By Harry McCracken | Monday, November 10, 2008 at 1:53 am
A week ago, I listed the major version of Windows that Microsoft has released over the past 23 years, summarizing their pros and cons and asking the Technologizer community to vote on the best and worst editions ever. The polls are now closed. And we have a winner–and a loser. And a couple of runners-up.
None of them is exactly a shocker, but it was still a useful reality check. After the jump, a full report.
The Best Windows Version of All Time: Windows XP SP2.
A venerable bit of conventional PC wisdom has it that Microsoft never gets any product right until version 3.0. Maybe it’s clarifying, then, to think of Windows XP SP2, released in 2004, as Windows XP 3.0–the third major version of Windows XP after the original one and Service Pack 2.
A lot of Technologizer readers think that Microsoft got Windows right with XP SP2, anyhow: It was the clear winner wen we asked you to name the best version, with forty percent of the vote. And its slightly-improved successor, Windows XP SP3, is so beloved that Microsoft is finding it hard to kill it.
I’ve argued that the best versions of Windows are the minor ones, and SP2 was, on paper, a distinctly minor version. It added security enhancements such as the first halfway decent Windows firewall; an Internet Explorer pop-up blocker; various multimedia-related tweaks; improvements to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support; and lots of bug fixes. But because SP2 was so mundane, it didn’t break things: Unlike, say, Windows Vista, it didn’t expect you to upgrade drivers or relearn much of anything which you already knew. All it was was a really highly evolved version of a reasonably stable operating system, and that was enough to make plenty of people happy.
Runner-up: Windows 2000. Sixteen percent of survey respondents named Windows 2000 as the best version of the OS ever. Doesn’t surprise me: It was the first one that combined a familiar interface–namely one almost identical to Windows 95–with the robust technical underpinnings of Windows NT. When I dumped Win 98 for Win 2K, it was one of the biggest leaps in productivity I ever got from an OS upgrade.
The Worst Windows Version of All Time: Windows Me.
It was exciting. Advanced. And timely. According to Microsoft, that is. But Windows Me gained a crummy reputation with the home users it was aimed at almost as soon as it was released in September, 2000–one which dogs it to this day. 69 percent of the people who took our survey on the worst version of Windows ever named Me, a landslide by any definition.
If Microsoft’s plans had panned out, Me–whose name was short for the instantly-dated “Windows Millennium Edition”–never would have existed at all. and the world might have been a better place. Windows 2000, which shipped in February of the same year, was originally supposed to replace both Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 and appeal to both consumers and business types. But Microsoft decided that the NT-based Win2K wasn’t ready for home users, so it postponed the merger of the home and business versions of Windows until Windows XP’s 2001 release. Windows Me, based on Windows 98, was whipped up so Microsoft would have a home-oriented upgrade for the 2000 holiday season. It was kind of like slapping a fresh coat of paint on a house you planned to tear down within months.
Among the problems reported by Windows Me users were botched installations, incompatibilities with existing hardware and software, the refusal of IE to load pages, and shutdowns that didn’t result in Windows shutting down. Then there was the new System Restore feature and its tendency to restore viruses after you’d managed to remove them. Small wonder that PC World named Me as the fourth worst tech product of all time.
True, even the smoothest rollouts in Windows history have involved glitches aplenty (and Apple’s OS X is hardly immune from them, either). But Me never got the service packs that might have eliminated most of its kinks. Instead, it was doomed to instant lame duckitude from the start. The best way to fix it turned out to be to replace it with the far superior Windows XP, which shipped just over a year later.
Runner-up: Windows Vista. So much verbiage has been devoted to bashing Vista that you might come to the conclusion it’s the most-hated version of Windows to date. Not among our survey respondents: Eighteen percent of them named it as the worst ever, a distant second place to Windows Me. For Vista, that’s a victory: It’s despised by less than one-third as many respondents as the most-hated version of Windows.
So there you go. Our voting definitely skewed towards reasonably recent versions of the OS, which makes sense since earlier versions of Windows weren’t used by anywhere near as many people as morerecent ones. (Windows 2.0 got no votes at all for either distinction, for instance.) I go back to Windows 3.0 myself, and didn’t participate in my own survey. But if I had, I might well have casted my votes for SP2 and Me.
Further discussion of Windows highlights and lowlights welcome…