USB plugOkay, let’s just get this out of the way now: my initial experience with Windows Vista was hideously awful. Like, smoke and flames awful. Shuttle, the maker of my small form factor PC, pointed to an old version of the NVIDIA nForce driver for the chipset which repeatedly corrupted the device database, so eventually nothing worked. And even on other machines, countless bugs made the whole OS virtually unusable. Some of the problems have been clearly Microsoft’s fault; others are clearly third party support issues, while others are just countless little interactions between the OS and other software. I tried Vista once shortly after launch, then once again early this summer. By the second time, things were slightly better — ironically, Vista ran perfectly on a Mac Pro I had on loan. (The reason, I think, is that Apple put a lot of effort into its drivers, and the Mac Pro itself is spec’ed out like a dream system, ideal for Vista just as it is for OS X. Where you get into trouble is not necessarily older or cheaper systems, but systems that contain parts with problematic drivers.)

But even after that initially suffering, I’m now making Vista my primary OS on my PC. Why? Because, while some fixes are in fact waiting on SP1, a range of hotfixes and third-party driver updates is slowly making Vista livable.

Here’s the best news yet: Microsoft has just made available a series of hotfixes provided badly-needed improvements for USB operation, one of the shakier components of Vista — and something that musicians rely on more than just about anything else.

Cumulative update rollup for USB core components in Windows Vista

Via: October Set of Fixes Available for Vista [Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite Blog]

These fixes will all be included in SP1 when it arrives early next year, but the point is that Microsoft isn’t sitting on all its updates in the meantime. I’ve specifically experienced some of the bugs in the USB cumulative update, and have likewise seen other hotfixes noticeably fix problems. In fact, I’d say my battened-down Vista system is now more reliable than my XP system was. And that’s really my hope: the changes to driver support have been really painful in the transition to Vista, and there’s a lot left to be done to make Windows more usable for music, but ideally some under-the-hood changes may start to bear fruit over time.

If you are on Vista, take some time and go through Microsoft’s hotfixes, and double-check your own driver updates. (Some third-party drivers even show up in Windows Update.) And, while I should do a Vista Upgrade Guide 2.0 soon, here are two quick solutions to a wide range of problems:

  • Try Compatibility Mode: In Properties > Compatibility, you can select Windows XP SP2 compatibility mode, which will solve some application compatibility issues.
  • Install Tweak UAC: Tweak UAC is an invaluable utility that can disable the “User Account Mode” added to Vista for security reasons. In “Quiet Mode”, you get all the security benefits without lots of annoying dialogs. I switch UAC off when installing some drivers and applications, as this is the most likely feature to break backwards compatibility.

Oh yeah, what’s that again about Linux not being ready for the desktop because of compatibility problems? I think all three desktop operating systems have room for improvement when it comes to device performance and compatibility.

  • Last week I gave up on my new Toshiba laptop and gave it to my wife. It was the USB trouble that did it finally, that and wondering when/if Clavia would provide working G2 software for Vista. I couldn't even plug in a USB hub, it was that bad. Otherwise I liked the OS, the usability improvements are significant IMO.

  • There are significant changes to USB support in Vista, some specifically related to MIDI and audio devices we use. So, I should say, this is a complicated issue… at least Vista itself is making forward progress in USB land.

    What I'd really like to see is for significant audio and MIDI subsystems to be open sourced across platforms. Open source isn't a panacea, but the problem with the music market is we have too few actual developers overall, and too small a market niche (compared to, say, digital cameras or printers). But that's another story.

  • I'd love to see a post on the existing reasons for musicians to still use Windows, either on a mac or pc. Are there any? I don't mean that to be an antagonistic question at all I'm just curious if some of the issues I remember (like running gigastudio) still apply.

  • Adrian Anders

    @ Chris:

    Yes there are.

    1. A metric TON of freeware, donationware, and interesting/experimental stand-alones and plug-ins many of which do not have an OSX equivalent (at least not one within a reasonable price range).

    2. More choices. In software and in hardware. Whereas OSX might have at most 2 dozen choices in VAs, Windows users have 100s from a wide range of vendors with different copy protections schemes. Whereas on OSX you might only have one choice in terms of where to go for a particular kind of plug-in or standalone with a feature you want, Windows users typically have 3-5 times as many vendors. So if you don't like the dongle or challenge/response one vendor uses, you could always find someone else selling a similar product with only a serial form of copy protection.

    3. Greater compatibility. Software and computer hardware from 5-10 years ago will many times still work on a modern XP machine (damn you vista). So you can have your VariOS, an older soundcard, and Rebirth all on the same machine that’s running the latest version of Live. Just not happening on OSX. Don’t give me that “oh, that stuff is obsolete” mess. On a blog that’s all about C64s, and Casios, a statement like that is just plain silly.

    4. Lower prices. Probably due to greater competition and the prevalence of various kinds of developers toolkits (not just C++ but lego-esque builders like synthedit & synthmaker). So even when you have to buy your software instead of getting it from a reputable freeware vendor, many times you can get it WAY bellow what an OSX user would have to pay.

    A couple of good examples are FLStudio, and Energy XT both of which you can get for under $100 and produce some pretty cool stuff with.

    Also, if you build your own desktop it's still true that you can have a system that can do most production duties you would ever need for less than $300. So go on you Mac snobs with your $2000 Macbooks… there are still plenty of kids who want to make music whose parents aren't rich, and Windows PCs are the perfect platform for super-low cost production work.


  • Chris, I would happily switch OS's except it would mean learning a new DAW, Sonar in my case. I don't think there's enough payoff to make it worth it, though I have second thoughts whenever I see someone's nice new Mac!

  • @Chris … we should do that article, yes. But I'll make the list even simpler than Adrian's:

    * More free, cheap, and bizarre plug-ins (the Adrian Anders quotient of the OS).

    * Cakewalk (only their instruments are cross-platform)

    * FL Studio (aka Fruity Loops)

    * EnergyXT, indeed (also on Linux, but not the best example of a Linux app; shows its Windows roots)

    * DIY systems

    * Tablet PCs, and more computer choice in general

    * Gaming (you know, when you're not making music)

    If those aren't important to you, you won't care, but someone cares about them, which is why this isn't Create Mac

    I actually don't agree with some of your points, though, Adrian. When you can buy a $600 mini or $1000 MacBook and $500 Logic Studio, "cheaper" doesn't quite cut it. Compatibility is kind of out the window with Vista, at least in some respects, though there is still more 3rd-party hardware support, in general. (although, in fairness, some of the examples you cite do indeed work on Vista) And "compatibility" really comes down to what you want to run. At least you can emulate C64s and Amigas on Mac OS X, and boot XP to run Rebirth if you need to via Boot Camp.

    I also think it's worth pointing out that the Mac will hardly starve you for choice, and a lot of this choice software-wise you don't really need. And Core Audio and Core MIDI, and the OS in general, still provide a far smoother ride than Vista or XP.

    But are there reasons to choose Windows? Absolutely. And they're all the more worth considering when you can boot a Mac into Windows (though with some caveats — Jaymis I believe just found out the hard way that video output didn't work as expected on a MacBook doing that).

    I think OS choice has gotten overly stereotyped, which misses some of the strong points Linux, Mac, and Windows all have in their favor. I keep thinking about doing an OS comparison, but it comes down to stuff people already know; I'd rather meet the more pressing issue of identifying stuff that's broken on each OS and helping people fix it.

  • Adrian Anders

    Some good points Peter. As much as I like to tease OSX users (which doesn't always come off as playful in text), there are some great things about the platform. I think Macs are great for people who want a solid all-in-one solution or want to get media applications done with the least amount of hassle. I really wish Windows had the same kind of audio scheme as OSX's Core Audio/MIDI/Audio Units etc.

    That said, I still stand behind my assertion that one gets more bang for your desktop buck on the PC Win side (as long as one is building it DIY). I mean, yes there is Mac Minis for $599, but for around $300-$400 you can easily build a Pentium D 3GHz machine with 2GB of RAM that's going to be faster than the Mini. Of course it would be a full-sized desktop which itself has some pluses and minuses.

    You're partially right tho Peter, when it comes to pre-built machines or laptops Apple has become VERY competitive with the WinPC makers, beating several of the high end companies in terms of value.

    My WinXP (no vista here partner) machines I feel give me the best mix of "pro" commercial and various oddball, cheap, free, etc. products. Stability is good and performance is acceptable when tweaked, so I don't think I'll be upgrading to a new operating system anytime soon. I'll just have to remember down the line to be VERY selective about the hardware/software I buy to make sure they still run on XP. Either that, or switch to Linux once they figure out how to get copy protected commercial programs to work well in WINE. Who knows, maybe the next MS OS will fix what is so wrong about Vista.


  • Well, I'm fairly certain "abandoning" Vista is not going to happen. 🙂 What I do hope is that Microsoft can find a little more direction in Vista's replacement. SP1 is likely to be largely bugfixes, but *that's* sure okay … it's the bugfixes people want, not the vaporware Windows Extras that CNet story points out, embarrassing as that has been for MS. (On a bright note, at least MS isn't putting any *effort* into Extras for Premium — I'd rather have them stomping bugs, and honestly, bug stomping is what a lot of OS development is about … check the Linux and Mac update changelogs, too.)

    As for Windows 7, yes, I really hope Microsoft takes this feedback and responds. I think even Vista fans would have to admit not everything in this OS was on point, to say the least.

    WINE is unlikely to do much for audio on Linux. If Linux becomes a vibrant alternative, it'll be because of native development, not a port panacea. And there are apps built on cross-platform frameworks, particularly those with new codebases, so there are commercial apps that could make the leap. When they do it, they'll likely do it without WINE. But for now, the segment really is too small. I think we'll see other apps for Linux first, then maybe music following.

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