Some thoughts on Vista a few weeks inPosted: January 21, 2007
I’ve been using Windows Vista for about five weeks now on my new notebook and I upgraded my home desktop yesterday afternoon so I thought it was time I shared some thoughts on my experiences so far:
The Good Stuff
- Security: I think the new security conscious experience is a step in the right direction. Some people may be understandably annoyed at the amount of dialogues and confirmation prompts required to perform seemingly innocent tasks and even go as far as turning User Account Control off but in the world of the Internet today these types of regular reminders of just how precious the integrity of a computer system is are worthy. I’m amazed at how many of my family members’ and friends’ PCs get infected with countless varieties of malware while in 13-odd years of PC ownership I’ve never contracted so much as a mischievous macro. And for 99% of that I wasn’t running anti-malware software of any kind. It’s down to the way we use our computers, or "user behaviour". It’s just so true that the technology is not the primary cause, so for me the likes of User Account Control are a good thing and I welcome it into the technology mainstream.
- Performance: Let me tell you now, the hype surrounding how much of a powerhouse of a PC you’ll need to run Vista and all its goodies is just that, hype. While my notebook maybe a fairly high-specced model with the latest Core 2 Duo 2Ghz CPU, 2GB of fast RAM, a nippy 7200RPM HDD, super high-res screen, an OK mid-range video card and priced well over AU$3,000, my desktop is an almost three year old run-of-the-mill Dell business desktop (an OptiPlex GX270 in fact) with a P4 3.2Ghz CPU, 2GB of normal RAM, a couple of SATA HDDs and a truly appalling nVidia GeForce FX5200 AGP video card which all up only cost me about $1,700 (without monitor) and these days can be picked up off e-bay for less than $600, and Vista runs just fine on it. Furthermore, my desktop is also our Media Center PC, with the XBOX 360 in the lounge room connecting to it to provide us with all our TV-related entrainment, including twin-tuner HD TV recording and playback. Right now it’s recording a program on SBS, while my wife is watching something on channel Ten and I’ve got Outlook 2007, five IE windows, media player, messenger, IIS, SQL Server 2005, OneCare and of course Live Writer running, and my pretty little sidebar CPU meter gadget is hovering around the 30% mark. Stunning! I admit, my desktop WEI rating of 2.0 is pretty poor overall, but it is only the video card that scores poorly, with every other component scoring well over 4 and one even over 5. That said, it still runs Aero Glass (much to my surprise) and does a pretty good job of it, although the nice window shuffling effect is a little slow and the Media Center UI when viewed on the PC is a bit jerky and very CPU intensive. Whether I can hold out until June when my next desktop purchase is due or just buy a second-hand nvidia 6000-series video card to make the desktop experience that bit better we’ll see, but overall for a three year old system all is pretty good. I will point out that I run three separate hard drives on my desktop to cater for its shared duties which I think is necessary to avoid the inevitable IO conflict when recording TV and doing software development on the same box.
- User Experience: I love Aero Glass. I think it’s just fab and is what the Windows world has been missing for a long time. I also like the SideBar and already have a collection of gadgets which I’ve come to rely on plus a wishlist of those I think I’d like (and who knows I may even develop them myself).
- Search: I’ve been running a desktop search agent of some sort for a few years now so this is nothing new really but it’s nice to have it finally integrated into the OS. One thing that is new though that works so much better than I ever thought it could is the Start Search bar. 90% of the time I launch a program by typing the first few letters of its name into the Start Search bar and hitting enter. It’s just such a better experience than trawling through mountains of start menu program folders or countless desktop icons. Love it!
- Media: The in-built support for digital media is better than ever and so far I’ve made great use of Windows Photo Gallery. I love its tagging and fix functions in particular, and in the hospital after little Fitz was born the slideshow was running on the notebook constantly for visitors to see his progress in the days before thanks to direct support for my Canon EOS 400D, to much excitement and praise. The revised UI for Windows Media Center is also a good improvement with much better use of the screen real-estate in most views and great new (read intuitive) ways of viewing your media libraries (like viewing music by album artist, just like in Media Player 11). The new mini-guide while watching TV is fantastic too. Note: for help on setting up Vista Media Center with full-EPG support for Australia and the XBOX 360 Extender see the best Media Center site around http://www.xpmediacentre.com.au)
The Not-So-Good Stuff
- Drivers: I guess I can’t be too annoyed about this as Vista hasn’t even been released to the retail public yet, but there are still some things I can’t get drivers for and others that one has to hack a bit to make work. On my notebook there’s no drivers for the fingerprint scanner I optioned in (I’m really hanging out for that one!) and the video card drivers need an INF file hack to get the latest support, although that’s more nVidia’s fault (see http://www.laptopvideo2go.com/ for more details). On my desktop the situation is similar with almost everything supported but one crucial thing is not: my printer. It’s a Samsung CLP-510 colour laser printer, less than a year old and at the moment I can’t use it. Most of its siblings have out-of-the-box driver support but alas as yet no joy for we poor CLP-510 folk. The software for managing my Logitech Harmony remote control is also a bit behind and forces Vista back into the "Basic" colour scheme, disabling Aero Glass whenever it is run. As it runs as a system tray icon this is a problem so it’s now uninstalled.
- Windows Mobile: ActiveSync is dead and on Vista we now have the Windows Mobile Device Center. That’s fine except that MDC is still in beta, is a separate download from Microsoft, and doesn’t seem to support Office 2007. As a result, I haven’t been able to get my brand new i-mate JasJam syncing directly with Vista, instead having to use Server ActiveSync direct to the Exchange server. And even without the Office support, I haven’t got it to successfully recognise my JasJam being connected since it was first installed. This is OK, Server ActiveSync works beautifully, but I can’t get the photos I’ve taken with the JasJam’s reasonably good onboard camera off onto any PC or install any new applications onto the JasJam. Not so good then!
What Could Be Even Better
- Media sharing, on the web for crying out loud!: The new network media sharing abilities of Media Player 11 are great, really helping to establish digital media on the home network as a reliable and ongoing reality, but where has Microsoft been for the last five years?! Today, I share my photos on the web, and tomorrow I’ll want to share my video on there too (tomorrow being when I get around to buying a firewire cable and learning to use the new version of Windows Movie Maker, which looks quite good and most importantly supports HD video from my Sony HDRHC3). Why isn’t there a big-arse button in Windows Photo Gallery to share my photos on the web? It should support all the major players and I wouldn’t even mind if some great new Microsoft photo sharing site was first on the list. It should also support auto-sharing of photos based on tagging and rating information, so that whenever I upload new photos from my camera and tag and rate them they are automagically resized, resampled and posted according to my preferences, saving me valuable time driving Flickr Uploadr. I’d also love to see quick lists of photos recently shared by my friends or Windows Live contacts. Come on Microsoft, see the potential in truly integrating the experience between your great new OS and your pretty good online services. I find it hard to believe that someone out there in the Windows Live team hasn’t already whiteboarded ideas along this line, and if they haven’t shame on them!