something it usually doesn't do with major OS releases—in late 2009 or early 2010.
Frankly, I’ll stake my money on a mid-2010 consumer release. That gives Microsoft some time to polish Windows 7 to the point that it’s not as problematic as Vista was, but still gets it out of the door in a reasonable time frame.
Exactly what will be in Windows 7 remains unclear. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has spoken generally about its features. At a recent event in Japan, he talked about making it easier to synchronize data and settings between different machines; about making Windows work better with mobile phones; about its integration with Microsoft’s Windows Live Web services.
But he also described Windows 7 as being more efficient, using less power, and even needing less memory. If so, it would be the first version of Windows that didn’t require significantly more powerful hardware to run well.
Computer hardware is powerful enough that you don’t need to replace it as often. With that in mind, and with Windows 7 possibly available as early as next year, should you wait to buy a new computer, skipping Vista completely?
At this point, I’d say no, for several reasons:
• See my earlier points about Vista’s friendlier landscape
• Any computer you buy now will be able to run Windows 7 just fine. In fact, I’d bet any computer bought in the last two years will probably be able to handle Windows 7.
• There's no solid way of knowing just when Windows 7 will be out. My usual mantra applies: If you need a new computer now, buy a new computer now. Don’t wait for something new to come down the road, because there’s always something new.
You'll wait forever.
©2008/The New York Times