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To Vista or not to Vista June 16, 2006

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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Thanks to Davie Boy 😉 who wrote this review. I apologize to my readers for the wordiness of it, although I did try to chop it down a little bit. I also apologize for the technical advancement it may require to read this.

“Being a Windows program developer, I need to keep on top of changes in Windows. Windows Vista (Longhorn), being the next generation of Windows after its 5-year old Windows XP ancestor, is one of those changes. So when Microsoft released a public beta of Windows Vista Ultimate (the version with EVERYTHING in it), I jumped at the opportunity to take it for a spin.

After downloading the 3.2GB image, it was easy to burn to a DVD. From there, I started the installation, which I must say appears to me to be the most improved part of the new Windows. The XP installation would copy files, then ask a few questions, then install things, then ask more questions, and continue asking questions at random times, which makes doing other things during the hour long install a little difficult. With Vista, you answer a few questions at the beginning, it copies files, extracts and installs them, all with a nice progress bar that shows you where your input is needed at the beginning and when it will continue by itself. And of course, the nice graphical install makes it easier than ever to install.

Once installed, it guides you through doing a few more things like creating an Administrator account. I find it interesting how Microsoft is so worried about security, that yet they don’t force users to create a non-administrator account during installation. Creating a non-administrator account increases the likeliness that the user will use the non-admin account and be more secure. Many Linux distributions have been doing this for years.

Moving onto the Start menu, they appeared to try a new technique to make it easier to use (remember trying to keep a folder open in the start menu while moving your mouse to something inside it?). When you click on All Programs, you get a scrolling list of programs and program folders, which is easier to navigate through. But considering that it uses only a portion of the screen, it seems like it’s a bit smashed into the corner, when it could spread out and show more programs at once. Maybe I’m too used to not having to scroll to get to programs on the Start menu.

To the right of the list of programs on the Start menu is other shortcuts and buttons, such as Documents, Pictures, Search, Control Panel, and the various log off/shutdown options. At the bottom is a button that appears to be shutdown, but is really standby. This is a bit annoying, and can’t be changed. The more commonly used Shutdown and Restart are more difficult to get to.

One thing I was really looking forward to trying was the more visible and useful features, such as live taskbar previews and program previews when pressing ALT+Tab to switch programs. However, my graphics card with 64MB of video memory is either too old or unsupported, so these features are automatically disabled, with no way to enable them. The media center looks nice and relatively easy to use (it’d be easier if I could get my remote to work), but since my TV tuner apparently isn’t supported on Vista (at least yet), I wasn’t able to watch TV with it.

I’ve had a few hard drive crashes in the past, so for the past several years, I’ve been making backups of all my important data every week onto CD. Currently I do this with the Windows Backup in XP, and it allows me to select individual folders that I want to back up. This is nice since I have all of my data isolated on a separate hard drive, so everything on there is my data and not part of the system. I had heard Vista had improved backup capabilities, so I had to try that out. What I found was a one size fits all program for backing up data. The first screen presents the option of where to make the backup, either to a local drive (other than the Windows drive), a CD/DVD, or a network drive. This part seems nice. However, there’s no option of where to back up files from, just 6 check boxes on what file types to back up. This scares me, as being a programmer, I have odd file types that need backing up. I was amazed when it managed to find and backup my test .cgi and .pl files, even those I put in a separate folder in C:\MyData, not in the usual Documents.

But why is my backup over 200MB, when all I created was a few little text files totaling less than 1MB? It seems to have backed up random things, of course from everywhere, based on file type. Apparently, the majority of this extremely large size came from demo video, audio, and pictures that are included with Vista. Why would I want to back those up? Apparently media files, text files, and log files from installed programs had been backed up, which is completely unnecessary as they can be reinstalled (and would need to be since the programs themselves are not backed up). I had downloaded driver installers to my desktop, and unzipped them into folders. Some of the files from there were backed up, but some weren’t. What if I wanted it to back up an exe installer for a program I paid for and downloaded? I don’t see a way to do that. Apparently .exe files aren’t backed up, which generally is ok, but not if it’s something I need. So the new Windows Backup is simpler yes, but definitely not near as good as it used to be.

Since this is the Ultimate edition, it includes tablet pc programs, such as handwriting recognition. Even with my horrible handwriting, combined with using a mouse to write, it managed to figure out what I was writing. That was rather impressive.

Speech recognition was a bit more tricky. I took the 15 minutes or so to complete the tutorial, which shows you how to use commands to do common tasks, while it learns how you speak. However, trying to dictate a note using it would be a bit annoying, as it manages to hear words incorrectly, combine words, or throw out random similar sounding words when it can’t quite understand. Navigating the Start Menu, opening programs, and switching programs is relatively easy with voice, but doing much inside them really requires a mouse and keyboard. Maybe with more training it would get things correct more often, but who wants to spend time teaching their computer when they can just use another method like the mouse and keyboard?

The games apparently got a nice facelift. I noticed better graphics and animation in the card games such as Solitaire and Hearts. There are a few new games, which can be learned quickly, as most preinstalled games can.

One security “enhancement” that I noticed throughout my testing of Vista was that even while logged in as admin, I was asked if I wanted to continue when changing any type of system setting or installing a new program. In theory, this is supposed to stop a virus from being able to change the system without the admin’s approval. However, it seems to me that if a virus were to someday run and it were to ask me if I wanted to let it continue, that I’d end up clicking yes simply out of habit, as I’ve done so hundreds of times during the short few days I’ve been using it and installing/tweaking/setting up a few things. It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice I see it being just another annoyance with no benefit.

So would I upgrade from my current XP Pro to Vista? Right now I’d say no, since there’s nothing that I need or want in Vista, and XP seems stable enough to complete my daily tasks. If I were able to get some of the more advanced features, like program previews in the task bar, with my current hardware, it might be a little incentive. And all of the features of my graphics card, including watching TV and video capture, are inaccessible due to a lack of drivers. Possibly by the time Vista is released in early 2007 there will be more support for older hardware such as my graphics card. Until then, I’m relatively happy with my Windows XP Pro and see no major benefits to upgrading to Vista.”

Note: Immediately after writing this, David tried to switch back to Windows XP and had issues with his network card (which he says isn’t related to Vista). Still, this is why I told him to preview the program and write a review for me, rather than having me crash my precious baby *g*

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Comments»

1. Sergey - June 17, 2006

“The more commonly used Shutdown and Restart…” is my favorite part. Both of my macs have been on for the past 2 month, no reboots. And if I ever needed one its right under the apple.

2. Amanda - June 17, 2006

Hmm, well, the little ibook I use needs to be rebooted before I run Unreal Tournement. It lags majorly and has issues if I don’t. 😛 Even with that, I like it more than my PC laptop.

3. David - June 18, 2006

Those of us who sleep tend to shut down our computers at night to save some power. I can’t remember the last time I rebooted my Linux server here at home, it tends to be rebooted more than enough when the power goes out once or twice a year. Current uptime: 196+ days.

4. Jim - June 19, 2006

Like David, I\’m a Linux user. In fact, my entire family is, including my Mom. Windows works reasonably well if you keep at it, stay out of bad neighborhoods and watch your back. I still have to use it for my Nikon film scanner and have a program or two worth keeping it around for.

At one time, I was a devoted Windows user and eagerly looked forward to each new release. I eventually switched to Linux for a few reasons:

1) It\’s almost impossible to be productive in Windows unless you use an account with administrative authority. Regular users don\’t get very far without having to log off and log back on a couple of dozen times a day. The \’Run As…\” function works well but it\’s very limited. I haven\’t played with Vista but in earlier versions, there\’s no way to \”su -\” or \”sudo\” your way to running an restricted command like you can in Linux/Unix. Running as an administrator in Windows (or Linux) is just asking for trouble.

2) Windows is only the beginning. It doesn\’t come with any useful software so to be productive or do *anything* meaningful, you\’ve got to break the bank: office suites, graphics programs, zip/unzip utilities, etc. You\’ve also got to shell out for anti-virus software, pop-up blockers, spyware eliminators, system utilities, etc. Much of this stuff gets left behind when you move from one version of Windows to the next. Maybe your XP stuff will work on Vista, maybe it won\’t. If not, stop off at the ATM on the way to pick up your new OS.

3) I realized I was losing control of my computer. Decisions were being made for me that I didn\’t agree with. Even little things like dropping the extension off file names, forcing \’user friendly\’ views on me by default and making me look in a zillion different places to put things right. Menus that only show me what the OS thinks I ought to see… Too many limitations.

Linux isn\’t for everyone but Linux is improving a LOT faster than Windows is improving.


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