Why Not Vista

‘Tis the season for lists, and I might as well jump on the bandwagon. Microsoft® is in the midst of convincing everyone that they have to have the new version of Windows® (Vista®). The marketing machine is just starting to gear up, even though Vista isn’t yet shipping to home users, you can’t buy a computer with Vista preinstalled, and corporate customers would have to be out of their minds to do wide-scale deployments of it now.

We’re not going to consider switching to Vista before the summer of 2008 in my school district. Here’s why:

  • We don’t have to. There’s nothing in Vista that we have to have. Windows XP® is a stable, reliable operating system. We’re good at supporting it. Our users are good at using it. Vista doesn’t have any killer applications to make us want to go out and buy it.
  • Vista® logo from Microsoft® siteOur hardware can’t support it. Computers certified as “Vista Capable” have enough horsepower to run Vista. But to get the most out of the new operating system, you have to have a “Vista Premium Ready” computer. The stickler for us is the graphics card. We generally use the graphics adapters that come integrated on the motherboards. They’re cheap and they do everything we need to do. Or, they did.
  • Not Ready for 64 Bit. One of the big advantages to Vista is the new approach to security. By protecting the operating system’s kernel from changes made by applications, Microsoft can get a better handle on dealing with malware. Unfortunately, this would break many device drivers, along with most firewall, anti-virus, and system maintenance programs. So these security measures are only implemented on 64-bit versions of Vista, for which new drivers have to be written anyway. That leaves it up to the device manufacturers to release new drivers. I’d be surprised to see a 64-bit driver for this 12-year-old laser printer sitting next to my desk. We have a lot of old (but still serviceable) peripherals in our schools that aren’t going to work with a 64-bit operating system. It would also scare me to run a new system without decent anti-virus software, especially given…
  • The new TCP stack. Steve Gibson calls it “Vista’s Virgin Stack.” Rather than just reusing someone else’s stack like they did for Windows 2000, Microsoft decided to write their own from scratch. It’s an admirable goal, but the security problems may not have all been worked out.
  • SMB2. Microsoft uses the “Server Message Block (SMB)” standard for allowing Windows computers to access files and directories on servers. The standard is a combination of technologies developed at IBM, 3COM, and Microsoft, but Microsoft has added a number of extensions and enhancements. Other products, such as the open source Samba server, implement the same protocol to allow Windows computers to communicate with non-Microsoft servers. Vista uses a new variant of SMB, which is causing problems with Samba. Since we run Samba on more than 20 servers, this will have to be fixed before we can move to Vista.
  • Volume Licensing. Currently, we have an open license for Windows XP. This means that, as an organization, we have a serial number for XP that does not require product activation. It’s up to us to make sure we’re not using more licenses than we have purchased, but it makes it easy for us to use programs like Ghost to deploy Windows. In many schools, it’s much easier to re-Ghost a computer than to troubleshoot software problems, especially when user data is centralized on servers. With Vista, open licenses do not exist. So every time we re-Ghost a computer, we have to re-register the license with Microsoft. After two installations, we have to purchase a new license, even though we’re still using the same computer. Alternatively, we could set up a license server, running Microsoft’s not-yet-released Longhorn server operating system, with the sole purpose of proving to Microsoft that we’re not breaking the law. Since it’s nearly impossible for us to buy a computer without Windows, this whole thing is a waste of time and money. And it’s made more annoying by the fact that we don’t use Microsoft servers, and shouldn’t be forced to.
  • No Doc Files in Wordpad. All right. This isn’t as big of a problem as the others. But other than this CNN article, I haven’t seen this mentioned elsewhere. In Windows XP, you can open Microsoft Word® documents using Wordpad. This allows people who don’t have Word to read Word documents. So if I send a Word file to someone, if they have Windows XP, they can open it. If they have Vista, they have to have Microsoft Word to open the file. The implication is clear: Microsoft wants everyone to have Office to read (not just create) Office documents. This reminds me of the cheap, unnecessary incompatibilities between Microsoft Office® documents and Microsoft Works® documents.

The bottom line? We’re going to stick with XP as long as we can. As soon as computers are available with Vista, we’ll buy them, but we’ll downgrade the OS to XP. In a couple years, we’ll have enough of a critical mass of Vista-licensed machines that we can consider upgrading them. Before that happens, we’ll need a compelling reason to switch. Hopefully, by then, most of these initial problems will be worked out.

What’s with all the ®s? Microsoft, Windows and the Windows logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.