This is a bit of a nostalgic navel-gazing like my Windows XP post was back in October 2010, so please forgive my indulgence.
This week, Windows Vista has officially reached end-of-life. There's been a few retrospective press pieces like this one on Ars Technica, so I thought I'd chime in with my own thoughts. I started my tenure at Microsoft the week that Windows XP Service Pack 2 shipped, so I missed much of the early over-promising of "Project Longhorn" as well as the grueling grind of the "security reset" that culminated in the Windows XP SP2 release, so I consider Windows Vista to really be my 'first Windows release'. There was a lot of game developer education needed for Windows Vista including Direct3D 10, Game Explorer, Parental Controls, User Account Control, and Windows x64--my first public presentation on Windows Vista was back at GDC 2006.
While the RTM of Windows Vista was indeed a rough experience all around, by the time Service Pack 1 shipped things were in pretty good shape technically. This was particularly true with all the catch-up work done by 3rd party drivers that weren't ready by original ship. The reputational issues lingered, deserved or not, but for gamers on Windows, the Windows Vista release did a lot of good which made Windows 7 and later versions of the OS better.
- Direct3D was an essential technology for Windows instead of kind of a bolt-on thing only used by games. The WDDM driver model really drove support and stability, and Direct3D 10 set the stage for Direct3D 11 and Direct3D 12 in a big way.
- Windows Vista made 64-bit (x64) a thing. Windows XP x64 Edition was definitely an 'early-adopter' OS with a lot of quirks and never had much in the way of driver or application support, but Windows Vista made x64 a broad-based consumer scenario. The decision to include both x86 and x64 media at retail was a big part of that, and with gamer machines shipping with 4 GB or more physical RAM it was desperately needed--see this article.
- Getting games to run as Standard User instead of assuming always-on administrator rights was the right thing for security generally, but was a real slog to make happen. There was also a push to get more game publishers to code sign their binaries which started to get traction with Windows Vista.
So if you love Windows 7 or Windows 10, remember to pour one out for the unloved older sibling that paved the way with a lot of blood, sweat, toil, and tears...