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In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the tramp”.  (Feel free to use a more offensive word in the place of “tramp”).  This is the girl that everyone knows is a complete tramp—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the tramp” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the tramp, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the tramp”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the tramp, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Tramp

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the tramp.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school tramp, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the tramp, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?

No.

At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school tramp, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7″.

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