The Pain of Vista

Yesterday, I began building my new work laptop. It’s a Dell XPS M1530, a nice 15″ widescreen screamer with a dual core Centrino, 2GB RAM, a 256MB video card, embedded Bluetooth, 802.11n, and, for the first time in my company, Windows Vista.

It’s typical for me to buy/install new software for testing on my own machine. I can generally test most software and evaluate it pretty tough, so it seemed with the XP consumer drop-dead date fast approaching, I ought to have better than cursory familiarity with Vista. It’s also a good time to ensure that all of our critical tools run on what will, unfortunately, likely be a platform our IT guys run shortly. So I embarked on the Vista adventure.

The verdict? Well, let’s start at the beginning? You know how every review of Vista… like ever… has complained about UAC? Well, imagine that level of annoying times 10 and you can begin to understand UAC. The most pointless utility ever not only bugs you for virtually everything – including deleting shortcuts from the desktop – but also moves all over the screen so it’s impossible to predict where it will show up next. Also, sometimes it sits in the taskbar, perplexingly pausing application installs until you notice the subtle orange blinking and “activate” it. Also, UAC doesn’t require a password or anything, just a click. And best of all, it’s stupid. If I delete something that requires admin access, and then repeat the action, it sometimes asks for the permission twice in 10 seconds. UAC is the worst thought out decision a team that brilliant has ever produced, and it took me about 5 hours of use to de-activate it entirely.

Most applications, surprisingly, installed just fine. Even older tools I prefer – some from 2004 – work without any problem. However, many recent tools, mostly those from Microsoft itself, don’t. You cannot install the Windows 2000/2003 admin pack – essential tools for Windows network admins – onto Vista without a stream of commands not publically advertised by Microsoft. I built myself a big batch file to run it, and I will share that file on this site later. Eventually, I did get it to run. Turns out that it’s a “security risk” because it involves certain DLLs running at elevated privileges… or something. I don’t know. But it should be embarrassing for Microsoft that Windows Vista users can’t administer Windows networks. Embarrassing… or pathetic.

Every single window in Vista fades in and out. It’s a neat effect to be certain, but it’s overused. Sometimes dizzying.

You can’t use Windows Update anymore – you have to use a app built into the control panel.

The Start Menu is a disaster. Drilling into subfolders takes a good 2-3 seconds. And they are impossible to view as a whole. While it’s pretty, it makes me long for XP’s Luna Start Menu, which is odd, since I found that to be such an abomination that I always de-activated it immediately. It’s a nightmare.

The Control Panel is much more logically organized, except I used to know where everything was, and now I have no clue where to find it without scanning the whole damned thing.

Same goes for many folder options, locations on the hard drive (it’s now C:\Users, and profiles are in C:\Users\%username%\AppData), and some other configurations, which have mysteriously moved.

I changed the path of C:\Users\%username%\Documents to re-map to my H: drive on the network – as it’s ALWAYS been – and the .NET framework wouldn’t install. I had to un-map the drives to get it to work.

But the cherry on top – by far – was my adventure to get the Citrix admin tools installed. I kept getting an IMMEDIATE error on launch; I tried many versions of Citrix, same error every time. Eventually, I traced it back to the Windows Installer service, which wouldn’t run. At all – it wouldn’t start. I kept getting the same error: Windows installer service cant start Error 193:0xc1. I googled it and looked at all the results – Google it yourself. Here, I’ll even give you the link: “Windows installer service error 193:0xc1”. You’ll notice a lot of feedback, but lots of unanswered questions. I dug and dug and eventually started poking into the DCOM service, thinking this was the problem, since the Installer service depends on DCOM. But DCOM ran just fine. So I dug further. I tried everything I could: I rebooted, I tried everything as the local administrator, I removed all of my temp files, I unregistered some files. Eventually, I found an article on Microsoft’s K-Base that discussed some problems, but you’ll notice it only covers the ancient “Windows Installer Service 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0.” XP runs version 3, Vista runs version 4. Could these be relevant?

When I got to the registry search, the key it mentioned wasn’t there, but having been through the registry several times today, I decided to do a search for “msiserver” – which is the Microsoft Installer Service. I found the new key, and one of the sub-keys is called “ImagePath.” This key is present in almost all services and gives the location of the files it launches. In the case, the file was “C:\Windows\system32\msiexec /I /v” (those switches might be wrong). So, on a whim, I wondered if many the permissions on that file were wrong. I poked into the system32 directory and found msiexec, but it was a 0 KB file. Blank. Weird, huh? Then I realized that there was ALSO a “msiexec.exe” file. In short, the path was referring to the exe without an extension, and somehow, there was a blank file without an extension by the same name! Wha??

Simply renaming msiexec to msiexec.old and trying to restart the service did it. So that’s one possible fix for Error 193 – make sure the ImagePath references the proper path.

Anyway, re-building and migrating a laptop ought to take about 3-5 hours, depending on the volume of data to transfer, and setting up Vista took me the better part of 2 days. Will I recommend it for other users in our company? No way. Will I recommend it to other IT professionals? No way. Will I recommend it to anyone at all? Sorry, Microsoft, but no way. Vista is everything you’ve read. Pretty, but dumb.

I have high hopes for Service Pack 1, but I should think it’s fair to say “too little too late.” Vista is a disaster, even moreso when compared to Leopard, whose bugs are much less serious, many of which really merely annoyances (such as stacks and menu bar complaints). But Vista is the real deal: a sympton of a company too big to make sane choices. I will definitely be posting a SP1 follow-up, to be sure. Here’s hoping for a retraction.

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