It’s been a long time since I posted — nearly two weeks, I think. Since that just won’t do, here’s a piece about my recent experience with Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows Vista.
Historically, I always move up to the latest edition of Windows within two weeks of its arrival. More often than not, these upgrades are “gotta have it” responses, rather than motivated by any tangible reason. Yeah, I even bought Windows Millennium Edition, although I wound up regretting it in a scant few hours. But I’ve held off from upgrading to Windows Vista, even though this is the first new version of Windows that won’t cost me a dime (thanks to my company’s Microsoft partnership).
Last year, when the Vista beta was floating around, I was just as excited as usual. I signed up for the program and installed the beta on a spare machine. Unfortunately, the results were not encouraging. Vista’s new security features (particularly User Account Control) were supremely annoying, simple file copy procedures took dreadfully long, half of my old PC’s hardware did not have any driver support, and worst of all, the Vista beta hosed the hard drive it was installed on, rendering it unbootable and invisible to every machine’s BIOS. Needless to say, I decided that I was going to steer clear of Vista for a while, and see how things went after its release.
The release date came in January, but still I held off, hearing lots of bitching and moaning — more so, it seemed to me, than is usual for a Microsoft OS launch. At first there were a lot of driver support issues, but gradually, these were remedied. By the time June arrived, I could feel that “gotta have it” impulse gnawing at me, and decided it was time to give Vista a real-world try and see what would happen.
Because my computer is my workstation now, and the device I use to make my living, I needed to be careful about this. I backed up a complete image of my Windows XP installation, to which I could seamlessly restore in case Vista really just started to suck. With this safety measure taken care of, I then cloned my XP install onto a spare hard drive and set up a dual-boot, so I could still fire up XP and do my day’s work before I finished preparing my Vista install. Finally, I burned an image of Windows Vista Business from our Microsoft partner library, obtained the key from management, and got it installed.
I’ll spare you all the minutiae, except to say that the installation was a lot quicker than I’m used to, and blissfully required no user interaction at all — so you could leave it unattended and it would complete itself. This is unlike Windows XP, which (without a custom install script) will come to a standstill while it waits for you to tell it things like what day of the month it is. Once Vista was up and running, I immediately excommunicated the stupid, useless sidebar widget and started installing my applications.
Notes to self about what to do next time you need to install Vista:
- Disable the firewall and the anti-virus software before installing the Adobe Creative Suite 3, otherwise the latter will likely fail. (Time wasted: 90 minutes.)
- When installing MySQL on Apache 2.x server with PHP, copy libmysql.dll into the C:WindowsSystem32 directory or the MySQL PHP module will not load.
- Divide your library of fonts into three groups, and install one group at a time. The Vista font manager, while apparently no different than XP’s or Win2000’s, chokes majorly when asked to install more than 500 fonts at a time.
While the Web is abuzz with people lamenting Vista’s incompatibilities with certain hardware, I found no problems with any of my equipment — although certain things, like my Canon scanner, required a manual driver install for some reason (whereas XP simply detected them out of the box). I haven’t finished installing all of my applications, but 80% of them are now on board, and I’ve only found two that didn’t work: Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall (I replaced it with PC Tools Firewall Plus) and the GSiteCrawler Google sitemap generator (for now, I run it on my laptop instead). Even reportedly troublesome applications didn’t give me any problems.
Now that I’ve been using Vista for a week or so, here are some thoughts regarding my likes and dislikes.
- The sparkly, spiffy Aero Glass UI, in all its drop-shadowyness.
- The short boot-up time.
- The Superfetch caching engine — big apps start up quicker now.
- The “Favorites” bar, which supersedes the old “Places” bar. Whereas the WinXP “Places” bar was restricted to five locations chosen by the OS and not easily changed, in Vista you can drag as many shortcuts as you want into your “Favorites” bar, and they will appear in any program that uses a common OS open/save dialog. Also, with one click, you can hide the places bar and show the folder treeview instead. It took some getting used to, but it’s really helped speed up my open and save routines. Excellent!
- The taskbar’s new clock/calendar applet that pops up one click on the time of day.
- The Disk Management MMC snap-in, which now allows you to create, resize and delete disk partitions.
- The new system sounds, which remind me of the Nintendo Wii system sounds.
- While it’s irritating, the limited user account (with momentary permission elevation) is good practice.
- While it’s good practice, the limited user account (with its User Account Control popups) is irritating. 😉
- File copy procedures still take too long. Also, when you’re just copying one or two small (~1K) files, the OS goes out of its way to show a fancy dialog box, calculate the time necessary to complete the copy, and then fades the dialog box out. The stupid part about this is, by the time the dialog box appears, the copy procedure is already done.
- When copying and overwriting files, there no longer seem to be keyboard shortcuts that correspond to your options on the dialog box — you have to grab the mouse to make a choice.
- If you want to modify the HOSTS file, or a file in the C: drive root, you have to launch your editor with administrator permissions, which of course spawns a UAC nag box.
- Speaking of UAC nax boxes, they’re really annoying. But they wouldn’t be half as annoying if they didn’t find it necessary to blank all of my screens for a split second before they appear. What is the point of this?
- The “Sleep” function, touted as a great alternative to shutting down (it simply maintains voltage on your RAM so that you can quickly resume from where you left off), never works, so I wind up just shutting down anyway.
- I initially hated how the “All Programs” list is confined to a scrolling pane within the Start Menu itself, but it’s growing on me.
Overall, while I’ve experienced some irritations and speed bumps, most of them are simply new conventions in the ever-evolving world of Windows that I’ll learn to work around, or develop faster alternatives to as I get more familiar with Vista. Yeah, even the annoying UAC nag boxes, although there are times when they really seem extra-pointless (like when you move or rename an item on the All Programs menu, if that item belongs to all users instead of just you). In the future, experts may devise a way to tweak UAC in a granular fashion without disabling it altogether, just so that it doesn’t prompt you for certain everyday actions like this. (Or if that isn’t possible, perhaps it will be functionality added in a service pack.)
Based on all the complaints flying around the Web, I expected to have a lot more problems with Vista, and be a lot less satisfied. But the truth is, I’ve almost completely made the switch — all of my work applications are functioning just as they did under XP, and there are only a few programs I haven’t installed yet. Of those, I expect to have some issues with my DVD ripping / video encoding stuff, as that will be problematical under Vista until new versions of those applications are released. But I still have my XP dual-boot, so if all else fails, XP is a couple keystrokes away.
Overall, Vista is a decent OS, one that introduces some temporary headaches and growing pains in order to set us on a more proper track for the long haul. I expect the next version of Windows, due in late 2009, to provide more real-world improvements. This one’s just paving the way. It’s not the leap that Windows XP was, but more importantly, it’s not the life-ruining, marriage-wrecking, Satan-infused pain in the ass that propagandists on the Web are making it out to be.
Bottom line? If you buy a new computer with Vista preinstalled, there’s no need to fear it. But the average user has no real reason to go out of their way to upgrade an existing machine. For now, those folks should stick with XP and be happy.