Vista Annoyances Resolved

[Page 3] The FUD Factory

You may have noticed that most articles discussing Vista - indeed most articles discussing virtually any topic of contention on the Internet - are filled primarily with opinions. For the most part that's fine; opinions are often worth sharing as they stimulate discussion and can generate new ideas. There are countless forums, blogs and chat rooms filled with people discussing their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics.

However opinions on their own are not worth much unless they have some basis in fact - uninformed opinions are worthless, they're like weeds on the landscape of the Internet; of no productive value, constantly growing and very hard to get rid of once they spread. A specific subset of these uninformed opinions is labelled Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, or FUD for short, although another way to describe it is disinformation, or even more broadly, the act of spreading ignorance. Whether done deliberately or not, FUD is the ceaseless background noise grating against the symphony of the world wide web. It misleads, confuses and confounds people into making the wrong choices. It encourages people to become lazy sheep, following the easiest or most popular point of view, rather than the most accurate one.

The greatest proponents of FUD on the Internet are the bloggers and so-called Tech "Journalists" who write reams of text on every significant and insignificant development in the world of IT on a daily basis. But why do they insist on generating so much FUD you may ask - what do they have to gain? The answer is simple: the most precious commodity on the Internet is traffic. Traffic generates fame and fortune. Nothing draws more traffic than articles sensationalising issues that affect the average reader. And what could have more impact on the average tech reader than the most used Operating System around the world: Microsoft's Windows.

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While some people, such as the average forum poster, spread FUD purely through a lack of knowledge and without any malicious intent, a significant number of people do it deliberately and professionally. Many bloggers and tech writers receive a notable portion of their income based on the advertising revenue generated from the traffic to their sites. Indeed one of the constant dilemmas facing these people is the pressure to write interesting new material in order to maintain their existing readership and attract new readers. The New York Times recently reported on the emerging phenomenon of 'blog stress', pointing out in particular that:

One of the most competitive categories is blogs about technology developments and news. They are in a vicious 24-hour competition to break company news, reveal new products and expose corporate gaffes... To the victor go the ego points, and, potentially, the advertising. Bloggers for such sites are often paid for each post, though some are paid based on how many people read their material. They build that audience through scoops or volume or both.

Little wonder then that even before the beta process for Windows Vista began, then subsequently through to its official retail release, and ever since then, there have been, are, and will be, countless articles jockeying to provide all sorts of sensationalist and downright inaccurate takes on every facet of Vista. When Vista is milked dry, they'll move on to Windows 7 and repeat the entire process, as is already starting to happen. Whether these articles serve any practical purpose is of little importance to the authors; when short of something genuinely important to write about, they know that they can invariably dip into the bottomless well of specific topics with broad popular appeal and sensationalize them in order to get much-needed traffic. Popular topics such as piracy's fight against the unholy DRM, corporate conspiracies designed to rob us of our freedoms, some minor security hole in an OS or app that threatens the very fabric of the universe, and of course, the utter failure of Windows Vista. The formula is simple: choose one of these topics, pick a slightly different angle, hype it up, provide some vague or misleading "new facts" to prop up your arguments, add some witty and sarcastic remarks to make yourself appear jaded and tech savvy, and you have yourself a piece fresh from the FUD Factory, ready to be used as bait to lure curious members of the general public to your site.

One has to ask: even if the authors have such great incentive to write uninformed sensationalist nonsense, why would the public be so eager to read it? Obviously this is the subject of great speculation, and no definitive answer can be provided short of asking every single Internet user. But let me venture a guess that the most popular articles are those that pander to the preconceived notions of the majority, and comfort them by telling them in essence that they were right all along, that their way is the best way, and that anyone else must be crazy, stupid or delusional to disagree. So articles which pour scorn on Vista, particularly those with seemingly plausible technical criticisms, are welcomed by the vast majority of Windows users simply because Windows XP still makes up over 70% of global operating systems (and remember, it was even higher at 85% when Vista first came out). Why on Earth would the average XP user want to hear that their OS is less functional, less secure and generally less desirable, and that they may need to outlay more funds to purchase the latest version of Windows, or have to experience the inevitable learning curve that comes with mastering the intricacies of a new OS? Indeed not only Windows users, but also Apple users, Linux users and a host of other people who either have a deep dislike of Windows or Microsoft have all the incentive in the world to pick Vista apart, to exaggerate any issues, to point to the OS as the source of all problems, and in short, to promote the spread of FUD.

A trend soon emerges whereby criticizing Vista as the latest and greatest tech failure becomes fashionable, a sign that you are tech savvy and one of the cool people on the Internet, you knew all along that Vista was a dud, you could see through Microsoft's corporate greed and you stuck with XP, and there are the articles to back you up on your wise decision. As the sheep mentality continues to grow, anyone arguing against the dominant viewpoint is shouted down, ridiculed and abused on public forums, regardless of the validity of their opinion or the facts they present. Any bloggers and tech writers who actually write articles in support of Vista are treated to the Internet equivalent of a roomful of empty chairs with only crickets chirping in the background.

It Takes Two

To quote Homer Simpson: "It takes two to lie Marge. One to lie, and one to listen". That might not get Homer off the hook, but there's a ring of truth to what he says. In essence it takes two to FUD: one group to keep pumping out the FUD, and one group to constantly read it and swallow it whole without questioning the motives behind it, and thus perpetuate the demand for it.

Microsoft recently unveiled a very clever marketing campaign designed to highlight this very point. Dubbed The Mojave Experiment, it was an exercise involving 140 participants who hadn't used Vista but who held predominantly negative views about the OS. Ostensibly asked to rate the next generation OS 'Mojave', the majority of them were very impressed, and subsequently very surprised when it was revealed that what they'd actually been shown was Windows Vista. Before proceeding further it should be noted that the system on which Vista was demonstrated was a rather ordinary HP Pavilion DV2500 (Core 2 Duo@ 2.2GHz and 2GB RAM). You can view the video of a sample of the before and after reactions for yourself here. Make no mistake, this was clearly a marketing exercise rather than a scientific study, but I'm sure we all know of at least one person who has similarly strong preconceived and misinformed views regarding Vista - or pretty much anything else - based solely on what they've been told or heard, rather than firsthand experience or any actual knowledge.

Indeed, as we know, FUD is not limited to the IT world. US President George Bush knowingly lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) existing in Iraq - the CIA reported conclusively in 2004 that no such weapons existed. This information was widely reported in the media at the time. Yet public polls such as this one show that from 2004 to 2006 the proportion of Americans who believe Iraq had WMDs actually grew substantially from 38% to 50%! Clearly FUD is extremely hard to counter once it gains a foothold in people's hearts and minds.

No doubt about it - FUD is an incredibly powerful tool that can supersede facts and logic, and steer people in the wrong direction. And there are plenty of people with the incentive to wield it to their benefit. The moral of this tale is that it's very important that you think carefully about the context and possible agendas behind the information you read, as this can often be far more pertinent than the information itself. In other words you should question the who and why before considering the what and where of an article.

Full Disclosure

Having read the above, it's only natural for you to wonder what exactly my agenda is in writing this article. Maybe I'm just looking for more traffic or more attention; maybe I'm a pro-Microsoft or pro-Vista fanboy with a view to luring more people into liking Vista, possibly because Microsoft sponsors me or has provided me with free software; maybe I run a state-of-the-art megabuck PC and so I'm out of touch with what the average user experiences when using Vista - the possibilities are endless. To put your mind at ease, let me provide you with some important background information that might help put my motivations into perspective if you're interested.

Have a good look around this site - I think you'll see that it's quite humble and hardly geared towards generating large amounts of revenue through copious advertising. I have no affiliation with any hardware or software manufacturer. I've never been paid to write an article nor given any free games or hardware. If you look at the front page and the various guides on this site you can clearly see my focus is on providing facts, not editorials or opinions. The site is already viewed by up to 1 million unique visitors a month, and if you search on Google you'll see I've had no shortage of mentions over the years. Popularity has never been my goal with this site - indeed I've taken some highly unpopular steps such as restricting my forum's membership via a special Introduction System based on a quality-driven Forum Philosophy that alienates many readers.

Not only has Microsoft never helped me out, I've even been on the receiving end of their legal ire when I wrote this article on how to make Windows XP look like Windows Vista back in August 2005. Aside from forcing me to remove its contents, they also insisted that I retitle my Windows XP Tweaking Companion to TweakGuides Tweaking Companion, since they said the 'Windows XP' in the title was an unlicensed use of the name. They were technically correct in both cases, but I think you'll agree it was fairly petty of them to target me in this way. They've never responded to my requests for software, even beta software, and although individuals employed by Microsoft have contacted me to thank me and provide feedback on my guides, the company itself is wholly uninterested in my efforts. I should add that I wrote a 'Tech Tune-up' monthly column in the Microsoft-affiliated Official Games for Windows Magazine for six months but chose to leave due to issues to do with the subsequent collapse of the publisher. Consider these facts and I think you'll agree, I certainly don't have any reason to like Microsoft or create a free promotional piece for their latest operating system.

In fact when Microsoft initially announced back in October 2006 that Windows Vista would have Restrictive Licensing Conditions that would negatively impact on PC enthusiasts like me, I angrily wrote to Paul Thurrott outlining my objections, the result of which was that Paul asked me to write this article, which he placed on his site a couple of days later. Shortly afterwards Microsoft removed the licensing restrictions, and I also got a taste of how easy it was to write a popular opinion piece; I received hundreds of congratulatory emails and the article was read and quoted widely - and all it took me was a few hours' work. Incidentally, you may notice that I don't paint a particularly flattering picture of Vista in that piece - like most people I was operating under initial impressions after using the beta for only a short period. This is what I said two years ago about Vista:

The bottom line is that at the moment I am quite underwhelmed with what Vista has to offer the end consumer. I'm sure over time its feature set will mature and its advantages become more effectively utilized and streamlined, but to me right now it feels like a dumbed-down, prettier yet more annoying version of Windows XP.

To summarize, I am clearly neither a Vista nor Microsoft zealot. I have nothing to gain from unduly promoting Vista, and I'm also not screaming for attention, nor, as a 37 year old PC user, am I new to the world of PCs and out to "make my mark". Here on this site I write guides. Guides are based on fact, combined with considered and informed advice. In particular, in my guides I make absolutely sure that I get people to understand the basics of what they're doing rather than just blindly following my advice. Trust me, this is not a popular move; most people prefer to simply be told what to do rather than be forced to read, research and think for themselves. But I consider it essential that people think before acting, consider the context of their actions, and make informed decisions on their own. More importantly, this process means that each guide can take me weeks, sometimes months to research and write. It would be so much quicker, easier and more lucrative for me to just write emotion-packed, sensationalist and popular opinion pieces if all I was after was lots of traffic, attention and revenue.

My PC Specifications

Since Vista's hardware requirements are central to the discussion regarding its performance, one major point of disclosure that deserves some specific attention is the specifications and details of my Vista PC. It is detailed here, and summarized below:

CPU: AMD X2 4400+ (2.2GHz)
Motherboard: DFI Lanparty NForce4 SLI-DR
RAM: 2GB (2 x 1GB) OCZ PC-3200 Platinum EL
Graphics: Palit 8800GTS 640MB
Sound: Creative Audigy 2 ZS
Hard Drives: Dual boot configuration:
Windows XP - 2 x 74GB WD Raptor RAID 0
Windows Vista - 1 x 74GB WD Raptor
CD/DVD: Pioneer DVR-109
Monitor: Hyundai L90D+ 19" 8ms LCD
Input: MS Optical Desktop Wireless
Power Supply: Silverstone 650W
Case: Coolermaster Stacker

The system was built in July 2005, the graphics card updated in May 2007. It is completely stock, and is not overclocked or otherwise modified. It is used as my daily machine for everything from browsing to gaming for hours on end. It is absolutely rock solid in terms of stability and reliability, very responsive and a joy to use every single day.

It may surprise some people that as a computer enthusiast and tweaker I run such a relatively old machine, but truthfully I've had no reason to upgrade it so far since it does everything I want extremely well, and plays every game I want at maximum settings - even Crysis at 1280x1024 'Cheap' Very High quite smoothly - see this video for proof (keeping in mind FRAPS has almost halved the FPS). Note that I have plenty of other other videos of other games up to and including the most recent ones like Mass Effect, playing perfectly smoothly at max settings on this hardware.

I run a dual boot configuration which allows me to boot into Windows XP SP3 or Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 32-bit as required. Both operating systems have been fully optimized using the relevant TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. I purchased Windows XP back in November 2001 and have extensive experience with every aspect of it. I started using Windows Vista as of Beta 2 in June 2006 and gratefully received a donated copy of Windows Vista Ultimate from a generous reader in March 2007, and once again I have extensive personal knowledge of its usage. As noted I've written two comprehensive tweak guides for both OSes, both are regularly updated, both are promoted on the same page, and neither is given preferential treatment over the other.

In summary I believe the above information provides ample evidence that:

  • I don't waste money on tech products just to use the latest stuff or keep up with the Joneses, I don't have to have the latest and greatest just because I'm a 'PC enthusiast'; I get only what I need to do the job I need it to do.
  • I have no implicit bias towards either XP or Vista, since I own and have easy access to both, both run flawlessly on the same hardware, and have released comprehensive guides for both OSes.
  • I have no implicit bias towards Microsoft or any other software or hardware manufacturer, since I don't get paid by any of them nor receive free products.
  • A new state-of-the-art machine and tons of RAM are not necessary to run Vista responsively, even for hardcore gaming.

  • More evidence to support these claims is provided further along in this article, but I think by now you'd be hard pressed to suggest that I have any real incentive to write a biased article about Windows Vista, or that I'm out of touch with what the average user experiences because my machine is such a beast.

    Enough with the preliminaries, the next section starts our look at Vista's annoyances and practical solutions.