Windows Vista is by far the most reliable operating system I have used. I am more than grateful for that, as I will attempt to explain.
In my business and in my family we push computers so hard it is a wonder that they don't melt. We make our living using them, we play on them, we watch all our television on, or through them, we game on them, record to them and hammer the living circuits out of them. The guys in my company push new applications code and engineering so hard that no number of active screens is enough. Collectively we wear out more keyboards than we do shoes - and we move through some shoes - especially running shoes. Our many kids, their friends and their friends friends, are on our systems every second they aren't on a sports field of some kind - their lives are like businesses in many ways. they move through the schedules they keep with military precision and constant, but concise communications are the norm.
Oh, and yeah, we all run Windows Vista and thank goodness we do. Read on...
As the "Dad" to a lot of kids - to my own and a great deal more where we claimed one another as family, I'm not just the captain, but the chief engineer, too. In our home there are eleven active computers and twice as many active young people ranging in ages from 11 to 32. They are all my babies, and education, learning, and sharing are hammered home endlessly. Most computers are positioned in a large room where we tend to gather - close to one another, but not so close as to trip on one another. Each system has dual monitors and or a large screen LCD and each is pushed hard, but none so hard as our main Windows Media Center System - MCE2005LR.
MCE2005LR is simultaneously nothing special [in terms of hardware] and very special. The Windows Vista Ultimate PC began life as an experiment in November 2004 when small builders like us were allowed to build Windows Media Center computers [Symphony release and update just prior to roll-up 2 to Windows Media Center]. Around that launch we held an open house at our company and our customers all came out to support us. That was about the most humbling day I can remember in business - people flew in from all over at their own expense and shared a great day and night with our teams. It was an amazing event for us.
Shortly after our open house, I built MCE2005LR for our living room. All of our guys started to build similar MCE systems and we began to expand our product lines to include these machines and their integration to homes, restaurants and businesses of all kinds. MCE2005LR, starting off life as a test mule for all things Windows Media and Media Center, had a typical lab PC life - one build after another and four case designs and a lot of moves between different screens exposed it to some very rough handling. While the computer stood its ground there were a lot of bumps in the road and I never quite felt like the system was where it needed to be as an appliance like media HUB. While I could get it to work well enough, I could never quite recommend it for every day use as a host for all things TV.
Then came Windows Vista and Windows Media Center.
When I first saw the new Windows Media Center shell I was both pleased and pissed. I liked the direction the platform was headed in, but I was pissed that it had not been taken far enough forward. I still feel that way but only sort of - that Windows Media Center has so much potential, but at the same time, so far to go. All that was about to change and I was about to gain a new appreciation for Windows Vista Media Center. It was about 19 or 20th December, 2006, just before Christmas, and I was again a little restless and a lot bored. I don't sleep much - never needed it and love work too much to sit around for long. So while all the kids and my wife were asleep I took the MCE2005LR PC down from its perch in a custom cabinet my wife had made for me and just starred at it. I pulled a lot of parts from various bins and fired up a mini lab in the living room. Set the TV to a an HD broadcast of the "Gardens of Europe" and muted it as I always do. The room was dead quiet. I had one of our laptops near me and reviewed a lot of Windows Vista bashing threads that by that time, a few weeks after the business release of the new operating system, were already common and seemingly popular. I didn't like any of it and as I had already upgraded and installed Windows Vista on our work systems at the office, I just couldn't relate to the problems people were reporting - I just wasn't seeing the issues people asserted they were having.
I brewed a fresh pot of Joe - and dropped in the Windows Vista DVD. Before beginning, I removed the anti-virus software, dumped all temp files and that was it. Then I waited. I had chosen an in-place upgrade vice a clean install, so I expected the install to take more time - it took about four hours [4 hours 9 minutes to be exact]. As I waited, I did not expect everything to go well at all, but it did. I was frankly shocked and I don't know that I should have been, that everything went as well as it did - after all, I had all but intentionally baked the machine before beginning the upgrade process and I had no expectation that it would run, much less run well once it was updated.
Once Windows Vista Ultimate was installed I installed the newest available video card drivers from Nvidia and some sound card drivers for an ancient Sound Blaster Live card from Creative. Later I added the PC Alchemy support for legacy EAX audio. Once drivers were installed I moved the computer back into its custom cabinet and set up its large HD LCD screen, speakers, wireless BT keyboard and mouse as well as its Logitech Orbit web camera and the Media Center guide. I tested all TV, DVD and media functions, re-connected the FM antenna and I was done. Aside from Windows Updates and a video card driver update, no other updates have been applied and none have needed to be modified.
From Lab Rat to use as a media appliance
Within a few days of upgrading to Windows Vista something happened - what had been a lab and test mule took on a different role in my company and home. Instead of constantly mucking with the Media Center I noticed that there just wasn't any reason to adjust the machine. Everything we were throwing at it just worked and worked all the time. The new power management in Windows Vista was the first thing we noticed. We began to turn the computer on and off just like we would a regular TV - we can do it via the power switch, a Harmony 880 remote we added after Christmas, or in the operating system. The computer sleeps and wakes up in under two seconds - even when we have the TV in Windows Media Center still running! We have two extenders connected to the computer and share thousands of media and image files from it throughout our home - it even functions as a network print server. Aside from Windows Updates the computer is never rebooted and we use it for some pretty heavy shared web surfing and gaming. We've edited high definition videos on it together and ripped hundreds of CD's for the kids and all while it is used to support TV, recorded TV and extenders. We use it to record hundreds of hours of movies and TV and no matter what we do to it, it just keep running.
A lot of people know a little about the new Performance and Reliability tools native to Windows Vista, but fewer may understand just how carefully these new tools monitor a system. Hundreds of data collection points run continuously and any small error is recorded by the Performance and Reliability Monitor. If any application so much as fails, it is reflected and debits from a Vista system's perfect 10 rating - and it doesn't take much to make a system look bad in this context. One app error of any kind takes a hit on a system's rating. What may be design flaws in a Panda Software Anti-Virus 2007 stand alone client product were reflected in our computer and Windows Vista provided us with the information we needed to solve this problem for ourselves and customers, too. Once we had done that the newly upgraded Media Center has been flawless - quite literally, and it consistently scores a perfect reliability rating of 10 x 10. If we didn't hammer the computer so hard and if Vista didn't monitor so many data collection points so completely, I wouldn't be much impressed. The fact is however, that Vista monitors every aspect of the system and despite the load the operating system has performed without error.
Doing the impossible
I mentioned that by intent, I left some software on the computer I knew we could not install on Windows Vista and that was assured by the vendor would not run. I wanted to see what would happen if the changes in the registry that the software would make to a cleanly installed Vista system were already present when the computer was upgraded from XP to Vista. I am speaking of our security camera remote viewing client and server software. We had tested all applications we and our customers use throughout the Vista BETA, RC and RTM process and we had isolated one that we knew no matter what we tried, we could not get to run. We had not tested installing it on XP first and upgrading to Vista over the top of it and in part, MCE2005LR's upgrade was made to test what would happen. Well color us shocked and awed, it worked, works to this day and stands as a learning point about the Vista upgrade process - that sometimes, it is a good thing to do a "dirty" install.
MCE2005LR is still named the same - despite its new OS. It's still beat up on a daily basis and it's still perfect. Its Windows Performance and Reliability rating is still a spot on 10 x 10 - see images below. I've come to like it so much that I try and try to break it - installing and uninstalling software and drivers all the time. It never peeps even one error and it runs like a scalded dog.
May - June 2007
June - July 2007
The Windows Vista Performance and Reliability rating remained so high that I began to question whether it was performing its job properly - so I induced an error in Outlook 2007 by adjusting its connection settings and forcing an inelegant shut down of the application, and sure enough, Vista caught it dropped by score by nearly a full point. To say that I am surprised by how this machine has performed isn't accurate - I'm not any longer and no more than I am surprised that our other Windows Vista systems perform as reliably, because they all do. I am convinced Vista is not only a good operating system, but a great one. It has been easy to deploy and a lot easier to support than any previous version of Windows I have used.
For me, a busy dad and small business owner, using Windows Vista has been a very personal help to all that I do in both roles - connected and related as they are, I just can't see how I got along without Vista. In our home we have Zen's, Zune's, phones, Smart-phones, gaming controllers of every kind, Xbox extenders, tablet PC's and even a UMPC and increasingly, I have noticed that our customers' homes look the same - just as busy and just as dependent upon all things digital to help manage busy families and even busier places of work. Windows XP was great, but as it aged it became more difficult to manage and leverage in all the ways we wanted and needed. Vista changed that and has made keeping all of our digital tools and toys running and in many cases, running not just well, but perfectly.