Microsoft plumbs the depths of Bloatware

Theoretically, this is where our Windows Vista journey should begin.

In preparation for Windows Vista, I started where Microsoft suggests that a user start, on the Windows Vista: Get Ready page. This is the site where a prospective customer is supposed to learn all about Vista, including what (possible) reasons there may be to upgrade, how to distinguish among the too many different versions of the operating system, and what the hardware requirements are. Presumably, this site is designed to convince users to decide to upgrade, though I do not find it too persuasive.

There is only one argument I need: The bulk of my income comes from products that run on Microsoft Windows, especially those for the mass market, and this is very soon going to be the only operating system that most of our target audience will be able to buy. Our products need to function under Vista.

So, part of the way down the page, there is a link to the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. It seems that this is a utility that will quickly let me know whether or not my test system can run Windows Vista. This would appear to be a good idea, but appearances can be deceiving.

First of all, the download itself was about 30M [*], which is pretty fantastically large for a utility that essentially just checks processor, memory, and hard drive specs. I implemented similar functionality in the installer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, “A Final Unity”, more than twelve years ago and that executable size was measured in the dozens of kilobytes. 30M? Wow!

Wait! There’s more… Running the installer revealed that the .NET 2.0 Framework was required to run the Upgrade Advisor, which added another 22M, and then it also needed the latest MSXML, so add another 8M or so to the total. So it took somewhere in the neighborhood of 60M worth of downloads in order to simply check my system against a list of requirements and supported drivers.

[*] To be fair, I just checked, and this download is now only 6.5M (my guess, they included .NET in that previous build), which brings the download size below 40M. Woo hoo!

Well, it is just bandwidth, right? No, not really. The observant among you readers may have noticed this little Additional Information note below the download link:

“The Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor works with 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. It will not work with Windows 98, Windows 2000, or Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.”

OK, so where are we now? If you want to use this utility to let Microsoft sell you a new operating system, you have to download 40-60M of files, install three software packages, but only if you already have the latest operating systems. If you want to run this on Windows 2000 (as was previously on my test system), you have to first upgrade to Windows XP (SP2), to find out if you can then pay money to upgrade to Windows Vista, but be sure not to upgrade to a 64-bit version of XP, because that will not work, either. At least we can all rest peacefully knowing that we can easily test for Vista compatibility if Vista is already installed.

That is an impressively bloated system, and I am not sure that I could do better (worse) without seriously absurd levels of effort.

Before anybody thinks that this kind of ridiculous bloat is limited to Microsoft, I will point out that this system has two video cards, one from ATI (now AMD) and one from nVidia, plus a sound card from Creative Labs. The total amount of required downloads for these three sets of drivers was more than 125M, not including an additional 85M of multimedia support downloads. I have written fully functional hardware drivers in the past, and I would be hard-pressed to make a full installation package even 1M, so this is impressive.

Anyway, I upgraded from Windows 2000 to Windows XP Professional, downloaded about 60M of software to determine if the system would support Windows Vista. The Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor said that everything was fine, so I downloaded the 125+M of driver bloatware in preparation for the upgrade. With everything finally in place, I began the upgrade to Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate.

Punchline: Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor was wrong. Vista itself reported that my test system was insufficient and refused to install.

Stay tuned for the next installment, in which our intrepid developer manages to tame Vista Ultimate.

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