How Windows Vista Became A Huge Mess For Microsoft

How Windows Vista Became A Huge Mess For Microsoft
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Windows 10’s software updates have become a bit of a disaster for Microsoft thanks to a spate of OS-borking bugs and equally problematic patches. It’s gotten so bad that each compulsory installation is now met with fear and dread from users.

But it could be worse. At least it’s not Vista.

The troubles currently plaguing Windows 10 got us to thinking about the company’s previous big OS fail – the endlessly maligned Windows Vista.

Even now, more than a decade after the operating system was discontinued, Vista remains a running punchline. So what went wrong?

The writing may have been on the wall when Windows Vista was released to the public, but it’s only after many, many years we’re starting to hear the stories of those who worked on the ill-fated operating system, providing insight into exactly what went wrong. Like any complex project, there wasn’t just a single point of failure.

Last year, ex-Microsoft VP Ben Fathi revealed the myriad causes for the OS’ downfall in an epic blog post entitled: ‘What Really Happened With Vista: An Insider’s Perspective.

As the VP of Windows Core Development at Microsoft during Vista’s creation, Fathi was certainly well placed to witness what went wrong with the OS.

While there were a number of contributing factors, he puts a lot of the blame on the quick turnaround of releases pre-Windows 7:

On average, a release took about three years from inception to completion but only about six to nine months of that time was spent developing “new” code. The rest of the time was spent in integration, testing, alpha and beta periods — each lasting a few months.

Some projects needed more than six months of core development so they proceeded in parallel and merged with the main code base when ready. This meant that the main tree was almost always in a semi-broken state as large pieces of functionality were being integrated or replaced.

He goes on to say that Vista was a wake-up call in this regard; when work began on Windows 7, “much tighter controls were put in place … to ensure a constantly healthy and functioning code base”.

Fathi also talks about how Microsoft got into trouble with anti-virus vendors when the company tried to lock down the OS:

In my role as the head of Microsoft security, I personally spent several years explaining to antivirus vendors why we would no longer allow them to “patch” kernel instructions and data structures in memory, why this was a security risk … our “friends”, the antivirus vendors, turned around and sued us, claiming we were blocking their livelihood and abusing our monopoly power!

It’s a long read, but well worth it if you have any interest in the history of Windows, particularly the dark times of Vista.

What Really Happened with Vista: An Insider’s Retrospective [Noteworthy]

This story haa been updated since its original publication.


  • The toxic culture at Microsoft couldn’t have helped. They had a system that automatically failed at least one worker in every group, who was, I believe, fired. As such, people in those groups would turn against each other to ensure they weren’t the one at the bottom. Very healthy.

    When Windows 7 came out, a manager working on it admitted they tried to copy the MacOS in term of ease of use.

    From memory, his bosses didn’t appreciate his candour.

    • Not going to lie I love how 10 just grabs any drivers it needs makes like so easy, I’ve installed a few 7 clean installs lately and you forget that you need drivers for the Ethernet port

    • A lot of the stuff that made it into 7 was first introduced in, or at least mooted for, Vista. Many people don’t have anything good to say about Vista but it was an important stepping stone between XP and 7.

  • Vista did bring a lot of valuable features to the windows eco system and I feel like it came down to three things:

    1) people don’t like change

    2) most home PC’s at the time were too under powered to run it

    3) bugs

    • It did bring a lot of features but in what more seemed a beta version.

      1) yeah true people don’t always like change but when you change from something that works to something that doesn’t people do tend to get annoyed.

      2) it’s not that people’s pc’s weren’t powerful enough, it’s Vista was so inefficient. Requiring a faster pc to run it. The fix for a slow computer running Vista was to upgrade it to 7, being more efficient it ran so much better.
      The aero desktop in Vista was the killer, disabling it made a Vista system run a lot better, luckily they had it sorted for 7.
      3) yeah that’s true.

  • Ran Vista successfully for several years, all day every day, with no real issues. Still don’t know why it got a bad rap.
    The only bad thing I seem to recall is that if you shelled out with Ultimate there was precious little difference over other versions – the “Ultimate Extras” weren’t much cop.

    • It had a bad rap because it was in part a bad OS, but because it was also a huge bridge between Windows XP and Windows 7. It was a painful process everybody had to go through – because many of the OS subsystems changed. The biggest thing for gamers was the new display driver model (which also means the display driver crashing doesn’t kill the entire OS, like it did in WinXP) but because nvidia and AMD dragged their feet, performance was balls for ages.

      People forget that Windows XP had an obscenely long lifespan by Windows standards – but so many people today had WinXP as their first OS and don’t remember that going from Win9x to XP was just as frustrating and painful back in the day. If we didn’t have Vista, Windows 7 would have been just as maligned.

    • Vista was quite buggy when released, but it did improve over time. By SP1 is was pretty much all good with no issues (though win7 performance was better) but forever kept the bad rap.

    • I think it got a bad rap because it was forced onto underpowered machines clogged with OEM bloatware.

      My brother gave me his Acer laptop with Vista home and it was terrible until i formatted the hard drive and reinstalled Vista and although it was a slow machine it was now usable. I did them put 7 on it and it ran even better.

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