By DWIGHT SILVERMAN
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Elaine Mesker-Garcia is in the market for a new notebook computer, but she's got a problem.
Under no circumstances does she want a computer with Windows Vista. Mesker-Garcia, 33, says she's heard too many bad things about the latest version of Microsoft's operating system, but it's getting harder to find a computer that comes with the OS she wants to keep using: Windows XP.
"Every little thing I read makes me more convinced I don't want to try Windows Vista," she said.
Mesker-Garcia, who wants a new computer because she's just started her own photography business, goes through a laundry list of the issues that have her shying away from Vista:
• "Windows XP has been solid. It has not given me any problems. I don't feel real compelled to switch."
• "Yes, there are some security issues with XP. But Vista's scaring me because it seems it wants to be so secure, it will slow me down."
• "Vista is such a drain on performance. I'm looking at a powerful computer for working in Photoshop, but I'm afraid the operating system will drain most of it."
• "I'm worried about drivers. My husband has a 12-year-old DeskJet printer he loves — he's had it since college — and I'm afraid it won'twork with Vista."
Mesker-Garcia is not alone. Although Microsoft says it has sold 20 million copies of Vista in the first month it was available to consumers, and sales of Vista in the first quarter drove Microsoft to post a 65 percent increase in profit, there remain a lot of users who would prefer to stick with its predecessor, Windows XP.
In fact, there is enough demand for the older OS that computer maker Dell, which initially offered Vista-only PCs once the new operating system launched, late last month backed off and began offering consumers notebooks and desktops with XP again. Dell took the step after visitors to its IdeaStorm Web site, www.dellideastorm.com
, urged the company not to "eliminate" XP for consumers.
One of the biggest issues, particularly for buyers of new computers, is the availability of drivers — the software that acts as a go-between for hardware components and the operating system. Buyers like Mesker-Garcia, who want to hold on to older peripherals such as printers and scanners, are right to be nervous — traditionally, a new version of Windows brings a maddeningly slow response from hardware makers who often take months to get drivers for the newer OS out the door. And in many cases, they take the opportunity to drop driver support for legacy products.
At HP, the company's imaging and printing group plans Vista support for 450 different products, according to John Crandall, director of strategic alliances. Drivers for many are still in progress.
So far, he said, HP has released drivers for 193 inkjet printers and 119 laser printers. And Vista itself ships with support for 270 HP products, including scanners.
Crandall said the reason HP and other companies don't yet have drivers for all their products has to do with the number of programmers available to work on drivers; the number of products they must support; and Microsoft's development schedule for its operating systems.
He said over its five-year development period, Vista's code was "a moving target," with Microsoft changing features and tweaking fundamental components of the operating system. Even with the final betas and release candidates, he said, things were in flux.
"We never know what the final thing will be until it ships," he said.
The wait for Vista
Vista was finished in late October, but HP had to give Microsoft the drivers to be included with the OS in mid-2006.
After that, Crandall said, driver development couldn't really proceed on other fronts until HP saw what a finished Vista looked like.
Of course, not all the products HP has ever produced will be supported by Vista, but Crandall said many older products are — though only the most basic functions may be enabled.
Still, HP's making an effort to make sure older devices aren't left behind. For example, of all the laser printers HP has ever produced, only 10 aren't supported in Vista. One of those is the very first LaserJet HP ever sold, and Vista is the first version of Windows that won't support it.
"It varies where the cutoff for support is," Crandall said. "If you have a product that's three years old or newer, that's probably going to be supported."
Mesker-Garcia hasn't checked to see if her husband's beloved DeskJet is one of the 10, but she doesn't intend to find out. Her replacement notebook simply won't have Vista.
"Look, XP has been solid, it just has been," she says. "If it's not given me any problems, why would I want to move to Vista?"