Monday, February 25, 2008

What's Really the Problem?

When I was at lunch today I sat next to a table with three people talking about Windows Vista. Their positions on Vista went something like this:
  • Guy 1: HATES it. Calls it very very unstable.
  • Guy 2: Wants to try it since he just got a beefy new system. Worried about all the anti-Vista sentiment in the air.
  • Guy 3: Mostly interested in his food.
Let me back up for a second and note that I ran Vista Ultimate on a Dell laptop for most of 2007 (starting in January before the official release) and had no stability problems. Sure, there were things I liked about the OS and things I didn't like about the OS, but I didn't experience any of the freezing, hangs, crashes, runaway processes, etc that this guy apparently had. So why were our experiences so different?

What's really the problem here?

It's easy to blame Vista - heck, everyone else is! - but before we go casting aspersions, let's look at what else can cause OS instability.

  • Antivirus. Most of the antivirus software I have ever used is horrible on a system. They tend to run lots of privileged and high priority processes, and there is a ton of "always on" usage. These are applications prone to memory leaks, runaway processes, etc.
  • Hardware Instability. A bad memory card, dying hard drive, etc. can cause your computer to appear unstable.
  • Too Cheap/Old Hardware. The minimum requirements are just that - a minimum. They're going to run minimally acceptably. If you want a good experience, make sure your system can handle it.
  • Unsupported Drivers. That wacky "speed up the internet" thing that you downloaded from your dialup provider? That's a program that's running at a very low system level - even down to your network drivers - and any issue there will have wide-ranging effects.
  • I'm sure there are more, but these are the common non-OS causes of system-wide issues that I've sen.
So just because Vista is unstable, don't assume it's the problem. Perhaps it's just a victim. Remember that operating systems run in an environment just like any other program.

Don't look at the proximate problem. Keep looking until you find the real problem.

* Disclaimer: I have not run Vista SP1 at all, and can't speak to its quality or stability.

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