Happy birthday, Windows Vista: Troubled teen hits 15

It wasn't what Microsoft promised... but it wasn't all bad either

On January 30 2007, 15 years ago this week, the delayed and delayed again Windows Vista was released.

We could have fun talking about how bad Vista was, and how much people hated it. It's one of the most unpopular releases ever, along with Windows ME. But if you run a vaguely modern Windows today, you're running a descendant of Vista.

Vista wasn't what Microsoft promised in 2000. Windows "Whistler" was going to merge Windows 9x and Windows NT: that became XP, and everyone remembers XP – mostly, fondly. Windows Blackcomb was XP's planned successor. It never happened. We got Windows Longhorn instead.

Blackcomb was going to have a new programming model, a new UI, and a new database-driven storage engine, "WinFS"… but this got postponed, then removed, and then cancelled.

It's more interesting to talk about what Vista really was. What shipped was something technologically much more conservative.

It had User Access Control: those irritating pop-up messages constantly asking for permission. (That was really Microsoft realising that the bulk of Windows boxes would be standalone, not connected to a domain.)

It had a 3D-composited UI, "Aero", complete with transparency effects, although that did make it a bit slower. By the time Windows 7 rolled around, people loved it – so Microsoft ripped it out of Windows 8. (The look, not the compositing; that's still there.)

It had a sidebar containing "widgets", which are back in Windows 11.

Although it was killed off five years ago, Vista was the basis for Windows 7. Vista was NT version 6; Windows 7, under the covers, was Windows NT 6.1.

Windows 7 was Vista tuned to be more responsive. Windows 8 was Vista 2: the flat-look tablet version of Vista (which it was actually quite good).

The snag being that people were used to desktops and mice, so the start button was reinstated sharpish. Windows 8.1 was Vista 2.1.

Windows 10 is Vista 3, with metro modern apps sidelined and desktop apps front-and-centre again. Now, Windows 11 removes all those nasty complex confusing things like vertical sidebars.

Vista is when Microsoft dropped its fancy technological ambitions and started simplifying things instead. Now the visionaries have departed. The Surface didn't revolutionise the industry, it just alienated the OEMs.

Fifteen years on, Microsoft is still iterating upon Vista. ®

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