Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

My ongoing issues with MSFT Vista

Posted by shannonclark on April 27, 2008

I hate Vista.

Hate it. Since I have had my Lenovo ThinkPad with Vista my productivity has plummeted. By far this has been the most painful and worst computer owning experience of my lifetime. And I have owned a lot of computers in my time, run a ton of different versions of OSes and I’ve had some seriously bad machines in the past.

What makes this especially painful is that technically my laptop should not be bad, in fact it should be a near dream machine. A very high resolution tablet screen (1400 x 1050), the fantastic keyboard and trackpoint of Thinkpads (more on why I love the trackpoint later). I have 3GB of ram, a dual core Intel chip (not the fastest model but for my uses – mostly web browsing, iTunes, and light other apps should be more than plenty), and a 120GB HD. All in a form factor that weighs just a bit more than 5lbs and has a 9 cell battery that should give it 6+ hours of use.

But since I waste between 10 minutes to upwards of 1 hour whenever I try to wake the computer from sleep and resume my work, I don’t count this has a very useful computer.

It manages to blue screen itself while theoretically “sleeping”.

The wifi is unreliable after waking from sleep, not infrequently failing to detect even strong signals. (but yet reporting itself has functional so Vista just insists that it is seeing only weak signals)

At least every third time or so I wake my laptop from sleep it decides that my screen resolution is much lower and resets itself to a lower resolution, someimtes it does this after I login, often then quickly detecting the problem and reseting itself to the right resolution (but leaving my windows resized as a result). Occasionally it flubs things before I can even enter my fingerprint or password and I then have to try to reset the resolution – which can be tricky at times as it sometimes insists on a spinning cursor while I try to click on the “okay” button to confirm the resolution change.

I have reset my power management settings frequently. I set them how I want them (wifi when plugged in at maximum performance for example) yet a few weeks later they will have reset themselves to different settings without my intervention. Very very frustrating as then my laptop has started to seemingly randomly (and rather quickly) turn off my wifi card by itself.

I have given up on running Outlook on this computer as when I try to do anything in Outlook (latest version, fully patched) more times than not it just freezes and every step is complicated (all I would likely want to do is update my large contacts files which are still in Outlook) but even that seems impossible yet increasingly critical.

Shadow Backup means that overtime my disk has been filling up rapidly yet I can’t configure it to only autobackup the portions of my disk I would care deeply about restoring, and perhaps not to backup portions I would not care in the least about (my frequently changing firefox cache for example, or my also frequently changing iTunes directories for at least my podcast subscriptions which I typically delete after listening)

From a general UI perspective more times than not, generally at least once a day (sometimes many many more times than that) Vista just freezes, spinning my cursor and being generally annoying. And this is on a computer, I remind you, with 3gb of ram and a dual core processor. I’m sure if my laptop had a dedicated video card it might function slightly better, but that’s not an option and I (foolishly I guess) figured that Microsoft and Lenovo would have made sure that the drivers for ThinkPads worked flawlessly – and that the video drivers for Intel graphics would work well as well.

But I guess I was quite wrong about that.

Why I love the trackpoint and hate mice or touchpads

I am a touch typist. On a computer that can keep up with me (which I foolishly figured should be all modern computers but that’s not the case) I type close to 100 wpm or faster. More crucially I do that without ever looking at the keyboard, my hands just know where the keys are and I can type without looking, my eye remains focused on the screen or on materials I am working with, not on the keyboard or what my hands are doing.

With a trackpoint (that little nub that on ThinkPads is located on the keyboard between the G H B & N keys I can navigate and move my cursor all around the screen without moving my hands. All I need to do is shift my (right) first finger a bit to the left and with a bit of pressure can move the cursor anywhere I want it and I use my thumb to select the left or right buttons (I use the right mouse button features extensively)

In contrast to use a trackpad (such as is found on all MacBooks) I would have to physically move my hand, shifting considerably my focus from what I am doing, moving my hands and arms physically and breaking the rhythm of what I am doing (just now I used the mouse to correct the spelling of rhythm and could do so with almost no break in my typing, just a moment of attention to which suggestion was correct and a bit of pressure to move the cursor back to the right location). I do it without even thinking about it, it is just a natural motion incorporated into how I work today.

And even to use a physical mouse, such as the Mighty Mouse I have on my iMac desktop I have to move my hands off the keyboard and on the mouse. Then I am still usually very very frustrated by the significant efforts often needed. For whatever reason I find myself frequently having to physically pick up the mouse and move it up then pull back down and repeat to get the cursor and items on the screen where I need them. In contrast with a trackpoint I can just apply continual pressure and the cursor keeps moving in any given direction (ideal for scrolling through long lists, though a scroll wheel can be useful for that as well but sometimes a scroll wheel is not sufficient for a given task). Perhaps there are settings I could adjust that would make the mouse a bit more function for me (as it is I try to avoid it as much as possible) but that would not avoid the primary issue.

To use a mouse or a touchpad you have to move your hand from the keyboard.

There is not getting around that fact. The trackpoint is the only mouse alternative (at least that I’ve ever seen) which allows you to use it without needing to lift your arms or move them from the keyboard. In turn this means I can position my hands comfortably and leave them there even as I type extended amounts of text without pain (this blog post for example has been typed without my needing to move my hands at all).

If you are not (as perhaps most people are not) a touch typist this may not seem all that important. And if you don’t write 1000’s of words nearly every day (and I need to only keep on writing ever increasing amounts) then you might not see what a big deal this is, but I am a touch typist and I do probably average well north of 5000 words a day (often far more).

And in the next few weeks and months that will only increase as I have to write actively online to market myself and my new ad network, and as I write emails to follow up from the 100’s of people I have met in the past few weeks and who are in many cases prospective publishers, advertisers, investors or others with whom I may need to be in ongoing and active communication (press, potential employees and partners etc).

I am an old NeXT user, I would love to have a great Mac laptop. But the touchpad is seriously a dealbreaker for me it requires a very significant reduction in my workflow and productivity. And further my other issues are that the form factor I most like (the MacBook Air) has a lower resolution screen than my current laptop (lower res means less content on the screen, thus more scrolling, so more use of the touchpad and even lower productivity. I read 1000’s of words of content every day – 100’s of emails, blog posts, twitters and more. Plus the hard drive is smaller than my current one so incapable of holding my media library (and the cost for the SSD version is quite high and the disk space even lower). Thus I would need to use an external drive to hold my media library but with only one USB port I would also need to use a USB hub if I wanted to have my media library and my iPhone/iPod connected at the same time (i.e. so I could sync it). That means a bunch of devices I would have to carry with me, reducing the value of the thin form factor and light weight.

And the larger MacBook or MacBook Pro which are available in resolutions that are nearly as high as my current machine or in fact higher (on the largest versions of the MacBook Pro) are heavy (nearly 7lbs for the 17″), physically large, and do not have great battery life (less then 4 hrs by far). Though I would appreciate the screen resolution, I would not appreciate the lack of the trackpoint, and with a larger screen would be even more need to use the mouse. (and I am also not a huge fan of the single button, even knowing the multifinger tricks to get the right mouse button functions – I use that menu on a very very frequent basis perhaps 100 or more times in a day in many cases).

And though the keyboard on the pro does have the sexy illumination feature (though as a touch typist that isn’t so critical) it is not, in my opinion, a comfortable a keyboard to type on as the ThinkPad keyboards which I think are some of the best ever made in the world, at least for laptops. I type fast and quite accurately on ThinkPad keyboards (which I’ve been using for nearly 6+ years now).

6 Responses to “My ongoing issues with MSFT Vista”

  1. Hi Sharron,

    What ThinkPad are you using? The X60 or the X61?

    I’ve got a X60 with 3GB of RAM and there are several others deployed at my work, all running Vistas. For the X60 what you describe is not typical. I’ve had other machines with similar issues and frequently it is a driver issue. Did you buy the tablet with Vista or deploy Vista after the fact? if the latter I recommend downloading and installing the think vantage utility from Lenovo that checks for updates for your drivers (if you have not already)

    if you are running the X60 and want to compare notes to see what is different about yours, flick me an email.



  2. rob said

    Hey Shannon,

    I was a very disappointed with Vista mostly due to performance and stability. It simply does not offer a competent Windows user anything compelling enough to upgrade for. It sucks.

    I highly recommend downgrading to XP. Life is good in SP2.

  3. Mr K said

    Okay I’m going to sound like a Mac FanBoy here, but I have to say, I switched from PC’s to Mac about 3 years ago. To be honest, I’ve always hated the ThinkPad’s and their’ stoopid little trackpoint thing in the keyboard, it’s clumsy at the bets of times.

    Right now I use a 17″ MacBook Pro … I’m on it about 10+ hours a day, reading, reading, reading. If you are reading as much as you say you are, then I’m going to guess you are at a fixed location. SO get a second monitor, keyboard & if you are like me, a wacom tablet (much faster and easier on your body than a mouse)

    As for lugging a MBP around – it’s no biggie really. I take it to client meetings, I take it home (it’s our primary computer at home too in the evenings/weekends). The size means working on it anywhere (aside from an airplane) is great.

    I’ve had heaps of laptops over the years. I’ve never had so few problems than with the MBP. I can be anywhere and do high CPU intensive stuff … and not even blink an eye.

    As for the 4 hour battery life, mine is never unplugged for that long, so it’s not an issue.

  4. tdm said

    I personally have a Lenovo Thinkpad 61p and have had both Vista and (currently, Server 2008) on it and it runs flawlessly. Both Vista and Server 2008 have been the best OS’s I’ve seen and used from Micrsoft to date. My current use of Server 2008 on the laptop is due to software development reasons otherwise I would have Vista on it. Microsoft has selected the Lenovo brand for field engineers internally and this is the first time I’ve seen as much 64bit support ever available for a laptop.

    As for your issues… sounds mostly like you’re complaining about “drivers”. You’re saying it takes forever to for it to sleep/resume, it bluescreen’s while hiberated/sleep’ed, etc.? Have you looked at what driver has caused that? I guarentee you it comes down to a 3rd party driver and there is only so much Microsoft can do about ensuring ALL 3rd parties are going to have up-to-date and working drivers for all their OS’s (which amounts to roughtly 75-80% of issues out there).

    You can, of course, move to a company that is much more proprietary about their hardware and well… everything (Apple) where some of these things are not always an issue (due to having little real hardware options and stuck with “revs” that come out and external devices) but it’s all options available to you and nothing is stopping you! =) You’re easiest route is probably going to the Lenovo site to look at what new drivers are available since that is most definetely your issue — one of my friends just wrote me and said he’s going to be offline for a week because his keyboard broke… I told him to get a new one and he said back “well, it’s sorta part of the whole computer”… I just laughed…

    • tdm,

      I keep my Lenovo ThinkPad X60 fully updated with the latest drivers from Lenovo & all updates from Microsoft. My issues have persisted since I purchased the computer, through countless updates, patches and new drivers (which have addressed a few of my early issues but the major ones – slow boot/wake from sleep; blue screens while in sleep mode; not always reliable wifi; exceptionally flaky power management etc still persist.

      And more than just those, Vista itself is a horrible OS, by far and away the WORST I have ever used. It gets every little thing wrong – from defaults which meant that I lost days of work due to the “automatic” updates kicking in while I had active processes (in that case backing up my email which was going quite slowly) to “shadow files” which are non-customizable so cleaning them up is literally not fully possible – nor can you say configure them to NOT be active on certain directories (like say caches or frequently overwritten areas such as my actively changing podcast subscriptions)

      Can I repeat for your benefit – my laptop is and has always been fully and completely updated from Lenovo’s website. I have been maintaining computers for now well over 2 decades – I’m a seriously power user, keeping my tools updated is second nature. That said these problems I have are not the result of merely drivers – many (indeed most) are underlying flaws and I would say mistakes (and not just simple “bugs”) in how Vista is designed to run.

      I’ve blogged a lot about my issues with Vista – which also include completely braindead UI, an OS which seemingly on whims forgets my configuration choices (file manager constantly insists that a directory I’m looking at it an “audio file” directory – never mind that I have tried 100’s of times to tell it I NEVER want the views to change – that I ALWAYS want data such as file size, last changed time etc displayed.

      I seriously find Vista to be a HUGE step backwards (and don’t get me started on Office 2007 which is also a piece of crap)

    • CSA said

      It has nothing to do with drivers. I have an HP Pavillion tx1210ca with an AMD Turion64 X2 processor operating with 2 Gigs of ram and I have almost identical issues even after Vista SP2. And I have scrupulously kept my drivers up to date in an attempt to mitigate these issues. I don’t know why some people have had a good experience with Vista and others have not but there is definitely a inconsistancy with the operating system.

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