A look back: Windows Vista

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…

Comments (4)

  1. Steven Don says:

    I actually liked Vista, and the Aero interface it introduced — I still think that’s a lot nicer to look up than Metro… sorry… “Modern UI”. Even now, I run Vista on one of my laptops and only last week did I replace it with Windows 10 on my gaming PC.

    Vista’s bad reputation wasn’t deserved and especially after SP1 it was a pretty good OS. I think part of the hate is because the OS was overhyped, with things like WinFS failing to materialise (not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself – but it made Vista not live up to Microsoft’s promises). The perception that Windows 7 was “What Vista should have been” also conveniently ignores that a lot of that is due to the surrounding ecosystem maturing and adapting to the Vista driver model and x64 awareness. Indeed, the Windows platform owes Vista a debt of gratitude for paving the way for Windows 7.

  2. Guest says:

    Well, in my opinion main problem that people use that OS on non performance PC, and even some hardware vendor use it on such devices – that why Start Edition will be created.
    Personally I most work with Home Basic edition. In last months Windows Update agent is going to “infinite” loop, update that fix it available only for Windows 7, so update catalog used as source for new patches. By the way, last security news added addition patch for this version of Windows.

    From programming side, with curiosity interest I try to use Direct2D at DirectX 11 sample, but that was unsuccessful comparing to Windows 7 with kb2670838
    For fix this situation at Vista it seems some variation of surface sharing should be used
    but sample code at that link http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/d2ddxgiinterop already unable now.

    Instruction from forum threat also do not resolve that problem

    1. DirectX 11.1 is required for the ‘improved device sharing’ with Direct2D, which is not available on Windows Vista SP2 (which only supports the original DirectX 11.0 via KB971644). Windows 7 SP1 does support it with KB2670838. See this post.

      1. Guest says:

        Thank Chuck for your response.
        Well, it seem that only Direct2D on DirectX 10.1 left for Vista. Or replace Direct2D with DirectXTK.

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