The Old Defrag' Just Ain't What It Used to Be
I decided to try to speed up my Vista laptop in place of - or at least before - upgrading it to Windows 7. That would allow me a fairer comparison to the speedup after a clean install of Windows 7. And that led me down the Yellow Brick Road of the Vista defragger.
To speed things up on Vista, I first removed all programs I wasn't using, most of which were installed on it when I first got it. Not much effect.
Next, I updated ZoneAlaram, which made a major speed-up. The new version told me that the database from the old one was corrupt. Now you tell me... In fact, based on a previous experience like this with ZoneAlarm on XP - which I had forgotten about - I think ZoneAlarm might be as much of a problem as Vista. I've used ZoneAlarm for years but I think I'm about at the end of the line with it.
Finally, I ran the Vista defragger. It's remarkably stupid. I only wanted to defrag the "C:" drive, so I started the defragger from the Tools tab of the C: Properties. After churning for a while, it wanted to defag all my drives. When I trimmed the list down to just C:, it wanted to inspect C: again. Didn't we just do that...? After a while, it said I could defrag C:, so I started that. It said the process might take "minutes to hours". Fine: I let it run overnight.
By morning, it had completed. However, it told me that my C: needed to be defragged. Didn't we just do that...? I started it again. The next question is whether it will take minutes or hours. "Minutes" have already passed, so I'm guessing hours.
Defragging was a much better experience in the Good Ol' Days. I think the first defragger that I ever saw was part of the old Norton Utilities for DOS, in maybe 1988 or so. That defragger and all others except the ones that come with Windows provided a graphic display that showed how blocks were being moved around. I always used to enjoy watching those. I used to tell people that it was like watching goldfish: it was entertaining because you never knew what it was going to do next.
In contrast, the Vista defragger has no graphic display, all it has is a little circle that spins to indicate activity. There's no show of blocks being moved, and not even some sort of basic progress thermometer or estimated time to completion.
As a software developer myself, I assume that the "goldfish" displays we used to get with defraggers originated in the need of the folks who wrote the defragger software to see if their algorithms were working sensibly. So, since Microsoft doesn't provide that sort of display, we can reasonably assume that either 1) Microsoft never used one as part of their development process and that's why their algorithms don't work sensibly, or 2) they recognize how badly their algorithm works and they don't want to show the rest of us. Or, maybe it's just 3) they don't want to confuse users by giving them insight into what their computer is actually doing.
Is there any chance that the defragger in Windows 7 is any better?...
Postscript: 27 Jan 2010
After writting this, I tried a couple of free defraggers. They seemed to defragment more thoroughly than Vista's defragger, though it's somewhat hard to tell. However, it's notable that both of them provided the "goldfish" displays I had been missing. I've never been convinced of the usefulness of defragging since I've never experienced any substantial improvement in a system from defragging. However, it a defragger is at least a little entertaining, it's not completely worthless.