I realized today that I had forgotten a password and so for the first time this year I booted into Windows hoping that one of my browsers had saved the password. Unfortunately none of my browsers had and I have to find a way to reset it. But as I was sitting around for 5 whole minutes waiting for Vista to start up and become usable, I began to think about all the Windows operating systems that I’ve used over the past few years.
My school was rather behind times and so as late as 2000 we were still running really ancient machines with DOS and programming in some equally ancient version of BASIC. I can vaguely remember using a few times what I no wknow to be Windows 3.1. Yeah, we were that bad. Luckily, I don’t remember very much about those once a week computer classes. My family bought its first computer in late 2001. For some reason, we got stuck in Windows 98. I used 98 for a good few years. 98 was, well…. 98. It was buggy , hung rather often (and took everything I was doing with it), but with knowledge of anything better, I lived with it. I wasn’t the computer geek I am now and I can’t remember ever really digging under the hood. I did some superficial changes, the usual modding that any teenager does to their system, but it was never anything serious.
I never did like the way 98 looked and I thought the gray was really much too bland. It wasn’t until 2003 that I actually got my first taste of Windows XP. Of course, I knew that XP had been out for qutie a while, but it had never caught my fancy. Like I said, I wasn’t the computer geek yet. But once I did have my first taste of XP, I was hooked. Compared to 98, it looked amazing. It took quite some convincing to get my dad to let me actually install it and for a while we double booted with 98. It wasn’t until Windows 98 one day suddenly decided not to work that we moved over to XP full time.
I still think Windows XP was a really great operating system, perhaps Microsoft’s best to date. The user interface was kinda flat and somewhat gaudy by todays standards, but I think it was a good level of unobstrusive functionality. And most importantly it was actually stable for the most part. Of course, I did get bored of it for a while and then I started to try to make it look a like a Mac. My parents still run XP and they’ve kept the same install for about 3 years now. They aren’t power users by any standard, but XP is good enough for them. And that is XP’s greatest merit: in many ways it was just good enough.
I can’t say that I was really looking forward to Vista. By the time news of Vista spilled over on to the Internet, I was well on the way to becoming the open source lover that I am now. I was using linux a lot, not quite full time, but getting there. I played around with the early compositing and transparency technologies and was starting to learn more about the under-the-hood technologies that powered my machine. And I was never going to convince my parents to spend on the upgrades that would be necessary to actually run Vista.
In 2007 I moved to the US and bought my first laptop. With a dual 64-bit processor and a gigabyte of RAM, vista was a real possibility. And there wasn’t much choice considering that’s what it came with. I did use Vista full time for about a month. But then I installed Linux and I’ve been a committed Linux user ever since. I can’t say I really like Vista, but I don’t exactly hate it. I actually do like the user interface mostly, though I do wish that it was less shiny and more opaque at times. But what I really dislike is how much of a resource hog it is. I takes a good 5 minutes to become really usable and God help you if you try launching programs before it’s finished getting its act together. There are probably ways to tweak to get it to run faster, but I just don’t like it enough to do anything about it.
It will be interesting to see the evolution of Windows 7. If I had a spare machine, I would have tried the Beta. I still don’t like all the transparency everywhere, but I hope the other improvements will be enough to outwiegh that. The integration with the web will also be something to keep an eye on. I would be really interested if they brought back some of the things that got shelved in Vista, particularly WinFS. That being said, I do really doubt that I will ever really go back to using Windows full time. Linux is my operating system of choice for any sort of programming work. For anything else, whether it be writing a paper, making a presentation or keeping my media organized, OS X meets all my needs. I might explore the new Windows when it does come out, but I don’t see much of chance for becoming a full time Windows user in the near future.