Windows Vista Review July 2012 - Comparing Vista to XP, 7, and 8

First Impressions - Windows Vista Review July 2012 - Comparing Vista to XP, 7, and 8

by Larry Neal Gowdy -July, 09, 2012 (updated October 6, 2013)

Please also see Vista Review for May 2012 Part 1 and Windows Vista Review for June 2012 Part 2.

Vista is much better than its reputation (actually yes)

Windows Vista Business review July 2012

Windows Vista Business with the Internet Explorer 9 browser.

A die-hard XP® fan test-drives Vista® for the first time...

After having used a tweaked Vista Business fulltime for about three months I now have a pretty good feel for the operating system. Over all I am about 99% pleased with Vista. Most programs load and run smoothly, the file explorer has an additional command structure in the address bar that I like better than XP's, Internet Explorer® 9 is compatible with Vista, and I have developed a preference for Vista's layout over that of XP's.

If I had to use Vista with its default settings and Aero I would likely lower my 99% happy rate down to around 10%. Without a few performance tweaks and the use of the classic theme or a WindowBlinds® theme I would find Vista to be very difficult to use on a daily basis.

I might still choose XP for a computer that is used solely for business/office work simply because XP is faster, slightly more stable, and more mature of styling, but for a computer that is also used for personal entertainment I believe that Vista has several advantages. Too, with XP's support date ending within two years, it is best in the long run to not invest further into an operating system that might be obsoleted so soon.

Things that I believe Vista does well

WindowBlinds works better for me in Vista than in XP. WindowBlinds is a necessity for those of us who do not care for classic themes nor for Vista's Aero and blue menus. With the proper theme Vista can be an attractive and psychologically positive operating system.

The file explorer is a useful upgrade over XP's. Explorer's default settings in Vista are not favorable for those of us who access files frequently, but after configuring explorer to display file details instead of large photo icons the file explorer can then become quite good. On my computers Vista remembers menu settings (i.e. date modified) better than XP, which is a big plus for my needs.

Vista's default settings for explorer appear to be aimed solely for use by individuals who are the least experienced with computers (those who do not know the difference between doc and pdf, nor care about the difference between a 100kb and a 100mb file). While there is nothing wrong about only wanting to use a computer for entertainment purposes, it does seem odd that Vista Business would have its default settings be configured for home users.

Vista does run some modern programs with an advantage that XP does not have. As an example, Office 2010 in XP does not allow for a themed top bar, while in Vista the top bar can be altered to match the current theme. The advantage is smallish, but still important for some of us. Word® 2010 runs faster and smoother in XP than in Vista, but Word looks better in Vista. Appearances become the deciding factor for me as long as the differences of speed are not too large.

I feel that Vista also has a noticeable advantage of appearances over Windows® 7 (fewer transparencies in Vista, especially in the taskbar), and a larger advantage over XP (I used XP for so long that I simply grew bored of the appearances). Windows 8 will likely continue using the Windows 7 GUI, so at present my personal tastes are preferring Vista over all other versions of Windows (that not only sounds weird but it also feels weird for me to say it). A rather humorous recent discovery was that when I installed a Vista theme in Linux® Ubuntu I found that I much preferred the Vista theme over Ubuntu's default, and too the old P4 computer was able to run Firefox® and other programs much more smoothly in Linux with the lightweight Vista theme (also a strange twist).

Windows Vista Business and Zune

Windows Vista Business with the Zune music player.

The installation of Vista is a step up from XP's 2002 version that does not have service pack one. Unless an XP disc has at least service pack one the installation can be a bit more complicated when installed on a SATA hard drive due to a lack of SATA drivers on the XP disc. A Vista installation consumes a similar length of time to install as XP, but in my experience Vista is noticeably easier (I'm starting to prefer easy).

Things that I believe Vista does not do well

The Aero theme in Vista negatively affects speed and stability. Vista zips along similarly as fast as XP when using the classic themes, but not so nicely with Aero. A lot of people prefer Aero, I'm just one of those that don't.

Aero's blue menu bars and frames are excessive. For many of us it is simply inexcusable (and nauseating) for a GUI to use the pastel baby blue on most every window.

Hardware compatibility appears to still be an occasional problem. After a couple days of trying to get a second video card to work properly I finally gave up; the drivers simply would not work. Compatibility issues may most often be the fault of hardware manufacturers', but the problems still exist, which lowers the value of Vista itself.

Pausing: Vista sometimes hesitates when first reading the contents of a large folder (folders with numerous different file types take longer to be read, i.e. exe, pdf, jpg, etc.), and perhaps once a week Vista may hesitate for up to half a minute or longer before loading a program. I am still of the opinion that the small hesitations may be related to security features in Vista, and some of the worst hesitations are solely the fault of WindowBlinds', but the hesitations can at times be a little annoying.

Software Compatibility: Most every program that I have installed appears to be working well, but I suspect that some programs are not fully suitable for Vista. CorelDraw's® PaintShop Photo Pro® X3 usually fails to load on the first attempt, but will load on the second attempt. It appears that the difficulty with PSPP may be a compatibility difficulty between WindowBlinds and Corel, and thus perhaps not directly related to Vista itself, but the problem has only surfaced within Vista and so Vista is graded by how well programs run. DOS programs of course do not easily run, but for most of us DOS is not much important anymore, and a person can install a DOS emulator if the need for DOS is high.

Flash® tends to experience frequent crashes (once every few days while several Flash displays are running simultaneously) in the Firefox, Opera, and Chrome browsers while there are no difficulties viewing the same Flash and browsers in Internet Explorer 9 or XP. The problems may not be Vista's fault and are very likely the fault of the Flash player and browsers', but the problems only exist within Vista on my machines, so Vista gets another mark taken off.

During a typical day the hesitations in Vista may account for perhaps a .06% slowdown of total time that the computer is running, so percentage-wise the slowness as compared to XP is very small, but the small hesitations are noticeable. I am so accustomed to the responsiveness of XP that any hesitation at all can seem excessive.

Vista appears to need a minimum of 2gb of RAM to function decently, whereas XP can perform as well or better with less hardware (Windows 7 and 8 also seem to perform good enough with 1gb RAM). I myself am not concerned about RAM since my favored computers have 4gb each, but over all Vista might be one of the most hardware-hungry desktop operating systems available, if not the most hungry of the Windows operating systems. I have seen some Linux distributions pretty much refuse to work on anything less than 4gb RAM and a dual core CPU, so in my experience Vista is a hardware hog but not the worst. The Vista machine's four core Core2® CPU processes data about six times faster than an XP computer's Sempron® CPU, but still the XP machine is faster running programs.

Windows Vista Business and Word 2010

Windows Vista Business with Word 2010.

Things that I believe XP does better than Vista

Speed: There is no question about it, XP literally flies circles around Vista (as well as 7, 8, Linux, and every other operating system known to me). In XP programs run faster, programs run smoother, menus open quickly, and there is rarely any hesitation whatsoever. The only times that I experience a slow-down in XP is after I install a memory hog like iTunes® or Microsoft's® virtual box.

Stability: I have not yet had a stability problem in Vista with service pack two, but the smallish problems with PSPP and hesitating menus are enough to keep XP as the champion of stability. When compared to the numerous major crashes experienced in Windows Millennium Edition and many Linux distributions, Vista looks quite excellent, but XP still looks a little better.

(Note: while editing this article I read an article by a pro-Linux author who recently reviewed the latest Zorin Linux distribution. My own reviews of Zorin were mostly positive although the distribution was not usable due to numerous major crashes. The pro-Linux author only briefly mentioned crashes in Zorin but without stating what the crashes were or how serious. In my articles I try to be fair and to state actual performance, and if a product is unstable then I will say that it is unstable, and I will explain at least briefly where the instability exists. Of the several smallish problems that I have found in Vista, none of them are significant as compared to the major stability problems that I have observed in almost all Linux desktop operating systems (Puppy is one of the few exceptions). Vista is not XP, no other operating system will likely ever be as good as XP, but Vista is very close, and apparently I believe what I am writing because I have now switched to Vista fulltime. In my opinion Vista is hugely superior to all Linux desktop distributions. If I did not view Vista as being stable then I would not be using it now: I can choose any operating system available, and at present I have chosen Vista Business as the single best OS for my needs.)

Hardware: Manufacturers are careful to ensure that their products work properly in XP, but not as careful for Vista. It may not be Vista's fault, but right or wrong XP remains favored for hardware compatibility.


I had ordered a new 500g hard drive for the Vista computer, and while waiting for the hard drive to arrive in the mail I weighed the options of whether to install Vista Business or XP Pro on the new drive.

(1) XP Pro would run faster, but Vista's current speed is sufficiently good enough for my needs.

(2) XP would require a full new installation of about eight hours plus another dozen hours of installing programs, while Vista would need perhaps an hour to do a disk copy from the existing hard drive (I'm thinking easy is good).

(3) My copies of XP are early versions without service packs, which requires the use of a floppy or some other method of installing SATA drivers, or else install on an IDE and then do a disk copy to SATA. Vista is a more modern operating system from start to finish.

(4) XP's appearances would be okay with WindowBlinds but not near as good as Vista's. After ten years of XP I had begun to tire of XP's appearances that even WindowBlinds cannot fully cure. I recently enjoyed installing Office 97 on the Windows 8 preview, my liking the GUI just because it was different than what I had been looking at for ten years, so yes, any change of scenery is welcomed.

(5) I have a strong need and preference for Internet Explorer 9. In recent months I had come to prefer Opera above all other browsers, but now I find myself using Internet Explorer 9 more than any other. XP can only run IE 9 in virtual (which slows down the computer due to several support programs running in the background), while Vista can run IE9 natively. When comparing a heavily laden XP machine with a tweaked Vista, Vista is easily the better choice for speed and usefulness.

(6) Microsoft will likely end support for XP in about two years, while Vista will remain supported for about five years. Security updates might not always seem important, but it is important when a new virus or trojan is released into the wild.

(7) If I were paying retail for a new operating system I would immediately choose Windows 7 for its ability to run Internet Explorer 10 and be the latest version of Windows, but I already have XP and Vista, and I am not anxious to endure another full installation at the moment. Windows 8 is currently not worth the cost to me since Windows 8 will likely not have a start menu. Windows 8 appears to be good for speed and stability, but the Metro theme is simply not useful for business. Vista and 7 may be the last Windows suitable for business use for several years to come. If Microsoft continues to insist that all future versions of Windows will not have a start menu or a different means of rapidly accessing programs, then when XP, Vista, and 7 get too old to use we will have to start looking elsewhere, and at the moment there is no acceptable alternative.

(8) But meanwhile I like easy, so yeah, Vista is currently the choice for me.

I originally gave this article the subtitle "Nice Change but No Thanks" as I began preparing to install Windows XP Professional on the Vista machine, but after reviewing the pluses and minuses, I have decided to keep Vista. XP is as comfortable to me as an old pair of jeans, but eventually we have no choice but to toss out the old and bring in the new. Vista is old to most people, but it's new to me, and seeing that I prefer Vista's layout better than 7's and 8's, I might still be using Vista up to the end of the service date. Surely I will eventually make Windows 7 my primary operating system, but I want to wait until Windows 8 is released just in case Microsoft sneaks in a start menu at the last minute.

An item that has been gnawing at me for some time is the cost of Windows and other Microsoft software. In 2003 I paid quite a bit for Windows XP and Office 2003 Professional, and with all of the other Microsoft software that I use most every day I added it up and found that each of the programs has cost me right around one penny a day. A lot of us fuss about Microsoft products (me included), but in the end we do know that there is nothing better, and for only a penny a day. Would I give up Word, Excel®, Outlook®, Expression®, and Windows so as to save a nickel a day? Oh I don't think so! Now that I have begun using Bing® almost exclusively I recently cashed in my points for a new Nicola Benedetti album, which in a manner of speaking covered my ten dollar cost for the Vista OEM Dell® CD, making Vista free for me. So here is the choice, to download and run Linux for free, or to run Vista for free and get free music several times a year. The savings on the cost of music alone will repay all that I have spent on Microsoft software. When comparing Vista with SP2 to all other desktop operating systems, in my opinion it is darned decent for performance and over all costs, but most importantly, I like Vista.

(Update November 23, 2012: Three weeks ago I upgraded my two desktops and one laptop to Windows 8 Professional. For fun I booted the computer to Vista tonight just to see if Vista is still appealing: nope, it now looks as old as XP. I booted one PC with the latest live CD of Ubuntu: nope, no smiles there either. The new Windows 8 layout, skin, features, and speed are very good, and I now have no desire to return to XP, Vista, or any other operating system. Nevertheless, Vista Pro is a good operating system when setup right, and while it is not Microsoft's best work, it's still a whole lot better than most everything else.)

(Update October 06, 2013: I have now been using Windows 8 almost exclusively on my computers for close to a year, and I continue to have a similar opinion as I did last November: Vista is a decent operating system when setup correctly, but Windows 8 is so good that I have no urge for any other operating system.)

Please also see Vista Review for May 2012 Part 1 and Windows Vista Review for June 2012 Part 2.

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