Why I downgraded from Vista to XP

More like an upgrade?


Freeform Dynamics

I blogged a while back on how a Vista upgrade effectively rendered my old desktop machine useless for business purposes (see Retiring Leonardo from last year). I got a lot of feedback at that time as many people out there were obviously trying to get a handle on the viability of upgrading older kit.

While this debate continues, the related question has now arisen of whether even some PCs pre-installed with Vista are capable of running it adequately. Based on my own experience, this is a very pertinent question to ask if you are considering buying anything with less than a 1.8 Ghz Core2 Duo processor with 2Gb of memory - the current minimum spec I work on for serious business use. Yet there are lots of Vista machines out there on the market that are significantly less powerful than this.

Without getting into the rights or wrongs of this state of affairs, if you are unlucky enough to be struggling with Vista on a lower spec machine, you may be interested in a recent experience I had which was a bit of a wakeup call – not just in terms of the physical performance side of things, but also on the broader question of the value of Vista from an end user perspective in a business environment.

A few months ago, I needed to replace my notebook. As a notebook to me is companion to my desktop rather than my main machine, I wasn’t looking for anything very powerful – size, weight and battery life were much more important considerations. So, after a happy couple of hours cruising up and down all of the hi-tech shops in London’s Tottenham Court Road trying all the latest kit, I opted for a Sony TZ Series – about 1.2 kilos in weight, fantastic screen, reduced size but really nice keyboard, embedded cellular modem, and lots of other good stuff.

The machine came with Windows Vista Business Edition pre-installed and when I was playing with it in the shop, it was pretty responsive – the 1.2Gz Core2 Duo processor seemed to be up to the job. When I got the machine back to the ranch and loaded everything onto it, though, I have to admit to being a little disappointed with speed. Nevertheless, it was good enough, so I just got on with using it.

Over the course of the next four months, however, the performance gradually degraded and the user experience became awful. It eventually got to the stage where it was talking 12 minutes to boot and about 6-7 minutes to shut down, with very sluggish performance in between and frequent hangs requiring a forced shutdown (which in itself was probably making matters worse).

When researching the problem on the Web, it was clear that I was not the only one to be experiencing issues with Vista on the TZ Series, and the more I read, the more the answer to my problems became obvious – ‘downgrade’ the machine to Windows XP. A few forum entries mentioned a kit on the Sony website designed to allow you to do this, with all of the relevant drivers and utilities, and a set of instructions to guide you through the process. I duly downloaded this, followed the instructions, and it just worked. The longest part was installing and patching XP itself (which you have to buy separately, by the way – your Vista licence doesn’t cover it*).

The end result is fantastic. The word ‘downgrade’ seems totally inappropriate – in fact, it feels like the machine has gone through a significant upgrade. It now boots in well under two minutes (with all the same applications loaded as before), is highly resilient (has gone through a lot of sleep/wake cycles without crashing once) and, interestingly, many of the Sony utilities work much more naturally (I suspect they were designed for XP in the first place then ported to Vista).

The one thing I was a bit worried about was going back to XP from a usability and functionality perspective having got so used to Vista, but I was surprised to find that the experience was actually quite a positive one. Everything seemed more crisp, immediate and uncluttered and so far, the only thing I have missed is the enhanced application switching mechanism in Vista, i.e. the Alt-Tab and Windows-Tab functionality. That’s a minor sacrifice for the other benefits, though, and it only took me an hour or two to get used to the old mechanism again.

The switch back to XP was such a breath of fresh air that I have also ‘downgraded’ the desktop machine I am using at the moment. On a reasonable spec PC you don’t see the same increase in actual performance, but the XP interface still feels a lot cleaner and snappier (at least to me). Having both machines running the same OS obviously has its advantages too.

Now before everyone goes rushing out to downgrade their Vista machines based on this little story, it would be irresponsible of me not to point out that during my research, I read accounts from many happy Vista users, lots of which seemed to be getting on fine with the TZ and similarly spec’d machines. I would suspect the number and range of applications you work with has a bearing on this - remember I said that the TZ felt fine when I was just playing with OS with no applications installed before buying it. It could also, of course, be that people just accept the out-of-the-box experience as normal and don’t really question whether they are getting the best performance from their hardware. All I can say is that the downgrade was definitely the right thing for me, and is something to consider if you find yourself in a similar situation.

In the meantime, we continue to experiment with various desktop options here at Freeform Dynamics, and those looking at alternatives may be interested a post from my colleague Jon Collins entitled Why I’ve replaced Vista with Linux.

Finally, as I type this, I have a brand new MacBook sitting next to me here on my desk, and over the coming few weeks I am going to be looking at the practicalities of using the Mac in a Windows-dominated mainstream business environment, so watch this space for experiences with that.

Dale Vile is an analyst at research firm Freeform Dynamics. See here for his original blog post

* The right to downgrade Vista depends which edition you have. Vista Ultimate and Business may be downgraded within the terms of the Microsoft EULA at no additional cost, but this right does not apply to other editions of the software.


Other stories you might like

  • 'Prolific' NetWalker extortionist pleads guilty to ransomware charges
    Canadian stole $21.5m from dozens of companies worldwide

    A former Canadian government employee has pleaded guilty in a US court to several charges related to his involvement with the NetWalker ransomware gang.

    On Tuesday, 34-year-old Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins admitted he conspired to commit computer and wire fraud, intentionally damaged a protected computer, and transmitted a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer. 

    He will also forfeit $21.5 million and 21 laptops, mobile phones, gaming consoles, and other devices, according to his plea agreement [PDF], which described Vachon-Desjardins as "one of the most prolific NetWalker Ransomware affiliates" responsible for extorting said millions of dollars from dozens of companies worldwide.

    Continue reading
  • City-killing asteroid won't hit Earth in 2052 after all
    ESA ruins our day with some bad news

    An asteroid predicted to hit Earth in 2052 has, for now, been removed from the European Space Agency's list of rocks to be worried about.

    Asteroid 2021 QM1 was described by ESA as "the riskiest asteroid known to humankind," at least among asteroids discovered in the past year. QM1 was spotted in August 2021 by Arizona-based Mount Lemmon observatory, and additional observations only made its path appear more threatening.

    "We could see its future paths around the Sun, and in 2052 it could come dangerously close to Earth. The more the asteroid was observed, the greater that risk became," said ESA Head of Planetary Defense Richard Moissl. 

    Continue reading
  • Why Wi-Fi 6 and 6E will connect factories of the future
    Tech body pushes reliability, cost savings of next-gen wireless comms for IIoT – not a typo

    Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are being promoted as technologies for enabling industrial automation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) thanks to features that provide more reliable communications and reduced costs compared with wired network alternatives, at least according to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).

    The WBA’s Wi-Fi 6/6E for IIoT working group, led by Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, and Intel, has pulled together ideas on the future of networked devices in factories and written it all up in a “Wi-Fi 6/6E for Industrial IoT: Enabling Wi-Fi Determinism in an IoT World” manifesto.

    The detailed whitepaper makes the case that wireless communications has become the preferred way to network sensors as part of IIoT deployments because it's faster and cheaper than fiber or copper infrastructure. The alliance is a collection of technology companies and service providers that work together on developing standards, coming up with certifications and guidelines, advocating for stuff that they want, and so on.

    Continue reading
  • Intel demos multi-wavelength laser array integrated on silicon wafer
    Next stop – on-chip optical interconnects? Plus it's built with 300mm tech, meaning potential volume production

    Intel is claiming a significant advancement in its photonics research with an eight-wavelength laser array that is integrated on a silicon wafer, marking another step on the road to on-chip optical interconnects.

    This development from Intel Labs will enable the production of an optical source with the required performance for future high-volume applications, the chip giant claimed. These include co-packaged optics, where the optical components are combined in the same chip package as other components such as network switch silicon, and optical interconnects between processors.

    According to Intel Labs, its demonstration laser array was built on the company's well-established 300mm wafer manufacturing technology which is already used to make optical transceivers, paving the way for high-volume manufacturing in future. The eight-wavelength array uses distributed feedback (DFB) laser diodes, which apparently refers to the use of a periodically structured element or diffraction grating inside the laser to generate a single frequency output.

    Continue reading
  • Ex-Uber security chief accused of hushing database breach must face fraud charges
    Company execs and their lawyers are paying close attention to this one

    A US judge yesterday threw out an attempt to dismiss wire fraud charges against a former Uber employee accused of trying to cover up a computer crime.

    Former Uber security chief Joseph Sullivan is set to face criminal charges after US District Judge William Orrick yesterday [PDF] rejected his claim that prosecutors did not "adequately" allege that the goal of the claimed misrepresentation of the security breach was to get Uber's drivers to stay with the platform and continue paying service fees.

    In December last year, a federal grand jury handed down a superseding indictment adding wire fraud to the list of charges pending against Sullivan for his role in the alleged attempted cover-up of the 2016 security breach at Uber. The incident led to around 57 million user and driver records being stolen.

    Continue reading
  • FabricScape: Microsoft warns of vuln in Service Fabric
    Not trying to spin this as a Linux security hole, surely?

    Microsoft is flagging up a security hole in its Service Fabric technology when using containerized Linux workloads, and urged customers to upgrade their clusters to the most recent release.

    The flaw is tracked as CVE-2022-30137, an elevation-of-privilege vulnerability in Microsoft's Service Fabric. An attacker would need read/write access to the cluster as well as the ability to execute code within a Linux container granted access to the Service Fabric runtime in order to wreak havoc.

    Through a compromised container, for instance, a miscreant could gain control of the resource's host Service Fabric node and potentially the entire cluster.

    Continue reading
  • US seeks exascale systems 10 times faster than current state-of-the-art computers
    China claims to have 10 in the pipeline and may pull ahead in HPC arms race

    The US Department of Energy is looking to vendors that will help build supercomputers up to 10 times faster than the recently inaugurated Frontier exascale system to come on stream between 2025 and 2030, and even more powerful systems than that for the 2030s.

    These details were disclosed in a request for information (RFI) issued by the DoE for computing hardware and software vendors, system integrators and others to "assist the DoE national laboratories (labs) to plan, design, commission, and acquire the next generation of supercomputing systems in the 2025 to 2030 time frame."

    Vendors have until the end of July to respond.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022