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Hasta get rid of la Vista!
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To paraphrase W. S. Gilbert: No one can have a higher opinion of Windows Vista than I have, and I think it's a bug-ridden, infuriating, useless pile of junk. Almost every day I find yet more irritations with this appalling operating system.

All good things come to an end. Your charming local pub is turned into a plastic, could-be-anywhere chain pub with piped music and surly bar staff. The lovely couple who run your grocery shop can’t beat the competition and before you know it, it’s become a mini-supermarket staffed by people with a collective IQ of 34. And after several years of using a pretty trouble-free, reliable operating system on your computer you find that Windows XP is no longer available and you have to get Vista instead.

After five years of good use my laptop finally went up to cyber heaven and I had to get a new one. I don’t like being forced to buy things quickly but I managed to find a Dell in the local computer store and so was quite excited about trying it out. The computer itself lived up to Dell’s reputation – sleek, with a well-designed keyboard and excellent picture and sound. The problem was that it came with Windows Vista.

To start with Vista seemed OK. I was rather pleased that its being in Czech (I bought it in Prague) presented no problems – my Czech is now very good but I have trouble enough understanding some computer terminology in English! And it’s so pretty with its transparent window frames and 3-D effects. Surely all the adverse publicity I’d been hearing about Vista was just from those people who resent Bill Gates’s success and like to bash Microsoft at every turn?

I soon realised that the change from XP to Vista was the equivalent of swapping a Mercedes for a Lada. How would you feel if, eagerly anticipating a date with the gorgeous hunk/beautiful nymphette of your dreams, you got landed instead with… well, me? Vista is a comedown in so many ways that these analogies are not (too) exaggerated.

The first intimation I had that Vista might be a problem was when I started to install my staple programs. Every time I tried to install something the screen went dim, and I couldn’t proceed until I’d given permission (sometimes twice). Now, I’d bought the display computer and wondered if perhaps the shop guys had put some sort of a block on the system, but soon found out that this is one of Vista’s new features. It’s called User Account Control (UAC) and the idea is that it will stop the user deleting all the system files, downloading all the spyware they can find, or whatever. In theory it’s not a bad idea but in practice it’s like one of Labour’s policies – well-meaning but completely daft. After twenty or so of these prompts I was clicking “Proceed” without paying any attention. Vista might have been warning me that by installing such-and-such a program I would start World War III, but I wouldn’t have noticed. Eventually I found a way to disable UAC (it’s in Control Panel under User Accounts). Needless to say, Vista doesn't like this and constantly nags you to turn it back on.

Then I needed to find a file. I’d installed a screensaver but needed to modify it. This might not seem like the most important thing to address when setting up a computer, but I’d created a screensaver of pictures of the gorgeous model Vera Jordanova (she was in the otherwise horrible film Hostel 2) and was keen to get her going. So to speak. Well, I knew what the file was called but doing a search, Vista told me it didn’t exist. It was around then that I discovered one of Vista’s worst features, the indexed search.

Indexed search works a bit like this. A mate of yours makes a list of everything in one room of your house. A while later, you consult that list to find your car keys – which you won’t of course find if (a) they weren’t there when your mate made his list or (b) you have removed them from that room. Vista works on the same principle, basically – as time goes on, it makes a list of files. By default, that’s in folders like Documents and Contacts – it doesn’t do the system files unless you change a setting. Now, when do you normally do a search? Is it more likely to be to find the document “Letter to Solicitor” or to find the file qlt5djbm.dll that you need to locate to solve a system problem? I’d say that “Letter to Solicitor” may, just may be in a folder called Letters that you created, whereas the other file could be just about anywhere. So really to get the search working properly you need to index all files, which takes ages, uses a lot of space, and (I am told) slows the system down. There is an option to turn indexing off and this helps, if you can stand the constant nagging to turn it back on again. In XP you just typed the name of the file and you found it in a matter of minutes at most.

What’s more, Service Pack 1 removes the Search option from the Start Menu. You can get it back, if you’re confident with registry editing and are willing to sacrifice one of the other Start Menu options.

Ah, you say, but it’s only a minor annoyance. And so it is. As is losing the Network Connections icon in Control Panel (another registry tweak gets this back). Or no longer being able to associate particular icons with certain file types. You need to get a third-party program called FileTypesMan to do this. Having to wait for updates to install at shutdown and startup is a minor annoyance too, unlike XP which did most of the updating while the computer was still running and you were working.

It’s also a minor annoyance that Windows Mail, which replaces Outlook Express, only recognises US English in its spell check. Outlook Express used your default Word dictionary while Windows Mail has four built-in languages. In fairness, there are some improvements here – the spell check will suggest corrections for words which have been run together (e.g. Vistasucks) and Windows Mail is quite good at detecting unwanted mail. But I get rather tired of having to add to the custom dictionary every time I am told that “-ise” should be “-ize” or that words like “colour” shouldn’t have a “u” in them. I’m not sniffy about US spellings and accept they are a valid alternative, but we never had the problem before so why should we have it now?

The Disc Defragmenter in Vista is a joke. In XP you got an initial analysis, a progress report which showed the available disc space, which files were being moved and the time left. With Vista you get the ever-so-helpful comment "This may take from a few minutes to a few hours" (you can bet on "a few hours") and the only sign of progress is the stupid rotating blue circle that appears when Vista is working. True, you can schedule the defragmenter to run at a specified time, though even here we get complications. The default time is 1.00 am, a time you're unlikely to be working. Fair enough, but at 1.00 am your computer may well be on standby, and if so the program doesn't run, unless you are savvy enough to hunt around in the Task Scheduler and tick the option to wake the computer to perform this task. Most people won't realise this and take Vista's assertion that defragmentation was last performed  at 1.00 am on such-and-such a date at face value, even if the computer was in standby mode.

Even some of the features that have been retained from XP have bugs in them. In XP you could change the sound scheme so that you could replace the beeps and jingles that herald errors or queries with your own sounds. All you had to do was download or create a sound file and there are plenty of free ones available, ranging from the flatulent through mooing cows to sloppy kisses. Then, after a few quick adjustments in Control Panel, you could set these sounds as default. If you grew tired of them you could reinstate the original sounds or choose new ones. If you found it annoying to get beeped or dinged at whenever Windows queried something, you could choose to have no sound at all. In Vista you can do the same thing, and the process is identical. Except for one thing: if you change the sound scheme, you will find that Vista will then make all sorts of unwanted sounds. Every time you click on an item in a list in certain programs you'll get a Windows beep (or whatever sound you've replaced it with) even if you then set the beep sound to "no sound". After much Googling I found a cure (it involves yet another registry change) thanks to some kind soul on the Internet. Sound scheme changes worked perfectly with XP, so why not with Vista? Ironically, the only reason I discovered this fault was that I'd become so fed up with error after error that I had changed the error message warning tone to a female voice saying "Sorry, I've ****ed up again!"

There are compatibility problems with some of the hardware and software you have spent the last seven years collecting. My excellent Laplink cable for transferring files doesn’t work with Vista. I spent several hours trying to get the BT Broadband software to install the modem needed to access this service. I was successful in the end thanks to an Internet forum but it was very frustrating. My HTML editor that I use to create these pages didn’t install properly and as a result of this added reams of gibberish to the HTML code of any page I edited. I sorted that too – but the aforementioned three problems cost me a minimum of 20 hours – time I could have spent doing something more pleasant than getting a headache courtesy of Vista. I accept that older programs can’t always be expected to work with a brand new operating system but surely Microsoft could have made some effort to ensure that compatibility with newer programs wasn’t too much of a problem?

I even had compatibility problems getting the screensaver to work – perhaps one of Vista’s worst sins since I’d rather feast my eyes on the lovely Vera than a string of error messages!

All of the above are, as I have said, minor annoyances, and if they were all that is wrong with Vista I could probably live with them. But there are other bugs and irritations which are rather more serious. For example, Vista won’t let the user delete certain files.  I can see the reasoning here – some computer users are incredibly stupid and this is a safeguard against people deleting important system files. Several years ago a friend of mine (who is not stupid) bought a new PC and not long after that he deleted all the files whose names he didn’t recognise, which of course meant a complete reinstall of Windows was needed and he lost all his work. The problem here is that Vista goes too far in its quest to save computer users from themselves. Even with the annoying User Account Control turned off, you may come across “You need permission to delete this file” when trying to get rid of certain files. These will usually be the last traces of a program you have uninstalled. Now if these files are in the Program Files folder or somewhere similar, I have no problem with a grave warning followed by a couple of confirmation stages. But when I am running the computer as administrator, and what’s more I have paid for the wretched thing, I ought to be allowed to delete any file on the hard drive if I so wish. I see red when I am told I have not got permission to delete a file on MY OWN computer. There is a way to get past this – you have to reset the permissions for each file you want to delete – but it’s time-consuming and, frankly, a pain in the rear end.

It appears that these days, what Microsoft giveth, Microsoft taketh away. By which I mean that a number of bugs which I described in the first edition of this piece have disappeared following numerous updates, for which I am grateful, but new ones have appeared in their place. For example, after over a year Windows Mail started to freeze randomly when I deleted certain mails with attachments. I solved the problem by rebuilding the message store but the problem comes back from time to time. I tried replacing Windows Mail with the much-vaunted Windows Live Mail, but the problem appeared there too. Both programs store messages in the same way, so this is clearly a Vista problem rather than anything else. Windows Mail, based on the excellent Outlook Express, has the potential to be the best e-mail client around. I have tried Eudora and Thunderbird and found them to be far less user-friendly than the Windows product. Yet thanks to Vista, even a simple act like deleting an unwanted e-mail can cause problems.  

Vista freezes more regularly than a Siberian winter. And if the computer freezes, there is a good chance that the only way out of it is to reboot or, worse still, turn the power off, which is potentially harmful and very much a last resort. If a program became non-responsive in XP, one of two things happened. Either XP would shut the program down, or you would do it yourself via Task Manager. It was very rare that the computer completely froze and you needed a restart or to pull the plug. When you get a freeze in Vista, usually caused by a part of the operating system itself, you will find that much of the time the Vista Task Manager is completely useless at shutting down errant programs. On selecting “end task” you get a dialogue telling you the program is not responding (which you already know) and like XP, there is an “end now” option. Unlike XP, where “end now” ended the program, in Vista, more often than not, absolutely nothing happens. A message appears telling you that Vista is looking for a solution to the problem, which it never, ever finds. If you’re lucky you can restart the computer by performing a proper shutdown, but don’t bank on it. After a recent freeze I got as far as restart but after Windows had sat there for 30 minutes saying “Windows is shutting down” I realised that nothing was going to happen and I had to reach for the power button. This whole issue leads nicely on to the next point.

I will now describe the problems I had performing a couple of simple operations after I'd had Vista for about a month. This is what inspired (if that is the right word) this rant. What I wanted to do was copy about 8 GB of files from one folder to another and put them on DVD. Not asking a lot, eh? Apparently yes. Copying in Vista is much slower than in XP, and you don’t get an accurate progress report either. XP told you which file it was copying at any given time and gave an accurate estimate of the remaining time. Vista just gives you a progress bar and a wildly inaccurate time estimate – it may say 20 hours 49 minutes at the start of the copy, for example! Anyway, half way through copying the batch of files the system froze. All my screen icons disappeared. I couldn’t reach Restart or Task Manager. So I had to pull the plug. I don’t like doing this and it’s very much a last resort, but there was no other way of escape.

So, I start Vista up again, and I get a screen telling me that Windows didn’t start normally and needs to be repaired. I wait ten minutes or so while this happens and try the copying again. I get an error copying – apparently the files I want to copy can’t be found. I restart (properly this time) and CHKDSK turns up and audits the disc – after which I start the copying successfully.

But unlike Mastermind, starting doesn’t always mean that I’ll finish. Again Vista stops responding half way through. This time I am able to get out of it and after a third failed attempt, I try performing the same action on an XP computer. Copied, without problem, in 15 minutes. In the end I get the files across in small batches, and start writing the DVDs. First one, fine – and I’m starting to think all is well. Second one – error while copying and the system freezes. Restart? Task Manager? No way, José. So it’s another reluctant plug pull. Try restart and the screen sits on “Microsoft Corporation” and goes no further. Safe Mode sticks too. System Repair’s worked in the past but not this time. I’ve never seen what some people call a blue screen of death before but I’ve got one now. An error screen that won’t let me get as far as repair.

I’m generally a placid sort but I will admit that Vista has often turned me into a kind of Basil Fawlty with Tourette’s syndrome. After several hours trying to get Vista to load I call Dell and get a nice technician who runs me through various procedures. A diagnostic check shows that my hard drive is corrupted. He explains that perhaps having to turn the computer off manually while it was stuck created a bad sector on the disc. So in short, Vista freezes, I can’t turn it off except by unplugging, and then it won’t load as the hard drive is corrupted. Yes, that’s right:


XP has been known to freeze on occasions, but the beauty of it was that you could, in the worst case, pull the plug and it would come bouncing back. I had it for seven years and it was always stable. I have had Vista for a month and it has ruined my computer.

Now I can imagine that the above claim may be greeted with some scepticism. How can a string of binary code cause damage to a physical object? Fairness and accuracy are important in an article like this and I have tried to come up with alternative explanations. I've already said that I got the display model, it being the last one in the shop, and perhaps the hard drive was damaged before I took the computer home. Or maybe Vista wasn't initialised properly. Admittedly, one or two installations went more smoothly after Dell replaced the hardware (all credit to them) but Vista and the computer worked normally for a month or so and the serious problems didn't start until I took the laptop back to the UK and tried to install some software I'd left there. If there was a mechanical problem at the start it would surely have shown up before. I am convinced that the numerous crashes, freezes and enforced plug-pulls caused by so many programs being incompatible are to blame. When you write a CD or DVD, that disc may be unusable if the writing process fails. I think that here Vista crashed once too often while trying to write on the hard disc, and therefore created a bad sector on it. So when I tried to copy files this problem manifested itself in the form of more freezes and became self-perpetuating. If Vista were more stable this wouldn't have happened and therefore I stand by my claim that it ruined my hard drive.

What’s the point of me writing all this? Well, mainly to let off steam. I have avoided profanity (with difficulty) and tried to present the facts as they are. I will admit that I do enjoy playing around on the computer and find solving problems satisfying. But not when it wastes hours and hours of my time and leaves me finally with a redundant pile of metal. 

Essentially a computer is a tool, and I strongly resent it when a simple operation like copying files takes an hour due to freezes, forced restarts and the like. I have actually come to hate Vista and although perhaps I shouldn’t admit this in public, I never thought a (presumably) sane person like me would ever end up wishing on an operating system the sort of misfortunes one usually wishes on child molesters.

After a couple of months of using Vista I investigated the possibility of replacing Vista with the trusty, reliable Windows XP. I was unable to, as the manufacturer's XP installer disc that came with my old laptop wouldn't work with the new Dell. Several times in the last few years I had considered buying a full copy of XP but never got round to it, and now of course it's impossible to get XP in the shops. What a fool I was! In any case, I learned that a laptop designed for Vista is unlikely to function properly with XP without investing a lot of time in tracking down drivers which may well no longer be available.

This article was originally intended as a warning too. In the early version I suggested that people thinking of getting a new PC would be well advised to wait until Microsoft finally admitted that this junk is a disgrace and brought out a new operating system, or at least a completely revamped version of Vista. I also strongly advised that anyone running a PC quite happily on XP doesn’t upgrade, or more accurately downgrade, to Vista. Well, the fact that Microsoft have launched Windows 7 so soon is evidence that they are all too aware of the shortcomings of Vista. I haven't tried Windows 7 and am therefore unable to comment on it; however my warnings to avoid Vista are clearly less relevant now than they were. Indeed, if you've read this far the chances are you're a victim of Vista yourself and you enjoy seeing it ripped to shreds in print. I have passed many an idle moment doing Internet searches for "I hate Vista" (sometimes with the addition of a few fruity adjectives) and enjoyed reading the results, often written in less moderate terms than I have done here! I have decided that rather than remove the original article, I would bring it up to date and leave it here as a testament to Vista's awfulness until this mess of an operating system is no more than a distant memory.

I'll finish by making two important final points. First, there are far more important things in life than computers, and the frustration caused by Vista is nothing compared to the misery caused by illness, family deaths or the break-up of relationships. Second, I'll reiterate that I'm not one of those who believes that Microsoft is the spawn of Satan, nor am I one of those low-level techie types who constantly slag off Microsoft products as a way of showing off. Nobody is forced to use Windows, at least not for personal use, and if Mac or Linux are really so marvellous, why don't more individuals and businesses use them? Many Microsoft products are excellent, but there is no excuse for sloppiness, especially when a company is so proprietorial about its products, and Vista falls way short of the standard we expect from the Windows brand. Let is hope that Microsoft have learned their lesson and that things will improve. Here endeth the lesson.