Microsoft is bidding farewell to Windows Vista, more than 10 years after it first debuted. Support for Windows Vista ends today, meaning users will have to move to a more recent version of Windows to remain secure. It’s the end of an era for an operating system that arrived late to the market with widespread criticisms.
Codenamed Longhorn, Windows Vista was originally supposed to revolutionize Windows with a new file system and user interface. Microsoft’s development of Longhorn spiraled out of control, and the company was forced to reset its plans and focus on shipping a stable version of Windows in the middle of its development phase. Microsoft had ambitious ideas for Windows Vista in the years leading up to its release, including a new Windows Future Storage (WinFS) file system.
WinFS was eventually canceled, but Microsoft had attempted to turn the Windows file system into a giant database that could be searched quickly, with linked data sets and related relationships between files mapped out by the system. It was a big task that ultimately failed for Vista, and Microsoft ended up integrating parts of WinFS into its SQL Server product.
Windows Vista also introduced a new Aero user interface. Known as Windows Aero or Aero Glass, it gave Windows Vista an entirely new look and feel by turning windows into panels of glass with blurred borders. A sidebar provided quick access to widgets, and the Start menu was tweaked to focus on a new way to search within Windows Vista. Microsoft also built a flip 3D feature that would render the live contents of windows in a 3D view. It was designed to be a better version of Windows’ alt+tab, but the graphically intense view meant it was rarely used in practice.
Most of these new graphically intense parts of Windows Vista led to some criticisms of the operating system. Older hardware didn’t perform as well with this new user interface, and Microsoft introduced confusing “Vista Ready” stickers on PCs that didn’t always mean graphics drivers were ready for Aero Glass to work well. Windows Vista started to get a reputation for being a resource hog, especially on laptops. Vista also debuted just as netbooks were starting to get popular, and most PC makers opted for a Linux-based operating system or Windows XP as netbooks just didn’t handle Vista very well.
Some other issues in Windows Vista that generated widespread criticism included DRM protections for Blu-ray discs and the amount of User Account Control (UAC) prompts during regular use of Vista. Microsoft eventually tweaked its aggressive UAC prompts, but not before they became the source for one of Apple’s many Mac vs. PC commercials.
Microsoft eventually responded to Windows Vista’s many complaints by launching a marketing push to convince consumers it wasn’t as bad as they’d heard. The Mojave Experiment disguised Windows Vista features as a future version of Windows, where participants ranked Vista higher than their preconceived perceptions heading into the experiment. It did little to stem the flow of negative complaints around Windows Vista.
While it’s easy to point out the bad parts of Windows Vista, its release did many good things for Windows. A new search interface provided a strong foundation for Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10, and many of the Start menu changes and design choices that still exist in Windows 10 today. Microsoft had much bigger ambitions with Vista that failed, but the fundamentals certainly pushed Windows forward in design, functionality, and security.
Unfortunately for Windows Vista, it arrived at a time when Microsoft was operating at its worst. Microsoft had become arrogant and obsessed with keeping hold of its Windows monopoly, and the company lost sight of its customers and missed massive opportunities like mobile. While Apple was building a new touch interface for the iPhone, Steve Ballmer was making a Windows Vista mistake and spending huge sums of money promoting it with crazy games and other marketing campaigns.
Windows Vista truly highlights Microsoft’s missteps in both Windows and its internal company culture. With Satya Nadella now at the helm of Microsoft, there are many signs that the software giant has realized those mistakes and is now listening to customers and tweaking Windows 10 so it’s continually getting better. Windows Vista might have helped set the foundations for the modern Windows that people now enjoy, but it will be forever remembered alongside failures like Windows ME and Windows 8 as yet another operating system that consumers disliked. So farewell, Windows Vista.
Update, 10AM ET: Article updated to remove mention of Aero Peek, which was introduced with Windows 7.