Sunday, February 13, 2011

Those who don't study Vista are doomed to repeat it.

A few years ago I got a brand new IBM ThinkPad that shipped with Windows Vista. I chose this platform because I had so much luck with an older ThinkPad running XP. The new laptop was in hindsight the best thing that ever happened to me. Because Vista was such a disaster - slow, unstable, unfamiliar, unusable - that I quickly replaced the ThinkPad with an Apple MacBook Air. Which I loved so much, I replaced my Windows XP-hosted desktop development environment with a Mac Mini with a 27" cinema display. And then got an iPad. And then an iPod Nano. Back when wooly mammoths strode my neighborhood I had converted from using a Mac Classic to a Windows box. But now I'm back.

It's possible that Vista might have been an improvement over XP. But who could tell? It was slow, buggy, and unstable. It would hang so severely that I had to not only power cycle the laptop but pull the battery to recover. The interface changes required a lot of effort to learn, which was hampered by the system hanging, crashing, and just plain making it difficult to get stuff done. I really wanted to hang in there with Windows, because my financial and cognitive investment was so high. But the shockingly low quality of the product just made it impossible to do so.

It was for me a Vistapocalypse. I'm a one-man company that relies on good tools to get my work done. I felt betrayed by Microsoft, who had up to that point been a reliable de facto business partner. I sometimes wonder how many tiny shops went out of business because they couldn't turn on a dime like I had to and adopt alternative technology due to reasons of technical expertise, cash-flow, or timing. I was lucky. But the trust was gone.

I eventually did a completely clean install of Windows 7, when that was released much later, on the laptop to get it back into usable form. I turn it on maybe once a month for some business application or another that only runs on Windows. Otherwise, I'm an Apple fanboy now.

As a professional product developer, I think about this a lot. If any company in the world could write functioning software, you would think it would be the largest, most successful, software company in the world. That they botched this, and so badly, gives me reason to pause. There's got to be a whole college course's worth of case studies in this, for both software engineering and business.

Those who don't study Windows Vista are doomed to repeat it.

(From a comment I originally published on io9, the Gawker Media science fiction blog.)

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