Things I actually liked about Windows Vista

Wireless Networking:

This tended to “just work” more than in XP. Specifically, the wireless networking is much better at self-diagnosing issues and either suggesting fixes or repairing connectivity issues automatically.

Power Management:

Another area of improvement over XP, I found it much easier to change power management schemes in Vista than XP. Performance of waking up from hibernate / suspend modes were also quite good, and obviously the power saving under hibernate mode is excellent.

Aero:

Although I was not a fan of how Aero killed system resources, I did like the eyecandy Vista brings to the table (still behind OSX though). The default Aero theme is pretty clean, although a little dark for my tastes. One gripe: Why can’t I change the color of the app bar from black? Why do maximized windows go to a black border even when they are set to be white otherwise?

No “oh where is my XP cd?”:

In XP, you often need to go back to the install CD to install things like less used drivers, and other features. This is a big pain in the ass for unorganized people that haven’t touched their XP cd in a couple of years and it happens to be sitting under a huge pile of garbage in some closet. Vista tends to have all this stuff already installed, so when you want that esoteric driver or bit of functionality all you need to do is check a box. Downside? The huge install size of the OS.

UAC/Security:

Although alot of people (including Mike) complain about UAC, this was 100% the right move by Microsoft. The computer should warn you when something risky is about to be done – most people who browse the web have no idea what popups and random applications are actually doing, or even when they are installing software. UAC is a very good red flag to let you catch when something possibly bad is about to happen, so you can stop it. Its the same reason *nix systems make you run as root to do certain things – you dont want those things to “just happen”.

In general, the security in Vista is much much better than XP in terms of the codebase (less bugs) as well as the general philosophy of how security should be approached from a Windows OS. Job very well done here. In my opinion this is actually the top reason to use Vista.

Multimedia:

In general, Vista is much more media friendly than XP. I had Ultimate installed, and media center is a very cool app – worthwhile for sure. Also, Vista is much more photo and video friendly, doing much more reasonable default things with them than XP. For example, there is a simple difference between XP and Vista’s slideshow funcitonality, but it is a big difference. Also, MS paint has like 2 new features, which is basically double what it had before.

So that’s about it. In my opinion, these pluses didn’t outweigh the huge negatives I experienced with Vista (application compatibility nightmares, driver issues, windows update breaking, horrible performance). Right now? I’m running XP on all my machines, I have Linux on my desktop, but rarely boot into that.

Windows Server 2008 10% faster, uses 2/3 the ram of Vista

So, I hate Windows Vista.

I’ve been spending the past week downgrading my laptop and desktop to XP Pro, but since I know Microsoft isn’t going to support XP forever, I’m in the search for what I’ll be running when the patches dry out. My hope is that Windows 7/Blackcomb/Vienna is going to arrive on time, and that it isn’t horrible, but looking at the trajectory MS has had in the home OS game since XP released, I must say that I don’t think the prospects are promising.

So assuming Windows 7 won’t be the cure to my woes, I wondered what else I could run (and I know some eager puppies are yelling Linux! – calm down, I’m already dualbooting). So the other (main) OSes that Microsoft is currently supporting are Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008.

Lucky me, I am already privy to WS2008 RTM bits, so I downloaded a copy (legit). The hope? That it will be a good alternative to Vista. If it isn’t I will probably be spending alot more time in *nix land.

Since I haven’t seen anyone do it yet, I figured I’d run Vista (Ultimate) against WS 2008 (Standard) in some benchmark tests and give the results here. My hope? WS 2008 will be leaner and faster (FYI, for Vista vs XP benchmarks, tomshardware has an excellent rundown).

Before I get to results, I should point out that these tests were run on shipping bits for both OSes (fresh installs), so the Vista machine had no patches, including SP1. Tests on Vista SP1 will probably have slightly different numbers, but as PCWorld reports, they are probably worse.

The chart below is the ratio that Vista underperformed WS2008 in each benchmark test (image is scaled down, click it to see high res).

Vista vs WS2008 Benchmarks

PDF of charts are available here.

The full log files from SiSandra are available here.

Notes:

  1. Tests run on AMD Athlon 64 3200+, 1.5 GB RAM, NVidia GeForce 5 FX Series, ASUS K8V Deluxe.
  2. I tried to run PCMark 2005, which ran fine on the WS2008 install, but crashed my Vista machine during the 3D testing portions, so those results aren’t mentioned here. This then is certainly another area where WS 2008 wins – 3D doesn’t crash the machine. Maybe I can get Civilization 4 to run here?
  3. WS2008 only supported resolution up to 1024×768, but vista supports full 1600×1200
  4. Both Vista and WS2008 don’t support my onboard ethernet out of the box

The conclusion?

WS2008 used roughly 2/3 the amount of ram Vista did, which is probably one of the contributors to improved memory performance in WS2008 (about 7.5% average in SiSandra’s tests). Memory access time is noticeably better, especially in terms of the latency of access at higher ranges.

I saw between a 10-15% increase in the speed of real world application running time as well as similar increase in software which runs on a virtual machine, such as .Net.

Benchmarks which are more directly bound to the processor (such as SiSandra’s multimedia tests) are essentially even between machines, no significant edge either way there.

In general, WS2008 feels much more responsive than Vista does – its very noticeable. I think it actually may be good enough to use on my machines – either before or after XP goes out of servicing, but I’ll need to use it more to make a final call. From my initial look, it seems like a much better option for advanced users than Vista.

Which brings one final point. With XP being easier for novice users (it tends to “just work” more often), and WS2008 being the better choice for advanced users (as word gets out), where does this leave Vista. Is it the best choice for anyone?

Linux has better Windows compatibility than Vista

Don’t Screw With My Games:

I have been using Vista for well over a year now (since Beta 1). Of course Vista is slow, its bloated (over 10x the size of XP), aero kills system performance (even though this should be done on the video card), networking is pathetically slow, etc etc. We all know Vista sucks.

But recently my blood has been set to a rolling boil by the fact that most of my games just don’t work in Vista. At all. Its so bad that out of spite I have decided to make a list of games that work better in Linux under Wine than in Vista. These are games that were originally written to run in Windows XP, are broken in Vista, but magically work in Linux.

You are probably wondering what Wine is, so from the authors:

…an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X, OpenGL, and Unix.

Think of Wine as a compatibility layer for running Windows programs. Wine does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code, however Wine can optionally use native Windows DLLs if they are available. Wine provides both a development toolkit for porting Windows source code to Unix as well as a program loader, allowing many unmodified Windows programs to run on x86-based Unixes, including Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, and Solaris.

Which means basically Wine is a program that lets you run Windows programs outside of Windows (on a Mac or Linux, for example). There is also a version of Wine called WineX / Cedega, which is written for playing games. Specifically, WineX supports DirectX. Unlike Wine, Cedega actually costs money, but its still cheap when you compare the cost of it to an actual Vista install. How could a handful of programmers working in their spare time beat thousands of full-time Microsoft employees at their own game (hey Vista only took 5+ years)? A couple of things: 1. the Wine guys are good at what they do. 2. Vista is a full scale train wreck.

All tests were run on the same dual-boot machine. My version of Vista is completely patched, and so are my video card drivers, in case you were wondering. For Linux, I am running Mepis 7.0. The hardware in my machine is: AMD Athlon 64 3200+, 1.5 GB RAM, NVidia GeForce 5 FX Series.

Enough introductions, onto the results.


Test #1 Soldat:

Soldat is a free indy game that has been described as Worms + Counter Strike, its supposed to be fun. I wouldn’t know. I tried to play it and it didn’t work.

Its a game that is still being actively developed, the version I used was from Aug 2007, well after Vista’s release. Even still, I couldn’t get it work on Vista, regardless of the configuration.

On Vista:

I get a grey screen with some red boxes, and some green boxes. Then the screen goes black and the entire machine freezes. I need to reboot. There is absolutely no reason for anything but drivers written by a retarded monkey to take down any operating system. The fact that a very simple game can take Vista down completely is pretty pathetic.

On Wine in Linux (not Cedega):

The default configuration does not work, but unlike in Vista, when Soldat crashes, it doesn’t bring the entire operating system down with it – the process just terminates. To get it to work, I have to turn all the settings way down, but it works… slowly.


Test #2 Darwinia:

So we’ve found one game still under active development. That didn’t work. Whats next? How about one published while Vista was being developed? If compatibility problems came up during Vista development, they should be able to catch and fix the problem. I had exactly the game that fit the bill – I recently bought a title named Darwinia from Circuit City for a whopping $1.40. This game was completed in 2005, but is still patched occasionally.
On Vista:

Similar to Soldat, this game froze Vista cold. The screen goes completely black and its time for a reboot. Patching the game to the most recent version fixed the problem, but the performance is so bad (10 fps) that even when it works its unplayable.

On Wine in Linux (not Cedega):

Again, its shocking to see better application compatibility on Wine than in an actual version of Windows. Although Darwinia fails to run in Vista unpatched, it runs fine under Wine (even at a tolerable speed)


Test #3 Blackthorne in DOSBox:

Blackthorne is one of Blizzard’s first game titles, and its a real classic. In order to play most games from the DOS era (pre Windows 95), its necessary run them on a program called DOSBox, which is a program that fakes being an old computer, which allows old games to run. To read more about either check out my Best Abandonware Games post.

On DOSBox in Vista:

Blackthorne doesn’t run by itself, but this isn’t bad or surprising. DOSBox not working is the problem. In DOSbox, the Blackthorne hangs after outputting a message about the music composer of the game. I try turning off all sound in the game configuration. Still no dice. The DOSBox window hangs, I need to go to Task Manager (ctrl+alt+delete) to kill the window. Hey, this is an improvement. At least I didn’t have to shut off the machine.

On DosBOX in Linux:

Doesn’t run under Wine, also not surprising. In DOSBox there is the same message about the music, but then Blackthorne fails in the way it was supposed to. It prints an error message about the sound card, exits, and puts me back at the prompt. I don’t have to go to Task Manager to kill anything. I don’t have to reboot. Changing SoundBlaster Pro to SoundBlaster solves the issue – the game works with sound.


Test #4 Civilization 4:

Listen, I’ve been playing thee Civilization series for something like 17 years. I love all of them. When I get Vista installed on my computer I’m just praying to myself that everything works ok. PLEASE don’t take this away from me. I might loose it.

On Vista:

Put the CD in and install it. So far so good. When I run it, I get this delightful message:

Civilization 4 Doesn’t Work in Vista

Motherf#&!!! This is more than I can handle. If you [Microsoft] know something is wrong, fix it. Don’t pass the blame onto the game author. You are the one who broke it.

To add insult to injury, actually running the game does what? I’ll give you a guess. If you need a hint, look at what happened with the first two games. Thats right, it hung my computer.

When you mess with Civilization, its personal. I can handle some indy games that are only played by a few thousand people not working, but this is a HUGE title, one of the best sellers in 2005. How can you knowingly break this and claim that with Vista you get “Simply Great Gaming“? I’d have a better time playing with a steaming pool of diarrhea.

Update: With the 1.61 patch, Civ4 no longer freezes, but it like in WineX, it does not recognize the cd labeled “Play / Disc 2″ when in the drive. An improvement, but still not good enough.

On Wine in Linux (not Cedega):

DirectX fails to install. This isn’t cool, but at least it doesn’t hang my machine.

On WineX / Cedega in Linux:

Install works fine. I fire it up, but the game can’t locate the CD so it won’t run. This isn’t cool, but at least it doesn’t require a reboot. Still, a better result than in Vista. This failure was experienced by someone else as well.


Conclusion:

This post is clearly a bit biased. What shocked me though was how easy it was to find games that didn’t run under Vista but did in Linux by using Wine or DOSBox. I’m not a huge gamer, so I don’t have a huge collection of games to try out, but even still with just a few hours of frustrating work, I have been able to show that not only is Linux a reasonable alternative to Vista for gaming (XP is still king though), but also that Linux handles application failures more gracefully than Vista. Every game but Blackthorne crashed my Vista box, this didn’t happen a single time under Linux.

Make your own call.

Update: If you want a more trustworthy review of games in Vista (Beta 2, not RTM), check out Extremetech’s article, or Gamespot (which confirms the Vista / Civ 4 failure). This review is just for my configurations on one machine, and I intentionally didn’t try hard to get broken things to work. You’ll get results more like theirs if you have the patience to track through forums and publisher websites for workarounds.

Update: I recently tested the performance of Vista compared to Windows Server 2008. Windows Server comes out ahead by 33% in ram usage, and 10% in processing speed of benchmarks.

Update: Vista compatibility is bad, but SP1 compatibility is worse.

Update: Things I actually liked about Windows Vista.

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