Monday, May 5, 2008

Survey Results: The Vista & XP conundrum

Windows Vista has been around for quite some time already. Having turned one year old, and into its first service pack, it cannot be considered as 'the new kid on the block'. Many new computers come with Vista pre-installed. I think it's a stellar operating system, but a large portion of people believe otherwise, thinking that XP is still a wiser choice.

I've written about this before, saying that it is frightening how people don't want to move on to Vista but cling tightly to XP. I said I found this trend puzzling and disconcerting, that people would actually find a dated OS more attractive than a fresh revolutionary version of Windows. Tech journalist Paul Thurrott gave his view on this problem and explained why.

In my attempt to seek first-hand answers, I decided to conduct an online survey on my friends to find out why exactly.

The survey was hosted on, and most of the respondents were young people who typically use a computer on a daily basis, for school work, entertainment, online chatting, internet etc. Thus it is appropriate to survey this target audience to find out their thinking behind the choice of operating system for home use specifically, be it XP or Vista. A big thank you to all those participants, your effort was helping in allowing me to gain insight on this issue.

Analysis of Questions

Question 1:
I started with a non-intimidating question. What is the primary operating system your home computer runs on? The purpose of this is to see how popular Vista is in the Singapore market, and also, as a side aim, to see how much market share the Mac has. I was expecting the majority to be still using XP, and I was dead right.

68% of respondents run XP, while only a pathetic 16% use Vista. Clearly, XP is ubiquitous. On the Mac, things are equally bleak, but interesting: the total number of Mac users equal that of Vista users. Could this signify that Mac is gaining market share? I think so. I know of many friends who bought a Mac within this year; it's crazily popular.

Vista is obviously not very sellable and appealing to customers, and this should worry Microsoft that Vista is not selling as well as planned. Although one could argue that it doesn't matter, as long as people buy a Windows license and Microsoft earns the buck, it's OK if they are not getting Vista. However, that isn't completely valid. By not getting Vista, customers are not "sold on the company's technological vision, and they're no longer lining up as Microsoft tries to lead them to the future", in the words of Thurrott. Thus there is a need for more marketing/positive publicity for users to be convinced to upgrade.

Question 2:
If you must choose between Windows XP or Vista, which would you prefer to run on your computer?

I expected the results to show a bias towards XP, since I have read that many detest Vista and therefore wouldn't choose to run it on PCs. However, it turned out to be a draw, or almost. Vista won by a mere 4%. Nevertheless, this trend is worrying as there is no widespread adoption of Vista, even one year after release.

This is not the ideal situation that we should see. Ideally, if Vista was more successful, almost everyone should choose it over XP, but clearly this isn't the case. As with question 1, this shows that there is a problem with Vista such that customers do not find it favorable to use on a daily basis.

Question 3:
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Windows Vista in general?

The reactions to this question are widespread and not clearcut. There are 2 people who think Vista is absolute baloney, some thinking that it's average, some above average, and one respondent thinks it is flawless and deserves full score. However, the bulk responded by giving a score between 5 to 7, meaning average to good.

This question was tough to evaluate, so I concluded that opinions are mixed, but the majority of people perceive Vista to be average to good, as opposed to exceptional. I guess this could be the reason for the slow adoption rates, as people don't recognise the brilliance of Vista.

Furthermore, XP service pack 3 will be released, and many Vista features were brought down to run on XP (e.g. Office 07, Windows Defender, Windows Presentation Foundation, .NET 3.x), meaning that XP is still not that bad an alternative and it seems logical to stick with it. In this respect you could argue that the failure of Vista is Microsoft's own-doing, and I would agree. But to add on, Microsoft has to do this as many businesses still rely on XP, and small portable under-powered laptops still utilise XP, hence there is a demand for increased support that Microsoft has to address.

Question 4:
Are you aware of the release of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista? The purpose of this question is to gather the level of awareness the public has regarding this release.

Apparently, 64% indicated that they aren't aware of SP1, and thus I would assume they also do not know what it is about. Only 36% have heard of SP1. This is acceptable as most aren't tech savvy enough to be concerned with tech news.

There's not much to conclude from this. I mean, the only group of people this affects are the minority of Vista users, and even so, it would most probably have downloaded and installed on their machines automatically via Windows Update in a non intrusive manner. So it is possible that people have updated Vista without even knowing what the update entails or what it is.

Question 5:
Do you think that Service Pack 1 has made Vista a more viable operating system than before? This has to do with the mentally that an OS is only 'usable' and 'stable' after the release of its first service pack (which btw surely isn't the case for Vista).

55.6% think that SP1 has made Vista better, while 44.4% disagree.

According to Microsoft, the release of SP1 shouldn't change the 'Vista value equation', meaning that SP1 should not make extensive changes to Vista such that the user experience is dramatically better. SP1 contains security updates and system performance improvements, amongst other minor changes like how Windows Genuine Advantage works and how file search functions. However, there are no significant changes made and Vista with or without SP1 is still largely the same.

Therefore, SP1 has definitely made Vista more viable, but in truth, not exceptionally viable. Just a little bit more viable.

Question 6:
Focusing specifically on Vista users, I proceeded to ask: Do you regret choosing to run Windows Vista? This is to see if Vista is truly that inferior compared to XP.

The response elicited is very encouraging and assuring that I'm not the only weirdo who thinks that Vista is good. 71.4% indicated no regret in choosing Vista, while 28.6% felt that they made a wrong decision.

This goes to show that although few use Vista, but those who use it mostly like it and are not disappointed with it.

Question 7:
If you regret choosing Vista (i.e. answer YES to question 6), why? For the minority who regretted Vista, I wanted to know what was the reason.

Out of the respondents who disliked Vista, they said that Vista is laggy and runs slowly on their computer, and hangs often. Also, it is incompatible with games, software and hardware. Lastly, it is 'bloated' with unnecessary software.

This is where the survey gets interesting. Let's address the first complain of laggy performance. Basically, if you have capable hardware, you shouldn't face this issue, but if you run on old hardware, or did an upgrade from an XP-era machine, then it isn't shocking to find that Vista runs less than optimally. Therefore my only response to this is: for any OS, do make sure you have a good hardware configuration and CPU power before running the OS, otherwise it will surely be laggy.

The second issue is that of compatibility, which I hear so so often, it's frustrating. To claim that Vista is incompatible with many software is complete nonsense. In fact, compatibility on Vista is so much better than on XP when it was initially launched. Most major programs work fine, such as Firefox, Office, Photoshop, iTunes etc. When it comes to games, however, I'm uncertain as I do not play games to know if this is a problem. Hardware wise, it is also very much a non-issue as long as you do not have extremely dated hardware. New drivers have been issued for download which has increased compatibility greatly.

The last issue is that of unnecessary features. By this, I assume people are also referring to the excessive eye-candy and animations in the Aero interface. This is a funny problem: in XP people complained that it lacked features, yet when Microsoft increased the feature-set in Vista by adding in things like the Sidebar, 3D flip, Windows Meeting Space, DVD Maker, Mail etc., people complain that it is bloated. So it appears that it is hard to please the customer whatever Microsoft does. It seems to me that people are just getting back at Microsoft any way possible.

Question 8:
For existing XP users: Why won't you upgrade your computer to Windows Vista, or buy a new computer with Vista installed?

This is perhaps the most important question in the entire survey, as it tackles the root of the conundrum: why are users so comfortable with XP such that they will not upgrade to Vista? The results confirm my initial speculation, and also Thurrott's theories: that people avoid the upgrade as they are contented and satisfied with XP and see no urgent need for Vista. This is the single most outstanding reason!

Apart from that, the number two reason is that these XP users have read negative reviews of Vista and have influenced them to believe that Vista sucks. Other reasons for not upgrading is due to the perceived compatibility issues, and the fact that Vista runs slower than XP on an equivalent hardware configuration.

Why people aren't upgrading is more of an issue of human nature rather than anything else. Because people have been sticking with XP for so long, they get contented with it and will not throw it away just yet. It's back to the analogy of the 'old sweatshirt' that Thurrott describes, and boy is it true! The saying goes that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Similarly, if XP has no big flaws, then continue using it. Now that some Vista features have been ported down to XP, there are not many compelling reasons to upgrade. The only reasons I can think of now is because of Instant Search, improved security (UAC) and the fanciful Aero interface.

But nonetheless, Vista is superb, and if you're getting a new desktop/laptop, try to run Vista (on capable hardware) and I'll assure that you'll like it!

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