November 17th 2007will mark one year since I have been using Microsoft’s latest client desktop operating system – Windows Vista. Vista has been a momentous release for me, I will admit, there were bumps along the way and there is still a lot more to prove. But the conclusion for me is clear; Windows Vista is a significant release that delivers a first class user experience in comparison to its predecessor and market alternatives. ActiveWin’s year in review is meant to take a look at how the operating system has performed for me since its debut, I hope you will read it and also share your feedback.
Windows Vista has experienced strong adoption throughout the year beating many analyst expectations, it is estimated that up to 90 million users have upgraded to the new release through new PC purchases and retail upgrades licenses. So it’s apparent that this release of Windows has been healthy for Microsoft and will continue to do well with the coming holiday season. Numerous sites have also blown up across the web with thousands of enthusiast catering to the new operating system and its various features.
I have been using both x86 and x64 Vista platforms, one device driver continues to hold me back from going 100% 64-bit. BVRP Mobile Phone Tools – please work on getting your device driver working properly on Vista x64, it’s been ‘one year’ come on! In regards to compatibility Vista had a rough start no doubt, the device drivers were available, but most were plagued with stability problems, this issue also applied to some software applications. But I can honestly say the problems have pretty much been ironed out and has helped to deliver a better experience for me and other users. Part of this excellence is attributed to the much improved Windows Update service in Vista. Microsoft has gone far and beyond to make users have the latest software and hard drivers by pushing them through the service.
The new Problem Reports and Solutions component is also a great feature that continually gives Microsoft structured feedback about issues your system might encounter running Windows Vista. Its one of the great ways to really diagnose and find solutions to common problems users are likely to have such as software compatibility and device driver issues.
Its no secret, Windows Vista’s Aero Theme is a major draw for new and existing users of Windows, it’s the most critical part of the user experience we as users interact with on Vista. AERO is just visually appealing, cool and really adds a professional quality and dimension to the PC. Some say AERO is a resource hog, its confusing, distracting, but I “must” disagree. AERO Glass really is beautiful and productive by really putting emphasis on an applications window main content, persons who say its distracting have never used Vista, AERO is also about bringing aesthetics to a vitally important part of the computer. It’s distracting at first yes because you are left wondering if this is Windows, you immediately admire the quality and focus on the changes brought to the desktop. I am running AERO Glass on an nVidia Geforce FX 5200 128 MBs of RAM AGP card and I get all the effects without any drawbacks in performance, so persons talking about AERO being a cheap thrill really need to sit down and take a serious look at the OS and actually use it before coming to a conclusion. Microsoft did a great job here.
In my Windows XP Professional x64 Edition year in review I proclaimed that Vista x64 would be the transition to 64-bit ubiquity, but I must be honest that it has not been entirely so. I previously noted compatibility problems with my cellular phone. The industry is still not behind the platform it seems, but there has been definitely a lot of progress. In comparison to Windows 2000, Vista x64 is probably one of the smoothest Windows migrations I have ever had. This is a testament to detail and effort Microsoft has put into making the experience as identical in everyway to its 32-bit counter part. It’s up to the industry to provide the other half of the bargain and some have definitely done so, nVidia and AMD ATI for example have regularly released updated device drivers for their graphics cards which have improved the stability and performance on Vista systems.
Users have not been bombarded with issues such as RAID/SATA issues which were very pronounced for the XP x64 release. Please note, I am not saying the issue does not exist, but it is not as rampant, numerous devices have worked for users since day one and a plethora of software programs have supported Vista since day one, these include Graphics Cards, AIO Printers, Scanners, Wireless and USB Devices. Microsoft has estimated that over 2 million devices are now supported for Windows Vista and the list continues to grow. New avenues have opened up for Windows customers such as the Windows Market Place where users can find over 90,000 products that are designed for the platform.
For me personally though, Vista is truly a personalized experience, I have discovered that I am doing more with my computer than I ever did before. During the BETA’s I acquired a Digital Camera and started taking lots of photos, Vista helped me out of the box to really enjoy this leisure task, managing, sorting, editing and viewing photos/videos is such a great time on the computer. Vista’s Photo Gallery has really changed the way I interact with my images, the built in tagging capabilities, the direct integration with applications such as Windows DVD Maker, Windows Movie Maker are allowing me to go beyond just using my computer as a tool and more as an opportunity to create memories I want to enjoy and share. It sounds cliché and more like a commercial and many would come to the argument that I could have done this on a Mac years ago. But I didn’t have to do a major reinvestment in hardware and software/migration. It only took an upgrade from Windows XP to really start doing amazing things with my computer.
Vista’s built in search is such a critical part of the Windows Experience, its everywhere in the system and makes the triviality of accessing your files such a second nature thing to do. Users have talked about the new Explorer shell and some problems that I have found frustrating myself. The issue of customized Explorer shells not remembering their settings when applied regardless of the numerous methods and workarounds suggested. The new Command Bar is also an area I wish more focus was invested in terms of retaining some of the control users had in XP. Simply, it cannot be customized to add your own buttons such as Cut, Copy and Paste to speed up common task when working in folders. Still, its all good, features that I do find myself really mesmerized by include the Bread Crumb menus that let me easily back track and take quick short cuts through the folder hierarchy with great ease.
A lot users still fail to really see the benefits from a productivity point of view and receive Windows Vista with a mind set that is not necessarily open to change and more focused on stark differences between XP that lets face it are stark differences in how the user is in more control of what they can do with Windows Vista.
There have been small issues around performance Microsoft has plugged since its release, during the summer, the Company released performance updates and most recently updated them to improve the reliability and stability in areas such as Copy and Paste which many persons including myself noted as being horribly slow especially when copying large files. Persons still say Vista’s performance in general could be better, but I assume there are some illusions to this and there are some factors to be accounted for. My brother purchased a laptop notebook from Dell Inc. in June of 2006 with Windows XP Home hoping he would have a smooth upgrade to Windows Vista when it hit the market. The notebook was designated Windows Vista Capable, it came with an Intel Core Duo 1.6 GHz processor, 512 MBs of system memory. In February of this year, he upgraded to Vista Business but was immediately burnt by the slow performance he got from the system, upgrading was slow, using the OS was slow. Microsoft has long informed us that Vista works best with 1 GB of RAM. So, a lot of consumers have been misled I personally believe by the OEMs system specs and the Vista Ready logos. Its not entirely Microsoft’s fault here, since Microsoft can’t dictate what OEMs put in their machines and ship to customers. My brother upgraded his memory from 512 to a total of 1.2 GBs and the difference in performance was like night and day.
The matter of what is best in terms of system specs for Vista especially when it comes to RAM is still falling on deaf ears. My Sister-in-law purchased a Dell 1501 notebook with Vista Basic in March which I was surprised to know came with 512 MBs of RAM and a 2.0 GHz AMD Sempron processor. I am not surprised by the processor since it is of course a budget notebook. But why is Dell still pushing systems out the door with 512 MBs of RAM? It’s like Dell doesn’t even run some test on these systems to see how they perform before putting them in the hands of consumers. This past summer a friend purchased a Gateway ML3109 notebook which also came with 512 MBs of RAM and Vista Home Basic.
OEMs don’t realize the perception this creates for them and the OS, the brand is affected and consumers come to a conclusion the OS is not ready, it’s buggy and slow. I am running Vista Ultimate 32-bit on a Dell 8300 Dimension, 3.2 GHz P4, I purchased in March of 2004, and the machine has been updated since the betas with 2 GBs of RAM. Vista performs exceptionally well on it, it shows when a system is configured the right way how the experience can be a positive one for the end user. The same applies to my brother who is running Vista with 1.2 GBs of RAM and clearly satisfied with the OS for being what most would say is an early adopter.
I can’t really come to a conclusion on Security in Windows Vista yet, but it’s been good, so far. The top name brand Security vendors have updated their popular Antivirus utilities with full support for both Vista x86 and x64 which is really good in my opinion. Microsoft themselves have also pushed out their Antivirus solution Windows Live OneCare, but I have avoided it based on some lack lustre reasons. I am using Symantec Norton Corporate Edition 10.2 on my desktop and Computer Associates for Vista x64.
The controversial UAC is still ‘annoying’ and I am not going to nice it up. Its necessary, but I wish it could be less needy in certain areas or a feature added to the UAC dialog to remember for certain locations of the system I access. I don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of the feature itself, but UAC is just a bit too much, its like this nagging little @#$! I just hate it sometimes <sigh>. So I hope Microsoft focuses on some intelligent way of making UAC understands what can infiltrate the system from what cannot – just be more user aware. Applications still remain another area where UAC is still a big of problem; I have seen only a few applications that have escaped the wrath of the UAC dialog – Microsoft Office is one of them, the worst application is Apple’s iTunes. It’s still early and I am sure developers are still adjusting to the new Least User Privilege architecture in the OS.
Backup in Vista is awesome, the Complete PC Backup type feature in particular is something I had to turn to from third party vendors in prior versions of Windows. I personally believe Microsoft should have made the feature available to all SKUs, since I believe everybody’s data is important no matter the platform they are using. What I like about Complete PC Backup in Vista is how simple and straightforward it is, just attach an external drive and I’m good to go. Some persons have reported errors with the feature itself such as (0x800000587) type errors when backing up or restoring the system. I personally have not experienced this, and I have not read any proper resolutions for the problem itself. I do know you can receive such an error on laptops if it’s not plugged into its AC adapter.
A lot of applications were not working right for Vista back in January, some of my daily apps like Office 2007, Encarta 2007 worked out of the box, other critical applications like Corel Draw X3, Photoshop CS3, new versions QuickBooks 2007 and Peach Tree Accounting 2008 and Ahead Nero 8 were upgraded to work with Vista so I am very satisfied so far and have not experienced a strong case of compatibility issues although this resulted in either purchasing new versions of certain apps such as QuickBooks and Peach Tree or waiting on necessary patches to enable compatibility. A lot of application compatibility issues again go back to the new changes in the user privileges in the OS, prior to Vista applications were designed to run with full Administrator rights, but because Vista made changes to the user account settings most applications do not readily operate properly since they do not get to access the system in an open way as they did in XP and 2000. It’s a tricky situation for many users and the reality is many applications will either have to be updated, run in Compatibility or installed on a supported OS in Virtual PC 2007.
The Ultimate Cost
I mentioned some of the rich multimedia capabilities in Vista such as Photo Gallery which was recently upgraded to Windows Live Photo Gallery featuring strong integration with Microsoft’s Windows Live platform. This clearly proves that Microsoft is not standing still with Vista and is continually focusing on adding value through integration and new experiences allowing users to enjoy and share their memories in new ways. In November of 2006 Microsoft announced Windows Ultimate Extras, an exclusive set of services designed exclusively for Vista Ultimate customers. So far the initiative has been lack lustre, but I do appreciate some of cool features like Windows Dreamscene which brings your wallpapers life. A few other features have been added to the service such as the support for all World Wide Language Interfaces, Bitlocker Drive Preparation Tool and the Hold ‘Em poker game. But it’s most obvious there could be more, since the incentive the Ultimate SKU was continued value beyond the box. I do hope there is more in store, but so far I am a little disappointed and would have like to see a clear understanding of what Ultimate Extras are all about and what it means for me in the long term.
I can’t cover everything because it would never be finished; I hope to do a future follow up in the near future. Looking into Vista’s future one can only say it will only get better. Microsoft is currently working on the first Service Pack for the OS which is expected sometime in early 2008. I won’t say it has been all great since day one, but Vista found its footing from early on and the industry started to invest early on in the platforms unique features, I will honestly say that Vista will be a year of building on the momentum and more users will get to experience the OS on machines I believe are more Vista prepared. Vista offers a cohesive experience users will greatly appreciate from multimedia/consumer oriented task to focus on an engaging productive experience for businesses whether it’s seamlessly connecting to wireless networks, managing files, collaboration, searching and really doing more with your PC. I say if you have been on the fence about upgrading to Vista, there is just no more need to wait.