kct opinion: Vista can run well on mobile devices

I’ve read through James’ opinion piece entitled "Vista will never run well on mobile devices" several times. I’ve also read the many comments that the post generated. While I agree with the observable facts, I’m actually finding that I have a completely different experience. How so and why is that? Good questions which I’ll address in this opinon-based article. I can only provide my thoughts from my own experiences here and there’s no doubt that your own experiences will vary. And that’s the key premise behind the issue at hand; but first: my experiences with Vista on my Samsung Q1P UMPC.

To keep my rambling thoughts in a somewhat logical format, let me level-set you from a device history perspective and then I’ll cover each of James’ points from my own experience where possible. I’ll wrap up with what I think is the larger issue.

For the past 15 months I’ve been using either a Samsung Q1 or Q1P as my primary mobile device. The differences between the two are 900 MHz Celeron vs. 1 GHz Pentium M and a 40- vs. a 60 GB hard drive. Along the way I’ve upgraded the RAM in both machines: 1 GB on the Q1 and eventually 2 GB on the Q1P. Both devices came with Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 and even prior to the Windows Vista release, I had installed various beta versions of Vista. All of these actions are documented here on the site; just search for them if you want to see what I thought at the time.

Now, I’ll grant that most mainstream mobile device users wouldn’t have installed Vista over and over again during the beta; I’ll also agree that most folks wouldn’t upgrade the RAM on their devices. I only mention this because much of my current Vista use is without many optimization tweaks, but I have to admit where I’ve upgraded the machines to push the envelope a little. Having said that: I find my Vista experience to be very positive on my mobile device and I wouldn’t go back to XP for anything. The Tablet functionality is vastly improved in Vista over XP; that alone makes it worthwhile to me. Let’s see the issues that James’ has observed and I’ll share my own experiences.

James stats with "First and foremost inthe area of performance.  I have not seen adequate performance runningVista on anything less than a Core 2 Duo processor." I have no doubt that this is exactly what he’s witnessed, but I really can’t complain about Vista on the 1 GHz Pentium M CPU. The performance was obviously not as good on the 900 MHz Celeron, but I no longer have that machine so I can’t provide more info. I find that Vista is relatively snappy and responsive for my needs; it’s no speed demon when compared to a machine with a Core 2 Duo processor, but it’s quite usable for my daily activities. Would I recommend running more than say four apps at once? Not at all as the machine will clearly buckle under the strain. However, I witnessed the same behavior under XP, so I can’t fault Vista entirely here.

To be honest, I’m happy with the performance when considering the official recommended system requirements for Vista Ultimate, which is what I use. Here’s a link to them, but let me highlight a few: 1 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, 40 GB hard drive. Guess what: those are just about the same specs as my UMPC out of the box, meaning it is the minimum configuration recommended to run Vista. In my opinion, it runs as good as can be expected for me.

These specs also make me question why anyone is trying to run Vista on the 600- and 800 MHz Intel A1xx CPUs. Yes, it can be done, but is that the right tool for the task? I don’t think so and as such, I don’t blame Vista. It’s just not meant to run on those machines, so why blame it for not running well? I’m sure folks are doing fine in some cases with these machines, but they’re the exceptions and the tweakers. I’m not trying to take anything away from their efforts at all here.

As far as the disk thrashing issues: again, no doubts that folks have them. I have not. Can I tell you why that is? Nope, because I don’t know, but we’ll get into that more when we hit the conclusion of my opinion. I can say that I’ve installed the latest updates to address Vista’s performance and reliability and have seen little to no difference. I don’t mind that Microsoft is offering these patches nor do I hold it against Vista that they have to release these patches. Most operating systems require patches and updates, so we can’t point a finger at just Vista here.

James also hits up on a function that I use multiple times a day: "If youuse Sleep and Resume you quickly fall victim to the dreaded Vista la-laland where the device fails to resume properly." I used Sleep and Resume at least 20 times just last night during our fantasy football draft. Never had a problem. I use this feature daily and it’s much more stable than it was in XP. Does that mean it’s not an issue? No way: I’m sure many folks have the same issue that James has observed. Again, we’ll get to the why later on.

I can’t speak to the docking issues simply because the Q1 series has no dock. I also haven’t witnessed the frustration seen when rotating the screen. It generally rotates without fail and without any major interruptions to my productivity.

So there’s just a bit of my personal experience with Vista on my device. Let me emphasize one key part of that phrase: "on my device." Herein lies the problem as I see it. Windows has the unfortunate responsbility to be all solutions to all people and all devices. What do I mean by that? Let’s think about the vast array of users and their individual hardware configurations. I’m being a little extreme here, but I’ll go out on a limb to say something radical like "no two are alike". Every user is different and every computing environment is different. You might think I’m wrong (and that’s OK), but let me pose it this way:

Say we have two computer users: Jack and Jill. Both purchase the exact same PC hardware system, it doesn’t matter who makes it; they’re identical in the box. Both use the machine for two weeks but in different ways. Makes sense since they have different needs, like different applications, etc…. Are those two environments the same now? No way. As they’ve used the machine and installed software, there are hundreds of system files, registry keys and .dlls that are changed, overwritten and more. Agreed? OK, now tell me if Vista will behave exactly the same for both of them after those two weeks. What about after two months?  Yes, I’m over-simplifying here, but the point remains: these two environments are now different and will behave inconsistent when compared to one another. Now multiply that scenario across the tens of millions of Vista users out there. You’ve got folks like James who are not happy with the OS on a device while you have me who is.

Now let’s take a look at a more consistent experience for a second: Mac OS X on an Apple machine. There’s a vast difference here because the OS is Unix-based and the hardware has very few configurations as they’re generally controlled by Apple. Use the same scenario as above with Jack and Jill but this time, give them new identical Mac computers. The inconsistency in the user experience and computing environment greatly diminishes. Note before I continue: this isn’t a Mac is better than PC argument, this is simply an example to prove a point.

One of the challenges that Microsoft has with Windows is the "all things to all people" thought I raised early on. While my experience with Vista on a mobile device is positive, a lighter operating system would greatly enhance the experience. Unfortunately, Vista has to maintain backwards compatibility with older applications, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a "Vista Lite". It’s possible, but if you could get a "Vista Lite" on a mobile device would you take advantage of increased performance? Maybe. Would you still do so if many of your day to day apps didn’t run on the lighter OS? Maybe not.

If I could suggest one thing going forward to Microsoft, it would be to find a way to break the "all things to all people" idea for Windows. Find the lowest common denominator of a kernel and go from there. While I understand the need for backwards compatibility, especially in the business world, perhaps a lighter OS combined with baked-in virtualization for legacy needs could be the answer. I realize it’s not as simple as that, but…maybe it should be. In any case, I’m happy with Vista on my device and have no intention of going back to XP. You might have the same hardware as I, but as we always say: your mileage may vary.