Ultimately, in order to truly be positively accepted, Vista needs to prove itself as a worthy replacement for XP, and worth the unprecedented release gap between itself and XP. At the same time, Vista is Microsoft's first complete chance to respond to Apple's advancements with Mac OS X; this is all the more important now that Apple has made the switch to x86 processors. What Microsoft does with Vista will likely be a large influence on how much more progress Apple makes into the traditional PC market over the next 5 years.

While this is still a beta operating system, and we'll certainly be taking another look at it when it's ready to ship, as a feature-complete OS we can still evaluate it at a basic level, and get an idea of where Vista will stand among the other OSes in the marketplace.

Vista vs. Tiger

Although Microsoft may not consider itself to be in direct competition with Apple, this is the match-up most people have been waiting for. Vista implements a good deal of abilities that are suspiciously similar to abilities Tiger has, so the score card is not nearly as lop-sided in Apple's favor when Vista is taken into account. However, many of these new abilities feel more like poor imitations of Tiger than good copies.

As we've mentioned before, Microsoft's answer to Exposé, Flip3D, is clearly inferior in what we assume is Microsoft's attempt to not be so blatant in their copying. By overlapping windows in a rolodex fashion, Flip3D destroys much of the purpose and usefulness of such an organizational technique in the first place. Similarly, out of the box, Vista's quick search abilities are similar to Tiger's, but lack the smaller nuances of Spotlight such as the grouping results by type, understanding metadata, or even putting the results in a separate box (quick search temporarily uses the current window to show results).

This isn't to say that everything about Vista that it shares in common with Tiger is necessarily inferior. Microsoft gets points for their refinement of Alt+Tab, which by showing the contents of the applications makes it much more useful than Tiger's Cmd+Tab system, and users who are prone to Alt+Tabbing on Tiger anyhow in spite of Exposé are clearly going to be impressed. Similarly, IE7+ finally vaults ahead of Safari, and while we're more apt to use Firefox than either of those browsers, users who end up using the built-in browser will find IE7+ the more effective of the two.

Security is an aspect that we're not sure where to put either operating system, as we know the current beta implementation of Vista's UAC will be different from the final version. As currently implemented, UAC surpasses Tiger's security features by giving more information about what application is requesting privilege escalation and can give the user a chance to prevent malware from getting away with system changes, but at the same time most enthusiasts and likely even many normal users will find it's too overprotective and overbearing. There's a point that exists for UAC where it's neither underpowered nor overbearing, and if Microsoft can reach that then they'll clearly have a tighter core security system than Tiger. Even if Microsoft can't get their UAC implementation correct, though, Apple would be wise to learn from it for better ways to communicate with the user. While we're on the topic of security, the new Vista firewall should not go unmentioned; it's time for a full featured firewall for Windows and Mac OS X alike, and only the former has it. Apple likes to talk about how they don't succumb to virus attacks, but avoiding problems in the lack of a threat is not the same as being fully secure.

However, even with the massive improvements Microsoft has shown with Vista, we still feel they aren't quite ready to beat Tiger in a fight. Tiger still offers a more refined experience that doesn't come with nearly as many quirks as Vista does (beta quirks or otherwise), and there's a great deal of functionality that Tiger has that isn't replicated by Vista at all, such as drag and drop application installation or a Unix shell. Ultimately switchers are going to find that Vista is similar to Tiger, but it's not enough to surpass Tiger and cause them to switch back.

And then there's Leopard...

Vista vs. XP

So Apple users aren't likely to be impressed, but for users of Windows XP the decision is more straightforward. With a Windows-to-Windows comparison, we need to take performance into account, and Vista is not quite ready to do that, so much of this will hinge on Microsoft getting the performance of Vista up to par (if not above XP) and bringing critical driver support up to a similar standard. If Vista does not end up being as fast as XP (or close to it) or lacks too many good drivers, there's no reason for enthusiasts to upgrade to Vista right away unless there's a specific feature you need. Normal, less experienced users should be on Vista, as the security features will clearly be worth the costs for the extra protection against malware.

Assuming the performance problems are eliminated, the choice becomes fairly clear. Feature for feature, Vista is superior to XP, and its only real costs are memory usage, hard drive usage, and price. Until we have the latter of those, it'll be hard to make a recommendation in this case, but if the price of an OEM copy of Vista Business Edition ends up near that of the current XP Professional (around $130), then anyone with a Vista capable system will want to upgrade. If Microsoft fixes the speed, fixes the drivers, and fixes the compatibility of Vista, they'll have a clear winner on their hands over XP.

If all else fails for Microsoft and people don't want to upgrade, certain groups of users (especially gamers) won't have a choice anyhow: DirectX 10 alone will force some people to get Vista.

Vista x64, the Black Sheep

While through most of this article we've talked about the x86 version of Vista, which is what we actually ended up installing for our day-to-day use, it's important that the x64 version gets a mention too. On paper, Vista x64 is superior both for security, theoretical performance, and possesses a greater level of being future-proof, but at the same time we're a bit leery towards it at the moment.

As we've mentioned in our preview articles on XP x64 Edition, 64-bit versions of Windows have a few quirks to them as a result of a lack of 16-bit compatibility compounded by the Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64) translation layer for running 32-bit applications. The net result of this is that Vista x64 inherits the quirks of XP x64 along with the new quirks brought about by Vista itself. We don't know where the blame lies, but we had significantly more issues with Vista x64 than x86, including it refusing to run at a resolution of 1024x768 without apparently turning off 3D acceleration, a BSOD, program incompatibilities, and an overall feeling of being slower to respond than Vista x86. All of this begs the question: who is going to want to run an operating system that's slower, less compatible, and more resource hungry than a nearly equal version without the bugs?

Vista x64 is the future of Windows for enthusiasts; the normal 2GB per application memory limit of 32-bit applications practically ensures that in a few years high-end workstation apps and games will start requiring a 64-bit OS. However, we're going to have to take a more in-depth look at it when Vista ships; from the viewpoint of beta 2, it still seems to be the inferior brother of Vista x86.

Composition Engine and Spyware Performance


View All Comments

  • aeschbi99 - Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - link


    I just loved your article about Vista....especially the comparison to TIGER...I am a big MAC fan! But what MS did with Flip3D it appears to me is a copy of SUN's "Looking Glass" - which was out I believe even in 2003.

    Redmond --- start your copy machine.... the real invention starts somewhere else....

    see link">
  • absynthe49 - Saturday, July 1, 2006 - link

    I really enjoy anandtech but I didn't really like the style of this article. When I read it.. I was quite sad that vista was looking so bad at this stage... particularly the game performance.

    But then I remembered that I read in a few places that Vista would not support native DirectX 9. That it would be in a way.. emulated. So there was an expected decrease in numbers. My understanding was that new powerful hardware would be coming out and that it would run the older games fast enough to overcome the loss from emulation.

    The article almost seemed to say that gaming looks doomed in a way.

    So basically... the drivers are not tweaked yet... this is still a beta... there may still be a debugging layer running... and I think vista runs directx 9 through an emulation layer.

    So unless this is false and it actually runs directx 9 natively... is it really a surprize at all that directx 9 games run from 20 to 30 frames per second slower? This did not seem to be addressed at all in the article and I thought it was kind of premature worry so much.
  • NullSubroutine - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    they can say every hardware/software limitation they want. i dont buy that they 'cant' make dx10 for xp and they 'cant' have full opengl support. just too convienent for microsoft. Reply
  • mongo lloyd - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    Although Microsoft may not consider itself to be in direct competition with Apple, this is the match-up most people have been waiting for. Only people who give a shit about OSX, which is far from "most people". Reply
  • drewintheav - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link

    I thought the staged install method was supposed to be so fast?
    It took way longer to install than it does for me to install XP.
    The Vista Media Center is not useable at this point...
    The video stutters, the audio drops out, and it crashes all the time.
    I had always heard Mac fanatics saying how much better OSX was than XP
    I didn't really believe it could be "so much" better
    I tried out OSX after I installed Vista.
    And now it is very obvious to me where Microsoft has gotten most of its new UI ideas.
    At this point I would say that Microsoft's has executed them very poorly
    which is a little disappointing.
    It is disappointing to me that even if everything worked perfectly in Vista
    it would still lag behind OSX on a number of points
    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product
    and added a Media Center application
    I would switch to MAC and just run windows Windows apps with an emulator or a VM
    and dual boot XP for games.
    Microsoft really has a lot of work to do and I hope they get it together...

    OSX is way more innovative than Vista at this point...
  • AndrewChang - Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - link

    Well, after months of deliberation, it looks like my next personal computing platform will be a merom/leopard based mac book pro. I don't expect to be using a vista based pc until at least the first or second service pack. A fully intergrated bookcamp/virtualization in this next OSX release should take care of my legacy applications (games on xp). Thanks Anandtech, w/o your Macintosh articles I would have never considered all the wonderful options available to me. It'll be fun learing how to use a new OS, especially one that is already superior what us PC users have to look forward to. Reply
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link


    In fact if Apple sold OSX for Intel as a retail product

    There's no point - since Dell with the same configuration as iMac and with the same set of basic apps (like DVD burning/mastering etc) costs the same as iMac - why would you buy Dell in the first place? To me it seems that if you spend $1500 on a Dell plus retail Mac OS X instead of iMac - you'll get lower quality product.
    Hence no retail Mac OS X - nobody is interested because iMacs are priced on par with comparable Dells.

    and added a Media Center application

    There is Front Row - check out decent Mac sites, read reviews - you'll be surprised how much you missed, hehe ;-)
  • nullpointerus - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link

    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE. Show me the integrated program guide and automatic recording capabilities. You may as well compare Paint to Gimp or Photoshop.
  • Pirks - Monday, June 19, 2006 - link


    Not everyone who wants to run Mac OS X wants to purchase a prebuilt computer for it. You should know that if you're posting here because this site is mostly made up of enthusiasts.
    Same can be said about the post of the guy above asking for the OS X retail version. If I should know this site is for enthusiasts - THEN HE SHOULD KNOW what OS X is and why it is so successful and generates lots of buzz in IT press - pecisely because it DOES NOT have a retail version. Hence asking OS X to give up it's number one advantage - smooth integration with hardware because hardware is NOT open - is not much smarter than my post above.

    Mac OS X w/ Front Row isn't comparable to Windows MCE
    Depends on what the user wants. I suppose some users are happy with limited functionality of Paint and don't need/don't want Photoshop.
  • nullpointerus - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    "We also tested the boot times for a clean install of each operating system, using a stopwatch to see how long it took for the OS to boot to the point where it presented a usable login screen." must have something seriously wrong with your system. I'm using a lowly Athlon64 3000+ Winchester and 2GB PC3200 RAM. I did a clean install of the x64 version and timed it with my digital watch; it took ~50 seconds to get to the desktop, not the login screen. I had to switch to the 32-bit version because of driver support, and I can tell you it doesn't take 48 seconds to get to the login screen.

    Now, if you rummage around in the control panel's performance applet, you can look at services and drivers which are slowing the boot process down; USB audio and nVidia's drivers affected my system, and even so it starts nearly 30 seconds faster than your clean x64 system. Maybe there's something on your PC that's causing problems?

    Also, something on my second boot will chew up large amounts of CPU time, making the login screen unresponsive. On subsequent boots this problem disappeared, and I was able to enter my password immediately and login fairly quickly. I have drivers for my Linksys WMP54GX and Creative Audigy installed now, too, so my PC should be worse than your clean system.

    Maybe you could check these things out and retest?

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