Sunday 27 July 2008

Stability and performance with Windows Vista

Eileen's and James' posts got me thinking about my experiences so far with Windows Vista.

I'll say straight away this is based on a very limited sample of machines so is far from scientific.  I don't know whether what I've seen will reflect many people's experience, so let me know through the comments if you agree or disagree, I'm interested to know.

I have a Sony Vaio laptop.  It came with Vista installed, and I've since upgraded to SP1. It's infuriatingly slow.  It's a lightweight laptop, so it wasn't bought for performance, but the spec isn't that bad and in theory it's more than capable of handling Vista and even Aero.  Most of what I do on this machine is through a web browser or at most some very light applications, so I'm hardly pushing it.  But it's been slow to start, slow to hibernate, slow to come back from hibernation, and sometimes the CPU goes to 100% utilisation for seemingly ages and I just have to walk away for ten minutes and let it calm down before I can even begin to get anything done.  I expect the average person who bought this laptop might tell their friends not to get one with Vista because it's rubbish.  I've heard people say similar things about machines they've bought for home with Vista pre-installed, laptop and desktop, and how they're thinking of getting their brother/friend/local IT shop to install XP instead.

On the flip side, one of my machines at work was running Vista until recently.  (We've decided as an organisation we're going to skip Vista and roll out the next version of Windows, so I couldn't really justify keeping it, and I've had to go back to our standard XP build.)  This one I'd been running since a Release Candidate version, but never got as far as installing SP1.  Performance-wise it was fine - in fact quicker to start up than my XP box (of the same spec), not noticeably different running my usual assortment of applications, and a few of the features (the new Explorer with Group By is just one example) were saving me time.  My experience of Vista in this instance was excellent.

Having worked with PCs for most of my working life, I can look a bit more objectively at the situation with my slow laptop.  These are the key differences between my Vista installations at work and at home:



Operating System OEM build, including all of Sony's 'value add' software, e.g. rubbish that makes me go to their website more often so they can try to sell me their products, trial versions of things I probably never want to buy, and customisations I hate, e.g. they hijacked my google search page to their branded one Standardised company build, where every component has been tested, performance benchmarked, optimised and locked-down so we can't break the hard work of the team who engineered it
Applications Mostly web and browser-based tools, e.g.
Firefox 3 (which I love, incidentally) with various add-ons, and other web tools like Flickr uploader, streaming media (Audible downloader, BBC iPlayer, Channel 4 On Demand), lots of which insist on launching at startup
Standard office applications.  Internally developed (and extensively tested) add-ons and tools.

I can't install additional applications without approval, so this makes me install only what's absolutely necessary.
Hardware Optimised for weight, designed for consumer market.  Plus all the various junk I might want to attach at home - maybe only once in a while, but the driver still stays installed, with all the little 'added extras' the device manufacturer packaged with it. Optimised for enterprise purchasing, i.e. consistency and stability.  Components don't change much from one model to the next to allow more consistent driver model and simpler longer-term product roadmap.

So you see where I'm going with this?

There's an old adage about builders' houses, mechanics' cars and plumbers' bathrooms... I guess it's true of IT people's PCs, at least it is of mine.  If anybody complains to me at work about not being able to install their favourite widget in our locked-down environment, I can evangelise to them until the cows come home about why it's best that way.  And what do I do at home?  Fill my PC up with crap, and complain when it runs like a dog.

On the plus side, I've learnt an important lesson.  I wanted to reinstall Vista on the laptop from a Vanilla install disk the day I got it, but I really needed to be up and running quickly and didn't have the time.  Big mistake.  The more time that passes, the more stuff I install on it, the longer it would take me to start again.  The next PC I buy will get a clean build on day one.  I've spent so much time on this machine over the months, done the usual msconfig thing, even gone through Task Scheduler to get some of the sneaky Sony system update stuff to back off to running just once a week rather than on every damn startup, and still it just doesn't run like it should.  I reckon it would take me a solid weekend to do a search-and-destroy on every bit of bloatware it shipped with.

I know I'm going to have to bite the bullet one day soon though and install from scratch... as long as there's all this OEM rubbish on here using my CPU without my permission it doesn't feel like it's mine.  And I want my laptop back.

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