Are the days of the major operating system upgrade over?

It’s hard to read blogs or talks to friends without hearing of the horror stories many are experiencing by upgrading to the latest operating systems from Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft was first on the scene with Windows Vista which arrived with much fanfare, mostly due to its interface overhaul. But once Vista hit store shelves, the complaints started rolling in about everything from it’s hefty hardware requirements to its crippling DRM and UAC.

And now Apple appears to be following in very similar footsteps with all sorts of problems of its own. Upgrades that went awry to screen lockups to expensive hardware and software upgrades appear to be the norm for major operating system upgrades these days.

Which leads me to ask this question: Do we really need major OS upgrades anymore?

Going back to the Windows 3.1/95/98 days, one of the major reasons to upgrade to the latest OS was enhanced stability. Microsoft didn’t always refer to it so directly, but many users forked over the hundred bucks with the hope their system would require fewer reboots and the dreaded BSOD would disappear.

One could argue that system stability on the PC was reached when Windows 2000 was launched. But since it wasn’t marketed to home users, Windows XP is usually the operation system with which most home users experienced prolonged stability. Given that I can go weeks without rebooting my Windows XP machine, I have to ask myself why I’d be willing to put up with the hassle of upgrading to Vista when so many people are having bad experiences with it. I ran Vista for over six months and came to appreciate a few nice, fringe features like a more robust search, thumbnail preview, and better backup options. But along with the good came some bad like UAC, resource hogging Sidebar, sketchy driver support and a UI that feels like a cheap skin from Wincustomize.

I hope one day we get to the point where the OS fades into the background. When I pick up my phone to make a call, I don’t care one bit what software my phone company is running. I just want my phone company to connect the call. The same goes for my OS. I really don’t care what runs in the background as long as I can burn a DVD, watch a movie or write an email when I need to. The less time I spend mucking around with my OS, the better. Windows XP works for me in this manner about 95% of the time. Sure, I wish it included a few of the Vista features, but the hassle isn’t worth the upgrade. And several of the so-called Vista features are available to download for free (IE 7, Windows Live Gallery). Maybe down the road Microsoft will bridge that 5% reliability gap and I’ll upgrade. But for now, the hassle overweighs the benefits.

I learned my lesson by trying to run Vista RTM for a few months before going back to XP. Many of my friends (even some who work at MSFT) have quietly moved back to XP after battling Vista for the past year. And it’s not just frustrated Vista users. I’m hearing the similar complaints about Leopard as some users revert back to Tiger. Maybe this signals the end of the major OS upgrade. Maybe we’ve reached the point where XP and Tiger provide a level of stability that puts the focus back on getting things done instead of constant OS babysitting.

Do we really need another major OS upgrade? I don’t think we do.

Update: Oliver Rist from PC Magazine calls Leopard “the new Vista”.