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James Fallows vs. The Redmond Horror

This is the second person who has run screaming in terror from Windows Vista. The other one said that Windows Vista had managed to make his modern Viao laptop as slow as the XT he took to college in the mid-1980s:

James Fallows | Author and Journalist » Blog Archive » Is Windows Vista the monster that’s eating my hard drive?: This spring I bought a new laptop, as I end up doing every two years or so. By that time, the older one is showing its road wear, after being hammered on and toted around all day, every day. Defective pixels start to pock the screen. Half the keys on the keyboard have had their lettering worn off, the N always first to go. (Research project: paint or decals for keys that doesn’t abrade off so quickly.) And by that time, what’s available in the new models — bigger disks, faster processors, better screens — is worth the shift.

This time I got a ThinkPad T60, maybe the dozenth ThinkPad I’ve bought over the decades and the first with a Lenovo label. I am loyal to ThinkPads despite what I learned early this year while reporting my article on Shenzhen — that virtually all the laptop computers in the world, whether they are sold as Dells or Sonys or HPs or ThinkPads, come from the same handful of no-name Taiwanese factories based in southern China. (Details at end of this post, after the jump.) I like the ThinkPad keyboard, even when the lettering is gone; ThinkPads have rarely done me wrong; I illustrate brand loyalty.

And — practicing what I preached in the Atlantic last year — I waited to buy this ThinkPad until I could get it pre-installed with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s latest operating system. Why not just stick with WinXP, by now a tried, true, and stable platform? With the other laptops scattered around the house, that’s what I’ve done. But within the lifetime of this newest machine, I expect that I’ll be forced or tempted to move to Vista, for compatibility reasons. So I’d rather start out with it installed, despite the inevitable bugs in early release, than later have to install Vista myself.

(Why don’t I just use a Mac? I do. I’ve always had one around, currently an iBook.)

But really, there seems to be something basically wrong with Vista. Not crashes — I haven’t had a single blue-screen-of-death episode, nor a hung-up program that forced me to reboot. And I’m not even worried about a perverse kind of compatibility problem — some of my existing apps don’t recognize Vista yet and refuse to run under it. This will get worked out. The real problem is what is known in the business as “performance” — how fast the system runs, and how many resources it demands.

Minute by minute, Vista seems no slower, but also no faster, than XP. Startup and shutdown are another matter. It takes what seems a lifetime, and in reality is two or three minutes, to boot the system up and, much worse, to shut it down or even “hibernate” it. Twenty-five years into the personal computer age, this is crazy. Actually, it’s unacceptable.

And disk use!!!! This latest ThinkPad came with a 110-gigabyte hard drive installed. We take that for granted, but it’s astonishing. The first PC-XT I got, also 25 years ago, came with a 10 megabyte hard drive — or 1/11,000th as much as this new machine.

Here is what is more amazing: the new disk is almost full!!

Let’s do the math. We start with 110 gigabytes. Apparently a vast recovery-and-repair partition is built in, which takes about 10 gigabytes. Then I have all my junk — programs; installation files; gigantic CAB files for installing the likes of Microsoft Office (whose new version I like very much); every digital photo I’ve ever taken; music and audio files; twenty years’ worth of email; bloated PDFs; vast index files for the X1 search program and Microsoft’s built-in indexer; backups and versions of all kinds of things.

As best I can calculate, ALL of that together - every single file on the disk, as shown by Windows Explorer or utilities like ExplorerPlus — takes up at most 32 gigabytes. That should leave at least 65 gigs free on my disk. So why does my new computer show only 4 gigs free on the hard disk? Yesterday it had 10 — bad enough in itself. But where did 6 gigs go in one day? (OK, I used Windows Update overnight. But if that devours 6 gigs per time, no one will use it for very long.) The computer is now exhibiting all the symptoms of being short on disk space — mainly, a whole lot of churning disk activity and general slowdown as it has to swap material in and out of a small amount of available storage.

How can this be? Backup and un-install files? Snapshots of the configuration at a certain point, so you can go back to a previous system-state if new programs cause new problems? I couldn’t say. But one way or another, the problem would have to involve the operating system. Can Vista really be this profligate and sloppy?

Bonus point: Here is a passage from the Shenzhen article talking about the miracle of notebook-computer brands:

Inventec [is] one of five companies based in Taiwan that together produce the vast majority of laptop and notebook computers sold under any brand anywhere in the world. Everyone in America has heard of Dell, Sony, Compaq, HP, Lenovo-IBM ThinkPad, Apple, NEC, Gateway, Toshiba. Almost no one has heard of Quanta, Compal, Inventec, Wistron, Asustek. Yet nearly 90 percent of laptops and notebooks sold under the famous brand names are actually made by one of these five companies in their factories in mainland China. I have seen a factory with three “competing” brand names coming off the same line.