A Quick History
Although I've started out with Unix, I have been a Windows user for a long time. That is, since around the days of Windows 95. Before that, I did have an HC (a Romanian-made, Z80-based Spectrum-ish computer), but I couldn't afford a computer of my own.
I won't go through the Windows 95 bashing part again. It was nicknamed Mac '84 at its time, and for a good reason. It was slow, bloated, full of bugs, and as soon as I began to understand its inner working (as far as you can understand from a closed-source OS of course), I immediately thought it was going to take several ice ages before it would become the clean, ideal operating system it was advertised as.
When Windows 98 was out, it didn't change too much, and the Internet Explorer beast didn't do much to help. In fact, tearing off IE from any system I was using became a general habit for me. When everyone was commenting on what Windows 2000 was going to bring, I was already a happy FreeBSD user.
The last version of Windows I used consistently was Windows 2000. I did some serious programming work on it, and did enjoy using Visual Studio as well. I still meditate on whether I'd give emacs away for VS if I had the chance to. With a number of exceptions, I was quite happy with Windows 2000. It was, indeed, a stable operating system, nicely polished, secure and, unlike its predecessors, slightly faster than a drunk snail. Nevertheless, I didn't use it as my home desktop system, but only for work. However, I was simply dragged out by the *nices I was already too accustomed to. I did use Windows XP sporadically, but I can't think of the last time I used it for more than three hours. I never used it as my home system or for doing serious work on it. Therefore, you could say that I'm mostly new to Windows XP.
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me to help her with testing a program she wrote. Having had the inspiration of purchasing Windows XP with my current computer (I thought you'd never know when you'll need it), I was able to start immediately. So off I went, wiping out one of the partitions I normally use for backup. I freed up 15 GB of space on my 2.6 GHz Pentium IV. The rest of the system was filled with 1024 MB of RAM, an nVidia GeForce 5600 and an integrated sound card. I also tried to use a HP LaserJet 1020 USB printer, an UMAX USB scanner and some no-name USB keyboard.
Beam me up, Scotty!
I admit that the first screens I saw during the install procedure were no surprise for me. Before getting to the cute, cuddly, graphical part of the install procedure, everything is essentially how it used to be 20 years ago, back to Windows 1.0, except that it doesn't ask you for install floppies and it has something that tries to act like a partitioning program.
On one hand, I admit to be quite happy with it. I'm not a fan of cute installation programs and I don't run away from text. As long as it does its job, it's fine for me, and I am yet to meet someone who says everything should be GUI when installing Windows. On the other hand, the "as long as it does its job" part is somewhat to be disputed here.
Indeed, compared to other operating systems, Windows has a rather primitive install program. The partitioning program is very limited (it can only recognize FAT/NTFS partitions, and can only create or delete partitions), and there are very few things you can customize. There is no option to select which parts of the operating system you want to install (although you can uninstall some of them later). Still, this is hardly much of a problem itself, since Windows is not as modular as you would expect in the 21st century. There's basically a whole pile of things the installation program throws on your hard drive, much of which you don't need. Some solutions, like 2000lite from LitePC, do seem to exist, but there is some extra effort which could have been elegantly avoided by simply allowing the user not to install some components. Of course, the space taken up is not such a big hassle most of the times (let's be serious, you won't be installing Windows XP on an 800 MB drive) and you can disable the services you don't need. But there's little practical reason for this situation.
Another thing Windows doesn't quite do at installation is be nice enough to detect all your hardware and provide drivers. Of course, this is hardly Microsoft's fault, it's a matter of licensing. But still, regardless of whose fault it is, you are still stuck with installing most of your drivers after Windows has been installed. Except for installing the binary nVidia drivers, I've never done this on any other operating system. Yes, it's a magical feature Microsoft has been advertising since Windows 95, a Holy Grail called Plug'n'Play, though that was hardly PnP.