Upgrade from Vista to XP?

For many computer users, early 2007 was a strong case of Déjà vu. Microsoft had released a new and much anticipated operating system. It promised to be more stable, safer, and easier to use than anything the corporation has ever come up with. This new operating system was going to be better in every way. It will beat the previous version of Windows hands down … ooops! Remember 1995, 1998, and 2001?

Yes, it’s true, when Microsoft released its new operating system called ‘Vista’, it too made all of these often-heard promises. Of course, anyone who heard these claims before probably also remembers all of the challenges that went hand in hand with every prior new operating system release. Back in late 1995, Windows 95 was released to the strains of Start me up by the Rolling Stones.

At that time, Windows 95 was considered to have fairly high system requirements for its day. Your computer should have at the minimum a whopping 8MB of RAM, a VGA video card, 100MB of hard drive space, and at least a 20MHz 386DX processor to run Windows. A very quaint system by today’s specifications, but at the time, these were fairly high–end requirements compared to what most people owned. And with that, there were other issues. Older DOS programs didn’t work right, 95 was too slow on older hardware, and people complained that it crashed too often. The same complaints came up again for Windows 98, and Windows XP. “Too big, too slow, and too unstable”.

Fast forward to 2007, and many of these complaints are still relevant with the newest operating system. Vista now requires a minimum 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 32MB video card, and at least 20GB for the installation. And these are the bare minimum requirements. In fact, it wouldn’t be worth any user’s while to try using Vista on a computer with these specifications. Vista is a monster that needs a lot of system resources just to run. But ironically, these are pretty decent specifications for Windows XP. Running XP on a machine with these specifications would be fast and enjoyable. So many people are asking the question: “How much faster could my brand new computer run if I ‘downgraded’ to Windows XP?”

Windows Vista and Windows XP

In fact, there has been a mock review circulating on the Internet, praising Microsoft for upgrading from Vista to XP, listing all of the many real and perceived Vista shortcomings and saying XP constituted a vast improvement. The crew in Redmond, Washington, could not have been impressed or amused by this piece of ironic prose.

A computer running XP will run a lot faster than an identical system running Vista. And since XP has been around a lot longer than Vista, it’s a lot more stable and compatible with software that’s available. So many people think then that the logical answer is to switch to XP for better performance on a more mature operating system. In theory, it’s a win–win for the user; the latest and greatest hardware running faster on a more compatible operating system. But often there are issues that come up when moving to XP that even some advanced users can do little about.

The single largest issue is driver support for XP. It’s ironic that many of the problems people had switching to Vista involved driver support, but the opposite is now also true. You see, many of the large computer makers design their newest parts with only Vista in mind. And since they install Vista on the computers they ship, they see little or no need to offer XP drivers. As a result, they think that these parts should never have to run on XP in the first place. Their computers never shipped with XP, after all. The downside is that since it’s the drivers that act as the middle–man between the operating system and your hardware, not having the right driver can make the parts in your computer simply not work.

So. Before you do ANYTHING to your computer, go to the manufacturer’s web site and see if they offer XP drivers for the most important parts of your system. Most important of these parts are chipset drivers, hard drive controllers, as well as video card and sound drivers. Some computer makers, such as Dell and HP, are still offering XP as an option when you buy directly from them, so drivers for both Vista and XP might be on their support sites. Some communities are creating their own XP drivers based on the Vista drivers. In this case, just remember that you will not get warranty support for these drivers from the computer manufacturer. Another thing to consider is that the performance of these home–made drivers might not be stable enough for you to count on if you use your computer for a business.

If you are a gamer, you have another reason to stick it out with Vista until it matures. The graphics standard ‘DirectX 10’ is Vista–only, and is reported to be staying that way for good. DirectX 10 (DX 10) offers game makers a set of standards to create their games with. DX 10 offers lush, gorgeous graphics that are better than anything ever before.

Author’s admission of guilt: I know this because I moved to Vista for just this reason. I deal with the pros and the cons of Vista for the ‘eye candy’ that games like Crysis and Unreal Tournament III offer! End of author’s admission of guilt.

Still, there are some very attractive reasons for moving back to XP. If you are lucky enough to own a system where the system builder or parts makers offer good and stable drivers, you have no real reason not to make the move. Most programs on the market are still XP–compatible, and will likely be for some time. And many of the games on the market are not DX 10–compatible yet anyway, so for many gamers, performance outranks quality any day. That performance penalty has been estimated by some to be between 25 per cent and 50 per cent when comparing two identical systems when one is loaded with XP, and the other Vista. That’s a lot of power going out the window.

Fairly advanced users can consider a third option. It is known as dual booting. You can have both Vista and XP installed on your computer. When you boot up the system, you can choose either XP or Vista, and when the chosen operating system loads, the other does not. This means you can have you cake and eat it too. XP speed or Vista style.

A final, although less ideal option is to run XP in a Virtual Machine program, such as Virtual PC 2007 from Microsoft or VMware Workstation. A virtual machine just runs within Vista, and allows you to literally run XP in a window. While you won’t be able to get the performance benefits from it, you will be able to run XP–compatible programs on the virtual machine. Again, it’s not ideal, but Virtual PC 2007 is free, and is easier to use than setting up a dual boot system.

Vista will mature and get better in time, just as any other operating system that Microsoft has made (except for Windows ME (Millenium Edition)). Microsoft is not going to walk away from its multi–billion dollar investment, so expect to see things ease up in the next year. Of course, Microsoft will be well underway in developing Vista’s replacement by then. Once that arrives, we’ll be here discussing the advantages/disadvantages of downgrading to Vista.

So until then, have fun.