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.