Windows Vista: Wait for SP1 (at least)

by bob on December 17, 2006

I’ve never been one to trip over my own feet in an attempt to replace the Old and Lousy version of any OS or application with the New and Improved version. I keep pretty current, but as I generally lack a lot of time to play with technology just for the sake of playing with it, I prefer to let others be the pioneers with the arrows in their backs.

On the other hand, I got an offer from my local Microsoft office a couple of months ago that I felt I couldn’t refuse: “bring your computer to our Vista install fest and upgrade your XP machine to Vista RC2 with our help. In exchange for the data from the upgrade and your feedback, you get a free copy of Windows Vista Ultimate.” I had a brand new Falcon Mach V and a 30″ Apple Cinema monitor that I needed to get set up as my main dev machine, so I figured … what I have I got to loose?

Plenty, as it turned out.

One would expect, particularly for a product so stunningly late and much reduced from its original ambitious goals, that a second release candidate would be reasonably stable. After all, it’s not much different from the release to manufacturing (RTM) code.

What ended up happening can be summarized as follows:

  • The upgrade process turned out to have a stunningly rudimentary UI, almost entirely text-based. It appeared to freeze for about 40 minutes at 21% complete “unpacking compressed files”. I was told not to worry, it was normal. I can only imagine the tech support calls this is going to generate for Microsoft.
  • When the upgrade finally finished some 3 and a half hours after it started, it went into an endless loop trying unsuccessfully to reboot. I called a tech over, they shrugged and said I’d have to do a clean install. WHOA! Just a minute! Don’t you want to run a diagnostic on this to see what happened? Aren’t you going to help me recover? You know, “technicians are standing by”, right? No, they weren’t going to help, and weren’t even curious about what happened.
  • Thirty minutes later I had a clean install of Vista, handily wiping out two or three evenings of work partially setting the box up as an XP workstation. The wireless service was down at that location so I couldn’t connect to the Internet for the latest updates, so I went home with an uneasy feeling about the whole thing.
  • That night I plugged in my USB external hard drive that I use for backups and turned it on, and got an instant Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). WTF?! It’s a standard USB device and Just Works under XP. There aren’t even any drivers to install! And I thought Vista was supposed to slay those BSODs!
  • After further muttering and trouble shooting and getting results ranging from the device not being recognized to more BSODs, I spoke to Microsoft. They said it must be a driver problem. I told them there is no driver involved — just the built in random access device driver for USB. They said okay, a tech will call you tomorrow. The call never came.
  • In the end, after a brief flirtation with Windows XP 64 bit Edition, which had problems with my supposedly-compatible video drivers, I went back to the world of 32-bit Windows XP, where everything Just Works.

Maybe sometime in the next 12 months or so, Vista will Just Work. But what I saw and experienced has all the hallmarks of something half-baked and Not Ready for Prime Time. Add to this the announcement that Visual Studio 2005 will not be fully supported under Vista until a future serivce pack 2, and Visual Studio 2003 — still in wide spread real-world use — will not be supported at all.

I make my living specializing in Microsoft technology, so I’m not a Microsoft hater, and not normally a Microsoft basher. But if they don’t quit filling middle management over there with Pointy-Haired Ones, I worry about the future. They are losing their Mojo and need to get a grip before the trickle becomes a flood.

This business of something Just Working has a lot to say for it. XP may not see 25% of my 4G of installed RAM, it may not have transparent / transclucent / flying windows, but — it Just Works. There’s tremedous value in that!

This whole experience also proves that the following conventional wisdom still holds: NEVER, EVER install a new version of Windows as an upgrade to an existing version. ALWAYS do a CLEAN install. The XP-to-Vista upgrade had the overall feel of something demanded by marketing and tacked on at the last minute. I suspect the Vista team knew better, but had no choice but to cobble something together. A little birdie within Microsoft that I spoke to just before release even told me there was talk internally of pulling this feature as infeasible. I doubt that actually happened, however.

At least I have my Vista Ultimate license, which I can run (along with some service packs) in a VM or as a secondary boot option down the road when things settle down a bit.

Update: In addition to releasing a new OS late, with significant rough edges, and incompatible with its own development platform for months to come, it’s also significant to note that the current version of Microsoft SQL Server will not work correctly on Vista either, and requires a service pack available at some future date. SQL Server Express SP1 can be used on Vista today, but has issues that require workarounds.

Further update: SQL Server 2005 SP2, including Vista compatibility, was released on Feb. 16, 2007. I wrongly assumed that because Visual Studio SP2 is not expected for months, that this one would take awhile too. For whatever reasons, it did not!
VS 2005 SP1 Update for Vista was released March 6. This brings Vista support to VS 2005 prior to the release of SP2, contrary to the original announcement. Wisely, Microsoft listened to developers and fast-tracked Vista support.

A common thread in all of this train wreck seems to be the new security features in Vista; disabling them or running as administrator may allow Visual Studio and SQL Server to function as-is, but you’re on your own. In fairness, maybe the pain of the new security features will ultimately be worth it, but it is not promising that Microsoft’s own products are struggling to adapt, and that Microsoft’s own product managers seem to have been caught by surprise with significant new work in order to fix the problems.

Another update: In a lighter vein, I think this fellow captured the essence of my original feelings about this whole debacle. However, by March I will nevertheless having a copy of Vista running, just not on my precious dev machine.

And another update: I will probably burn in hell for this, but I cannot resist reprinting the following email received from “Windows Vista Install Fair Registration” on March 2, 2007 — over a month after Vista’s public release. Because to add insult to injury, the primary incentive to attend the install fair (a free Windows Vista Ultimate license) will be as much as 12 more weeks in coming:

> Good afternoon~
> We apologize for the delay on getting your copy of Windows Vista. Unfortunately, the company that we work though to produce the Vista media/packaging has placed our order on backorder without providing us with a ETA for a ship date. The best response we have received is that it could take 2-8 weeks for them to just fill the order and ship. This means that in worst case, it could be up to another 12 weeks by the time you receive you copy in the mail. We are doing everything possible to get an confirmed ship and are looking at alternate ways of getting this media sooner.
> Sincerely,
> Windows Vista Install Fair Team

I must give them credit, though, for keeping me informed — and smiling in bemusement.

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Windows PowerShell « Bob on Development
December 31, 2006 at 3:40 pm
Vista: Resistance is Futile? « Bob on Development
February 1, 2007 at 11:31 am

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