My Windows Vista Beta 2 Reliability Experience

I've gotten an enormous amount of feedback from readers about Windows Vista Beta 2, most of it quite positive. This feedback, however, stands in sharp contrast to what I've experienced with Windows Vista Beta 2, especially with my main desktop and notebook systems. A month ago, concerned that Microsoft was going to release this incredibly buggy build to the public, I contacted the company and began a dialog about the issues I was having, and began sending Windows Error Reporting (WER) data to them so that Microsoft could evaluate the issues I was having.

I was actually hoping that Microsoft would delay the public release of Windows Vista and would instead ship a post-Beta 2 build, such as the excellent build 5456 (see my overview and screenshot gallery) that it just released. Ultimately, Microsoft did of course ship Beta 2 publicly, and despite my concerns it appears that many of the people who downloaded it aren't having the same kinds of problems I did. Just before installing build 5456 on my desktop system late Friday night, I decided to take a quick run through the new Reliability Monitor, which is part of the Performance Diagnostic Console. You can find this in Vista by opening the Start menu and typing perf into the instant search box.

Here's what my system reliability looked like after almost a month of Windows Vista Beta 2:

As you can see, it all started off great, with a rating of 10, but it ended up as low as 1.29 by the end of its run. Those red boxes you see represent real problems, such as "OS stopped working," "Disruptive shutdown," and application failures. The yellow yield sign is a software uninstall, for the then-beta version of Windows Live Messenger, which was causing some of my issues. The little balloon exclamation marks are software installs, including Windows Defender definition updates, drivers, and actual end-user initiated application installations.

According to Microsoft, my stability and reliability problems could be traced to four main issues, two of which, interestingly, were Microsoft betas: Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2, Windows Live Messenger Beta (since shipped in final form), an abortive Dell printer driver install (which never did install correctly but was still listed in Add or Remove Programs), and an unnamed fourth issue that was fixed in later, 54xx-era, builds. Others have had no issues with Office 2007 Beta 2 and the Messenger Beta, so I can't explain why I had such a problem. I do know that the Messenger issue was related to a Sharing Folders incompatibility that was fixed in the final version of Messenger, and I'm using Windows Live Messenger on build 5456 now without any problems.

I uninstalled both Office 2007 and the Dell printer driver as well. But that didn't solve my problems. The machine would "pop" suddenly and blue screen, rebooting almost immediately, and it would do this repeatedly, with little evidence of the cause. My wife could tell I was having a particularly bad day once and noted that she "could hear the screams." There's nothing like losing a page of text in Word because Vista decided it wanted to spontaneously reboot.

Anyway, here's how the system stability of my main desktop went over the course of a month:

May 27, 2006: Installed Windows Vista Beta 2 on my main desktop PC, achieving a perfect 10 rating, with no spontaneous reboots.

May 28, 2006: Installed a slew of applications in rapid-fire fashion: Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, Adobe Reader 7.0, Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006, Microsoft Expression Web Designer CTP, Microsoft Office 2007 Professional Beta 2, Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 with SP1, Napster, QuickTime 7, iTunes, SecureZIP, Windows Live Messenger Beta, and iPod for Windows. My rating slips to 6.35 after Word 2007 crashes and the machine spontaneously reboots three times.

May 29, 2006: Photoshop crashes and the machine spontaneously reboots once. 5.93.

May 30, 2006: Spontaneous reboot, but no crashes, so the score actually goes back up a bit to 6.01.

May 31, 2006: No reboots, but Windows Live Messenger crashes three times and CA eTrust EZ AV bites the big one. 5.09.

June 1, 2006: An unhappy day in Paul's office: I uninstall WLM because of the crashes and revert back to MSN Messenger 7.5, CA eTrust EZ AV and two other unknown processes crash, the OS stopped working, and the machine spontaneously rebooted twice. 4.33.

June 2, 2006: My Office 2007 problems pick up in Messenger's absence: Word crashes twice, but the system stays up and running. 4.45.

June 3, 2006: A single spontaneous reboot mars an otherwise uneventful day. 4.65.

June 4, 2006: Word 2007 and Outlook 2007 both crash, along with a third unknown application. No system reboots. 4.11.

June 5, 2006: Vista's system indexer stopped working. And the OS stopped working three times, spontaneously rebooting each time. I believe this was the "I could hear the screams" day. 3.08.

June 6, 2006: Word 2007 and CA eTrust EZ AV both crash. 3.36.

June 7, 2006: A single spontaneous reboot. 3.64.

June 8, 2006: Windows Explorer and Word 2007 both crash. The OS stops working and the system reboots. 2.89.

June 9, 2006: The system spontaneously reboots once. 2.82.

June 12, 2006: After ignoring Vista on my main desktop for a few days, I return to have CA eTrust EZ AV crash on me, but the system stays up and running. 3.47.

June 13, 2006: The system spontaneously reboots twice. 2.77.

June 15, 2006: The OS stops working and the system spontaneously rebooted twice. 2.07.

June 16, 2006: The system stays up long enough to let Windows Defender update its definitions. No crashes. 2.66.

June 17, 2006: Windows Vista actually downloads a Windows Update. But then the OS stopped responding and the system crashed. 2.52.

June 18, 2006: My desktop hits its all-time low: CA eTrust EZ AV crashes twice, the OS stopped working twice, and the system spontaneously rebooted twice, sending the overall reliability rating down to 1.29. After that, I switched back to XP on my main desktop (it is configured for dual-booting) in anticipation of reinstalling Beta 2 or waiting for the next build.

June 19-22, 2006: I only sporadically boot into Vista on this machine for data backup purposes, but nothing bad happens. This causes the rating to jump up a bit to 1.94.

Now, I'm familiar with the notion that one install does not an OS make, but then I installed Windows Vista on several different machines, including my desktop, a Tablet PC, a Media Center PC, and numerous notebook computers. The machines I use most often, the desktop and a Dell Latitude D810 notebook, have had miserable Beta 2 experiences. That doesn't mean you'll have an equally bad experience, of course. But it does suggest that Beta 2 has some issues. It will be interesting to see how the post-Beta 2 builds fare in the coming weeks and months. Certainly, I'll be keeping an eye on the Reliability Monitor to see how it goes.