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I’m one of the sales consultants here at Puget Systems, and so as soon as Vista was released we upgraded all of our workstations to the new OS so that we could talk to customers about it intelligently. I was so impressed with the new look and updated applications that within a week or two I purchased two OEM copies of Vista and loaded it up on my home computers. I’ve since also purchased two laptops (a 17″ portable gaming system for myself, and a 14″ long-life model for my wife to use around the house). That is five (5) total computers now running Vista that I interact with daily, and I’ve been loving just about every minute of it.
My home computers are both AMD-based, with 2GHz dual-core Athlon processors. One is tasked with managing our home theater setup, which it does very well. The other is in my bedroom, and gets used for regular home tasks, working from home on occasion, and my fatal flaw: gaming. At the moment, I primarily play World of Warcraft – which runs very smoothly considering that it is on a wireless network and I don’t exactly have a top-of-the-line gaming rig. I’ve played several other games over the past year as well (Supreme Commander, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Titan Quest, etc) and overall had just as smooth of an experience as I had in XP. There are occasional bugs with something, which I’ll go into in a little more depth later, but that is kind of the way that gaming on PCs has been since the DOS days.
Personally I find the new look and feel of Vista quite a bit. I was never a fan of the cartoony look of XP’s default color scheme, and I used to set it to look like Windows 98/2000. The glossy look that Vista has is very appealing, though, and I love the way the Aero scheme gives everything a 3D feel. I’ll grant that there is very little actual usefulness gained from these sorts of things, but anything that makes working with a computer more enjoyable is a good step in my book. I also like the tabbed browsing in IE7 (which is extremely useful – back in the IE6 days I used Firefox to get the same functionality) and the overall feel of the updated applications built into Vista.
My Experience [continued]
With our portable computers the experience has also been great. My laptop, though not equipped with quite as good a video card as my bedroom gaming box, still powers through WoW just fine. My wife’s isn’t aimed at gaming, but thanks to a roughly 5 hour battery life she rarely has to tether it to the wall. In fact, I may have created a monster: she can now sit in front of our HTPC watching something and also play cards or surf MySpace on her laptop for hours on end – did I inadvertently make myself obsolete? I’m just joking, of course, but I’m really glad to see her enjoying herself. I even asked her this past weekend, just to be sure, and she said she didn’t have anything bad to say about Vista. She also really likes all of the basic bundled games that Microsoft includes, and I have to say that they did a great job of making everything from Minesweeper to Spider Solitaire look very nicely polished (yay for eye candy!).
One thing I am disappointed about is that you have to get Vista Ultimate or Business edition in order to have the better backup and networking features Microsoft offers. I am able to operate my home network just fine with the connectivity options in Home Premium, but being able to remotely log in from work to my HTPC would be nice in case I needed to adjust the recording schedule. I would also like to have the full-system backup utility that comes in the higher versions of Vista, but I found an interesting way of doing what I need with Microsoft’s free tool called SyncToy. I have it scheduled to synchronize the documents folder on my home theater PC with the one on the desktop in my bedroom every night – thereby ensuring that I have two copies of all our important documents in case either computer has a hard drive failure.
“User Account Control is an annoyance! I hate needless pop-ups!”
Well, the truth is that making every action that could affect the core of the system require user approval is about the most fundamental security measure possible. I’ll agree that it is rather annoying, though – a way to “always approve” a type of action (or a certain program) would be nice. However, if you really can’t live with it then do what I do: turn UAC off. This is a simple process:
1) Go to the Control Panel
2) Select “Classic View”
3) Go to User Accounts
4) Select “Turn User Account Control on or off”
5) De-select the check box
6) Click OK
“Vista costs too much!”
When compared to Mac OS, which costs $129, the retail box versions of Windows do seem a little expensive (though OEM prices stack up nicely against that number, and of course one gets Mac’s latest OS version included on any Apple computer). Keep in mind, though, that a vast majority of software out there doesn’t run on Macs – and while they have their niche purposes I can’t endorse an operating system that is limited to one manufacturer’s hardware (Apple) and such a small portion of the software that has been written for computers. Also note that whenever a new version of OS X comes out (1.4, 1.5, etc) you have to pay to upgrade. Service packs on Microsoft operating systems are always free, though some would argue that the Mac OS upgrades offer more than the service packs Microsoft churns out every year or two.
The real place where Windows looks expensive is when compared to Linux, the free open-source operating system that is slowly gaining in user base. Again it is worth remembering that a lot of software out there will only run on Windows, so you aren’t getting the same level of functionality and interoperability, but proponents of Linux tend to argue that you also can’t beat the price tag of $0. If you are interested in learning more about the “other” operating system, check out the user-friendly variant known as Ubuntu.
Vista Rebuttals (continued)
This isn’t so much a complaint about Vista itself, but about how Microsoft has chosen to break it up into a multitude of versions. Here I am in agreement with most of the folks who talk about this: it really shouldn’t be necessary to have five separate editions of one operating system, and both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of each. Personally I think that most folks can ignore three of the options: only Home Premium and Ultimate are legitimate options for most folks. Home Premium has most of the functionality average users will want, but if things like better backup, remote login, and encryption appeal to you then go with Ultimate. Ultimate and Business are not very far apart in price, and Home Basic is so stripped down that is nearly worthless. Enterprise is the name of the fifth version, and I honestly don’t even know what differs between it and the Business edition.
The whole 32-bit vs 64-bit argument also comes into play here, and as much as I wish Microsoft had just pushed straight for 64-bit-only on Vista that won’t be a viable option until the vast majority of software and peripherals out there are designed to work properly with it. My thought is that anyone who really needs the additional memory support that 64-bit provides is probably spending enough on their computer that Ultimate would be the logical Vista version to go with. That leaves three “real” options to me for the vast majority of folks: 32-bit Home Premium, 32-bit Ultimate, and 64-bit Ultimate. It is also worth noting that if you purchase the retail version of Ultimate you get both 32- and 64-bit installation media – so you can use whichever works best for you.
“I’ve heard that Vista has a lot of bugs in it still – I don’t want to mess with that!”
Based on my own experiences Vista doesn’t seem any buggier than XP was, which is to say that the problems I’ve encountered are pretty few and far between. I’ve had Internet Explorer 7 crash a couple times if I had a ridiculous amount of tabs and downloads all going at once, but I didn’t run IE7 on XP long enough to know if it is a universal issue or just limited to XP (it has also only ever happened on one of my computers, so it could be something limited to that system). I’ve run into other oddities in Windows Mail and Media Player on occasion, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome or was any worse than XP.
A lot of folks around our office have had more issues than me, though, so there may be something to these claims. So far I’ve chalked it up to trying to run Vista on older hardware, but I’ve not done an extensive amount of testing. I guess I can only speak from my experience, which has been fine so far. Plus, Service Pack 1 should be arriving soon – and XP only got better with the upgrades it got.
Oh, I nearly forgot: whether more buggy or not, Vista at least tends to handle errors and program crashes more elegantly than XP and other previous Windows versions. Having just an application drop rather than then entire Windows environment freezing up is very nice, and I’ve not seen many bluescreens either (though they still exist).
“Vista won’t work with [insert software title here]! Why did Microsoft break it?”
I have heard reports of some applications not working well with Vista (when they worked fine in XP). This can be due to a number of possible causes, but the long and the short of it is that most things that have problems can be fixed pretty easily. Vista has a “compatibility mode” option to try, and running programs in administrator mode can also solve a lot of things. There are still things that don’t work properly – especially in the realm of audio editing – but in my opinion if software makers haven’t fixed or updated their applications after Vista has been out for a year then the onus is on them. If you are stuck in an unfortunate situation where the programs you need to run won’t work with Vista then feel free to stick with XP (better safe than sorry).
Vista Rebuttals (continued)
This is actually one of the most legitimate complaints against Vista, and it is partially true. Vista does have a lot of new “extras”, like the Sidebar, but most of them are things that you could add to XP via various third-party applications. There are some legitimately new features, like full-system voice control and DirectX 10, but a lot of folks will never use them (for one reason or another). For people who have XP-based systems now and are considering upgrading this is something to note: you probably don’t “need” to upgrade to get some new killer app. However, it isn’t a good reason to stick with an older OS on a new computer either.
“Where did the File menu go in Internet Explorer/Media Player go? I miss it…”
Believe it or not, a lot of online things I’ve been reading complain about this. It would be a very valid point, if it weren’t so amazingly easy to fix! Just press “Alt” and the file menu bar magically appears – and if you want to keep it there forever that is easy too. In IE7 just right-click on the file menu and select “Menu Bar”; for Media Player, just press Crtl-M.
“My programs seem to run slower in XP than they did in Vista! What’s up?”
Because of all the new stuff Vista has going on in the background, there is an increased level of overhead (CPU and RAM usage) compared to Windows XP. This can lead to some applications performing slower, though I’ve found that if one has a multi-core CPU and decent amount of memory (2GB+) the differences are minimal. Games also had issues with lower performance early on, but this has largely been dealt with through updated drivers for video cards since Vista’s release.
One specific example that has not been fixed yet is zip file performance. In both XP and Vista, the ability to zip and unzip compressed .zip files has been built into the file explorer system. For some reason, Vista is a lot slower about this than XP was – and both are slower than most third-party applications. I don’t know why exactly this is, but I have noticed that it depends a lot on the number of files in the compressed folder. I ran a quick test earlier today and a single 5.8MB .exe file in a zipped folder only took 5 seconds to uncompress. Compare that to the 75 seconds that it took to uncompress 5.6MB worth of 31 files of various formats and you can see what I mean. I don’t do enough work with zipped folders for it to be an issue, but for folks who do I would suggest a free application like 7-Zip to make this less painful. And just for the record, using 7-Zip shortened both of the above tests to 3-4 seconds.
Turn off UAC – If those pesky ‘Cancel or Allow’ pop-ups are getting to you, and you are confident in other security measures you’ve put in place (anti-virus, firewalls, etc), then do what I do and disable this security “feature”.
Turn off Virtual Memory – I’ve found that Windows’ habit of swapping data from memory to the hard drive to keep some space in the RAM available is poorly executed at best. This isn’t just with Vista – it has been this way since at least XP, maybe back to the 95/98 days. If you have enough memory (2GB, in all of my systems) I would give a shot to turning it off entirely. Note that this means that things WILL crash if Windows runs out of memory to work with, but you should get a little advanced warning before that happens. If you tend to run a lot of stuff at once, or are a user of heavier editing applications like Photoshop, then you may want to have more memory before doing this (or just not do it at all).
Turn off SuperFetch – This is one of the truly ‘new’ features that was added in Vista, and while it is a nice idea it tends to clutter the RAM unnecessarily. If you are going to turn off Virtual Memory, as I described above, it would be best to turn this off as well (to avoid running out of memory).
Turn off System Restore – Like Virtual Memory, this is not unique to Vista: I preferred to disable it in XP as well. I’ve heard of it working well for some folks, and I’ve heard the version in Vista is improved over XP, but it still seems like a waste of hard drive space and CPU time (when making a restore point). If you have any half-decent backup scheme then this isn’t really a critical thing for Windows to be worrying about.
Turn off Indexing – This isn’t so critical, but it cuts down on the amount of drive accessing (and so noise). It has the side effect of making searches in Vista take longer, but I guess I don’t search for things often enough for that to be a problem. Certainly the least important of the tweaks I do, and so listed last.
Hopefully all of this info helps someone out there. In short, if you are considering a new computer make sure that your software does not have known issues with Vista; if no conflicts exist, feel free to go to Vista! If you have an XP computer now, take a look at the features that Vista does offer. If none of those strike you as worthwhile, then there is no need to upgrade – but if something would improve your user experience and your hardware is up to it then go ahead! Whatever you decide – XP, Vista, or even Linux – I hope you have a great computer experience 🙂