"Downgrading" my Desktop to XP

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I installed Release Candidate 1 of Windows Vista on my company-provided IBM ThinkCentre (you can read about my annoyances with that process here, here, here, here and here) and have been using it on and off since then.

The ThinkCentre has a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor and half a gig of RAM. It's not top-of-the-line, but it's a perfectly capable TPS Report-writing machine; I've seen many people work daily on machines with far less horsepower. It's also a reasonable developer machine; I've used it to cobble together web apps using WAMP5 and little desktop apps using C# and Visual Studio 2005.

Vista comes with a control panel app called Performance Information and Tools that rates your machine's processor, RAM, graphics and hard drive, scoring each individually and calculating an overall score based on the lowest score of your machine's subsystems; this final score is called the “Windows Experience Index“. Here's the Windows Experience Index for the desktop:

Windows Experience Index for my desktop: 1.0 overall.

When I got the Vista-preloaded laptop from Microsoft, I was surprised at Vista's visual effects; clearly they had been disabled on my desktop since its inexpensive on-the-motherboard graphics chipset yielded a bottom-of-the-barrel graphics score. (I read somewhere that the highest possible score in any category on current machines is around 6.0).

Under XP, the desktop was a decent machine. Under Vista, it feels less responsive. Switching between applications, especially after a long sessions of bouncing between many files in Programmer's Notepad and Fireworks (that's Fireworks MX — it may be old, but it does the job just fine for me) seems sluggish. Logging into my Mac over the network, which under XP varied from reasonable and quick to slowish and iffy was even more of a crapshoot under Vista. Also slowing me down were Vista's new dialog boxes that would pop up whenever a program would try to do anything that might open it to Window's many malware vectors: “Program X wants to launch a helper app — do you want to allow this?” or “Program Y is trying to open a network connection — shall I add it to the 'approved' list in the firewall?” I understand why these dialog boxes are there, but it doesn't make them less annoying.

There's also the matter of IE 7. In becoming more compatible with web standards, it became less compatible with IE6, which still makes for the majority of web surfers out there. IE 7 will run only on Vista and XP with Service Pack 2 (which means that those of you running pirate copies of XP can't run it); many people out there are still on Windows 2000. I need to see what the sites I work on look like in IE6, which is another reason for the downgrade.

As for the laptop, the Vista experience is much better. There's none of the sluggishness that I experienced on the desktop under Vista, networking with the Mac runs smoothly and I'll just have to learn to live with those dialog boxes. I get the feeling that it runs like methed-up snakes on ice under XP.

Here's the laptop's Windows Experience Index:

Windows Experience Index for my laptop: 2.8 overall.

The practical upshot of this is that I'm going to experience three desktop operating systems in my day-to-day work:

  • Mac OS X 10.4, a.k.a. “Tiger” on the 12″ 1.3GHz PowerBook (still my primary box)
  • Windows XP SP2 on the ThinkCentre
  • Windows Vista on the Acer Ferrari 1000

(Yes, I do use Linux daily, but as a server OS and on machines that I log into remotely.)