It is time for the next round of the Vista vs. XP match. In my view, Vista won the first two rounds (Security and Manageability) by knocking out XP within the first few seconds. If this were a boxing match, XP would have been counted out already. But because we are fair sportsmen, let’s give the old champion another chance to regain its title. As before, the text in italics summarizes Kennedy’s arguments.

With Vista, Microsoft introduced some enhancements under the hood that improve reliability. Examples include improved heap management, power management and support for low priority I/O tasks. During day-to-day operations, however, these new features don’t have much impact (expect low I/O priority). When it comes to stability, Windows XP SP2 has proven to be rock solid, and SP3 might even improve the situation. Vista has little room to score in this area.

I have few objections to this claim. Windows XP is indeed a rock solid operating system. Do you remember when stability was Windows' opponents' number one complaint? That must have been in another century!

There is no doubt that Vista is less reliable than XP. It is still a young operating system and all the compatibility issues and badly programmed device drivers certainly do their part to make Vista seem less stable than XP; so it will take some time for Vista to catch up with XP in this area. We all expected that, but it doesn’t mean that Vista is an unstable operating system. At least since the release of SP1, Vista is certainly ready for prime time.

Kennedy’s view of the enhancements under the hood are correct, too. I’d like to add one important improvement though. It is WDDM, the new display driver model. WDDM has a couple of new capabilities but when it comes to reliability most important is the fact that part of the display driver is running in user mode. There is still is a part that runs in kernel mode, but the user mode driver does most of the calculation. This improves reliability of the graphics system because if the display driver hangs, it won’t crash your whole system. Other features Kennedy forgot to mention is the new Reliability and Performance Monitor which allows IT pros to track down problems, improved responsiveness during installations, and the Startup Repair Tool which helps you to recover an unbootable system.

I have to say a word about Kennedy’s claim that these improvements have no real impact. It might be true that, on its own, each of the new features has only little impact on our daily work. I think it is not a valid argument to pick just a few improvements, which, by themselves, are not reason enough to move to Vista, to conclude that XP is the better option. If an ice cream seller counted only the few cents he earned with the last few ice cream cones he just sold, he probably would close his shop immediately. But he doesn’t, because he knows that those cents will add up by the end of the day. Or, to return to his boxing analogy, we should count all the direct hits to see who is the better fighter.

Anyway, this round goes to XP, even though Vista survived without severe injuries. However, I predict that if we compare both operating systems again in one year, then Windows Vista will be the more reliable OS. The more hardware and software vendors focus on Vista the more stable it will be. Its numerous tiny reliability improvements will make it the better choice in the long run.

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We should also not forget that there is Vista x64, which is more reliable than Vista x86 because it requires signed drivers and comes with the Kernel Patch Protection feature. In most cases the famous blue screen is caused by buggy drivers or by a kernel that was modified by ISVs. So if you have the guts to move to Vista x64, you will get an operating system that is more reliable than Windows XP.

9 Comments
  1. Christopher 14 years ago

    I think Vista has the potential to be more reliable, and can’t really say that XP is rock solid. Of all the problems that I work through on XP, they’re almost always caused by applications. XP’s big problem then is that it allows applications to stomp all over it.

    The current problem with Vista’s stability however is that the applications that I must run today have often not yet released a version that is Vista compatible, or I can’t afford to upgrade to the version that is. For example, my CRM, which is already 2 versions older than their latest: It’s going to cost me about 10grand in actual software costs to upgrade, 3 man months in time/payroll, and then the costs associated with the actual rollout, that being, user training and reduced productivity while the users regain familiarity. Were I to upgrade to Vista, that simple platform upgrade would require me to undertake some fairly significant projects in order to bring all of the applications up to version that supports Vista. The current version of my CRM crashes all over the place if I try to run it on Vista, even in compatibility mode.

    So in the case of my CRM, Vista is highly unstable with my current version, but I imagine would be rock solid with the latest released version.

    I suppose I’m also saying that the perceived stability of Vista relies heavily on the stability of the applications that run on it. Perhaps XP is “stable” today simply because the applications/drivers have matured enough to leave XP alone.

    As Microsoft moves towards running more in the user space and isolating the OS, I believe the stability of XP will be shambles in comparison. Vista is headed in the right direction. In addition, I imagine the perception of my end-users may change as they see applications crashing individually instead of taking down the entire platform.

    I’d really like to see Windows 7 become the very last full platform upgrade. I’d like to see a modular architecture that can be upgraded and downgraded similar to the linux kernel and the way you can load different kernels and modules through Grub. Were Microsoft to take this modular approach to their OS, my ability to roll out new modules/kernels to my user base, as well as my comfort level with rolling new things out faster (because I could back them out with a simple boot.ini edit ala GRUB), well it would just be much easier and more economic for me to feed Microsoft and keep up with their platform.

    Thanks for the post Michael; good topic.

  2. moop2000 14 years ago

    I have to say, I’ve seen WDDM trying to save the day myself. After installing the latest ATI drivers for my video card, I’ve had my system freak out a couple times. I’ll get a pop-up message in the system tray that states that the Video Driver has failed and it is attempting to restart it. So it is an improvement, my system doesn’t blue screen immediately, and will let me close programs and save open documents. But it’s not perfect. Once the driver crashes the first time, it never comes back to life correctly, and it will keep crashing till I actually get a blue screen. So I’ve learned now, if I get the message the driver failed, closed what I have, and reboot the machine myself. So no, its not perfect, but it is a big improvement over XP in terms of trying to keep video drivers from taking out the system.

    That being said, I still prefer XP in terms of speed over Vista any day. It should not take as long as it does to move/copy files on a modern computer!

  3. ochiru 14 years ago

    I disagree that XP is any more reliable than Vista. There are a few points why I think that is the case:

    -Memory management and dualcore support

  4. ochiru 14 years ago

    It’s more common with XP that single process can make system unresponsive. With Vista I’ve usually been able to sort the issue without a reboot.

    I mentioned dualcore support as with XP I personally had reliability/performance problems with my Athlon 64 X2. Same hardware with Vista installed have had no similar problems.

    -Driver signing and user mode GPU driver

    With XP there were and still are a lot of unstable or plain broken GPU drivers – especially nVidia had those frequently. With Vista I have had yet to encounter such problems with nVidia or ATI drivers. But I’ve updated a few Intel GPU drivers in Lenovo T61 laptops because those were causing crashes.

    -System Restore

    With XP this never really worked. It works in Vista fixing an unbootable installation after a PSU failure and crash. Because even the most reliable system can still have hardware failures.

    -SP1

    Fixed those annoying sleep mode and file transfer problems I had with my T60 and has improved reliability index in those systems I’ve installed it already. I haven’t installed it to x64 any Vistas yet so I don’t know if it has similar results. XP SP3 in comparision doesn’t seem to be even an essential update, not until you’ve W2008 Servers.

    -Windows Update installarions

    Some laptops users have a peculiar habit of shutting down systems before installations are complete. Seems so far that Vista can manage this better than XP SP2.

    -Offline files
    There haven’t been any problems with these in Vista laptops. Missing offline files have been one of the more common problems with XP SP2.

    -Copy protections and malware

    Neither Vista x86 or x64 have yet suffered problems with these. There’s still zero virus infection on Vista machines I manage.
    In comparison, I recently spend full 9 hours of my saturday cleaning up clients XP SP2 laptop – from about 1800 infected files 🙁

    Copy protection I’ve mentioned because those act like viruses and cause all kinds of reliability issues.

    Well, there’s a few already.

  5. Fernando 14 years ago

    well, gee, everyone here speaks as if the cost of the OS was “free”.

    It is not free and the cost of a Vista Ultimate is orders of magnitude higher than a copy of XP.

  6. Michael Pietroforte 14 years ago

    Christopher, thanks. I think, it depends on what you consider as rock solid. If you compare XP with Windows ME, I’d say it is rock solid. At least there were no complaints about XP’s reliability in the media during these past years. That means something. I agree with everything else you said. It is not because of XP’s better design that makes it more reliable, but the fact that some software and hardware vendors are still fighting with Vista. The case with your CRM tool is a good example.

    Moop2000, I suppose that in your case the kernel mode part was affected, too. In theory, a reboot shouldn’t be necessary if only the user mode driver crashes. But well that is only theory. Who knows what it is really going on when such an integral part of the OS hangs.

    Ochiru, thanks a lot for the hints. I can use that for my article in German that I am currently preparing. What do you mean by driver signing? You mean the required driver signing for Vista x64?

  7. Michael Pietroforte 14 years ago

    Fernando, for many it is “free” because they have license agreements. But I agree that for all others Vista’s high price is certainly a counterargument.

  8. Sofia Tegui-in 14 years ago

    im a student who would be reporting in my Updates in IT class. my report would be about the latest operating systems. i’ve choosen Windows Vista… i know that somehow perhaps it has the uniquness and bright differences among other OSes. i’ve got articles bout this page… including yopur comments. Thanks.:-)

  9. Mr.Kesik 14 years ago

    Wow, windows vista lags on my machine, I installed and all my device drivers were all screwed up. The only reason I decided to try Vista is that there is a lot of talk about all the improvements to it but I have no problems running my XP Machine. I hope that it won’t be a big waste of money when I go out to try the next version of Windows.

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