Vista's Upgrade: Not Worth the Wait

Microsoft has addressed one of the OS's big problemsbut what about everything else?

There is a broad consensus among corporate technology managers—shared by many consumers—that new Microsoft (MSFT) products should never be installed until they have had their first major upgrade. Windows Vista, Microsoft's flagship operating system, is about to reach that happy landmark with an upgrade called Service Pack 1. But will it win the hearts of consumers, corporations, and computer manufacturers, who so far have largely snubbed Vista?

I doubt it. Although the update addresses one particularly nasty Vista problem—extremely slow file copying over network links—it adds no new features and makes only minimal changes to existing ones.

Expectations for Vista SP1 may be unreasonably high because Windows XP had such a successful overhaul in a 2003 upgrade called XP Service Pack 2. In contrast, Vista SP1 is mostly a bundle of bug fixes and performance upgrades, many of which had been released previously. There's a lot of improvement under the hood in the form of better stability, security, and compatibility, but very little of it is in a form users will notice.

Although Microsoft has reported solid sales of Vista, a lot of copies went to corporations that tried the program for a few weeks, then downgraded to XP. New PCs for consumers and small businesses all ship with Vista installed, but Dell (DELL), Lenovo (LNVGY), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) also offer XP on selected models, and those units are selling very well. While Microsoft had planned to stop shipping XP this month, it has pushed the deadline back to the end of June. InfoWorld, an online industry newsletter, has launched a "Save XP" campaign to extend its life. So now, Microsoft hopes to placate XP diehards with a third service pack that will boost the performance of their aging XP machines.

As someone who has used Vista, including test versions, daily for nearly two years, I understand people's reluctance to give up XP. One of the problems is that Vista changed the way many familiar things are done, often for no discernible reason. For example, to get access to disk drives that are shared by several computers on a network, you can't just open the menu labeled "network." Instead, you must remember to click on the "computer" tab. Whenever a program stops working, which is distressingly often, Vista announces that it's searching for a solution to your problem, then informs you that it couldn't find one.

My biggest disappointment is that Microsoft still hasn't fixed problems many Vista users squawked about in the earliest test phases. One example: the endlessly annoying windows that pop up and request permission to execute whatever function you have just told the computer to do. This feature, called User Account Control (UAC), should have been a godsend—it's designed to stop malicious software from installing things or making system changes without your permission. Instead, it's an out-of-control nag. For instance, Vista has a built-in anti-spyware program called Windows Defender that routinely checks for updates. But instead of just performing the check on schedule, Vista comes back and asks permission to give Defender access to the network. Many users get so fed up they disable UAC, which defeats the purpose.

Then there are the ongoing compatibility woes. I recently needed to burn a DVD of recorded TV shows. I jacked in three different burners but couldn't get any of them to work with Vista. So I gave up and used an XP laptop.

Eventually, Microsoft will push all Windows users, even corporate clients, to adopt Vista. First, though, I hope the company will address the things that make Vista so annoying. Even before Service Pack 1 formally ships, I'm eagerly awaiting Service Pack 2.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.