Vista upgrade thoughts

I finally made the jump to Windows Vista earlier this month. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to get away from Windows XP. As accustomed to it as I was, Windows XP is an operating system that’s now over five years old, and it shows in more ways than one. Features like instant search, hardware compositing, and not giving users admin privileges by default have been in competing OSes for years, and I thought it was high time to leave the past behind.

The installation
I gleefully inserted my shiny Windows Vista Home Premium disc into my computer’s DVD drive and rebooted. I installed the 32-bit version, because as it turns out, Microsoft requires users to register online and pay around $10 (or €10, in my case) to receive a 64-bit Vista DVD. I did order the x64 DVD, because I figure I’ll probably want to make the jump eventually. For the time being, however, I expect the 32-bit version’s broader software and driver compatibility to suit me better. I did a “clean” install and opted to have the installer lump my old Program Files, Documents and Settings, and Windows directories into a Windows.old directory on my main hard drive. That made copying over settings and even some programs over quite easy, and it removed the need to either format or go through a potentially headache-inducing “upgrade” installation.

After rebooting, I was greeted with the new Aero graphical interface in all its shiny, translucent glory. The OS automatically recognized my display’s maximum resolution, and everything except my sound card (I’ll get to that in a minute) worked straight out of the box. But after playing around with Vista’s new features for a short while, I ran into a major snag.

My computer has two 320GB hard drives. I store my Windows installation, programs, and settings on the first drive, and all my work, documents, music, and other voluminous files on the second drive. Having used Windows XP Professional before my upgrade to Vista, I had unwittingly formatted my second hard drive as a “dynamic” disk. Unfortunately, Vista Home Premium seems to support only basic disks, and I was offered no option but to format the drive. A few distressed Google searches later, I found this page, which details a non-destructive conversion process that involves manually changing a byte on the drive’s first sector. I’m not sure whether this is going to cause my drive to explode in a few months, but it appeared to work just fine, and I was soon reconciled with my MP3 collection.

After that, all I had to do was finish re-installing some software and load drivers for my GeForce 7900 GTO graphics card and M-Audio Revolution 5.1 sound card. Nvidia’s ForceWare 100.65 graphics drivers seem to work quite well, although the dearth of control panel settings is a definite downside (there’s currently no way to set overlay color settings, for instance.) Getting my sound card to work was a different matter. M-Audio hasn’t released Vista drivers for this card, and the three-year-old Windows XP drivers are only semi-functional (the control panel app just doesn’t work, and sound randomly distorts.) I sent M-Audio an e-mail to inquire about their plans for Vista support last week, but having yet to receive a reply, I get the feeling I’ll probably have to purchase a new sound card. For the time being, I’m using my motherboard’s onboard high-definition audio, which actually works quite well. Sound quality isn’t great, but it’s not anywhere near as bad as I expected, either.

Impressions
With the installation complete, I began to explore many of Vista’s new features and changes. The interface is clearly a big step up from Windows XP’s “Luna”, but in some ways I feel like Microsoft’s UI designers still don’t have great taste. Aero has just a tad too much contrast for my liking, and its bright colors and overly “shiny” look give me the impression that there’s just too much information on the screen. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like the KDE desktop environment in Linux, and I think MacOS X, Gnome, and even the “classic” Windows interface are easier on the eyes. That said, I’ve grown reasonably accustomed to Aero after a week and a half of use.

Another feature I’m not a big fan of is the Windows Sidebar. The concept sounds good in theory, but I find the bundled “gadgets” pretty much useless. The clock is too big, the notepad only shows three lines of text at a time, the calendar doesn’t interface with Microsoft’s bundled Windows Calendar application, and the weather gadget doesn’t display weather forecast when docked. It seems like Microsoft attempted to emulate MacOS X’s Dashboard but completely missed the point in the process. Dashboard provides instant access to full-featured applets like a calculator, dictionary, and real weather forecast without either displaying them at all times or squeezing them into a cramped column on the side of the screen. Need to translate a word from English to French? Just hit F12 to bring up Dashboard, do your thing, and then hit F12 again to get back to work. The Windows Sidebar does let you undock applets to display more functionality, but that’s just not the same thing.

There’s also the control panel. With Vista, Microsoft seems to have taken Windows XP’s task-based control panel and the Windows 9X “classic” control panel and frantically duct-taped the two together. The result is a usable but nonetheless ugly mish-mash of new and old design, with disjointed pieces of the same old control panel window protruding from different and seemingly scattered task links. I’d switch to the classic view, but Vista’s classic control panel contains around 50 icons, and that’s really just as confusing as the category view. It’s a good thing Microsoft added instant search as an alternative to manually navigating through the options, but I really wish the company would just spend some time to re-think its control panel and come up with a new, simple, and coherent system that finally does away with Windows 95-era (or even older) design elements.

On the upside, I’m really digging some of Vista’s other new features, especially the system-wide search. Being able to open an application by bringing up the Start menu and typing the first few letters of the app’s name is wonderful, as is being able to search inside hundreds of files pretty much instantly. I also like that Vista doesn’t index everything by default—only the Start menu and user directories—instead opting to let users add other locations for indexing themselves via the relevant control panel. Some other enhancements are also quite handy, like the new Task Manager that tells me what services are running, and the new Resource Monitor that lets me know exactly which applications are accessing my hard drive and Internet connection.

Aside from the aforementioned enhancements and new bundled software, most of Vista’s real improvements lie behind the scenes. I think that’s actually one of the reasons so many users seem to be shunning the new OS. Microsoft hasn’t done a terribly good job of playing up Vista’s core enhancements, and as a result, I think most users see Vista as nothing but a prettied-up Windows XP.

The Vista promotional campaign emphasizes features that aren’t really all that new or exciting—Windows Media Center, Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11—while skipping over core enhancements like the revamped security model, more stable driver model, faster networking stack, SuperFetch memory caching, new audio pipeline with per-application volume control, better mobility support, hybrid hard drive support, and so on. Even the page about security features on Microsoft’s Vista site makes no mention of how Vista doesn’t let software run with admin privileges by default—a key improvement that finally brings Windows somewhat in line with Linux and MacOS X. I’m sure most users will make the jump eventually, but considering how fundamentally broken and outdated Windows XP is in many ways, I wish Microsoft would do a better job of inviting people to upgrade.

Conclusion
Despite the few snags and annoyances, it’s pretty clear that Vista is a major improvement over Windows XP, be it in terms of usability, features, security, or stability. No longer will I shake my head after using a MacBook because my high-end gaming machine still runs a five-year-old operating system without many of the same features. Nor, I suspect, will I advise as many of my non-computer-savvy acquaintances to buy overpriced Apple hardware just to avoid Windows XP’s quagmire of security flaws and inadequacies. Windows has finally caught up with the competition in most respects, and it’s a good thing.

Only one major issue remains, and that is driver support. I’m pretty baffled by the fact that, almost three months after Vista was released to manufacturing, a good number of major companies—including Nvidia and Creative—still don’t have feature-complete drivers out for the new OS. I’m not sure whether the fault lies with Microsoft or the hardware makers, but it’s shoddy work either way. I don’t particularly mind having to wait a few more weeks for all my hardware to be fully supported—everything works well enough already—but I doubt I’m part of the majority when I say this.

Comments closed
    • Andriy Gerasika
    • 13 years ago

    Hi, there is per-application control available for Windows XP — §[<http://www.indievolume.com<]§. It has all features of Windows Vista volume control plus per-application device, per-application FX and per-application mute. You should check it out before upgrading to Windows Vista. Though it is also available on Windows Vista :)

    • bozzunter
    • 13 years ago

    I agree with most of comments posted here, along with the main article. But nobody mentions that if you install over Windows XP and you keep your settings and your files, the PC simply doesn’t work, it gives you tons of problems.

    On my Dell Inspiron 6400 (although in USA I seem to remember the name is somewhat different) if I disconnected the AC power, Vista (Business) crashed with a blue screen of death, until ATI updated its drivers (I have the Radeon Mobility 1300). Windows Media Player doesn’t properly play the songs, the boot time is about 7 minutes (OK, I see the desktop after 40, but it takes 7 more minutes after the disk turns off, the same applies to my desktop PC), etc…

    The good thing is that 2 GB of memory are more than enough, as with Windows XP (I have two Access instances opened, Skype, Outlook, Firefox, Groove, Excel and Word and I still have 800 MB free of physical memory).

    What really baffles me are things like the Sidebar. Heck, are we the ONLY ones to claim, after a 10 second look, that the gadgets provided are either stupid or useless (or both)? I tried to download something else but there’s NO useful gadget available. Which makes me think how Microsoft spends its milions, among other things.

    My bottom line is that Windows Vista is nice but completely useless. I mean, it doesn’t improve anything of my job, apart perhaps from the instant search. Office 2007, on the contrary, is a real revolution, not for the new Word and Excel interface but for the stunning Access 2007, Groove 2007 (bundledonly in enterprise editions) and Power Point 2007.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 13 years ago

      yeah … the sidebar’s useless.

        • A_Pickle
        • 13 years ago

        I disagree. I was able to jot down three movies I need to rent on that little notepad, and I get daily Dilbert comics. So HAH.

          • provoko
          • 13 years ago

          Daily comics on the sidebar? That actually sounds cool.

    • Voldenuit
    • 13 years ago

    A colleague at work bought a new Dell laptop with Vista.

    However, the following work-critical programs refused to work or even install on Vista.

    MSC.Patran 2003/2005
    Mathsoft Mathcad r13

    He switched back to XP, and everything works.

    Actually, I’d be interested if anyone knows a good site with Vista app compatibility listing? Similar to the x-64 compatibility site?

    • Rainwater
    • 13 years ago

    After 7 or 8 BSOD’s and no information from the error screens to troubleshoot them, I am back to WinXP. I have a mundane X2-based system that seemed to run slower than the experience number seemed to suggest it would (4.3 or something).

    • dolemitecomputers
    • 13 years ago

    I completed a clean install of the 32-bit version of Vista Ultimate for a relative with the following hardware:

    C2D E6600
    ZALMAN CNPS9500
    Evga 8800 GTS (640 MB version)
    Seagate ‘Cuda 320 GIG 7200 RPM SATA (2X in RAID 0)
    G Skill 1 GIG DDR2 800 (2 modules)
    ABIT AW9D-MAX
    Plextor PX-755SA
    LIAN LI PC-V1000BPLUSII (killer case)
    Hiper 580W power supply

    The install was smooth and had no driver issues except for the audio card that came with the motherboard. Even though the drivers from Abit installed without a hitch I would get no sound. I had to get the vista drivers from Realtek’s website. I tested a few games such as Oblivion (HDR really rocks in this game) and the new Command and Conquer 3 demo. After installing various programs the only one that would not install is Abit’s “Uguru” software which gives me an error box that it only works with Windows XP/2000.

    • greyfade
    • 13 years ago

    The reason Creative has been slow to release new drivers is because of the abandonment of HAL and DirectSound – the whole driver architecture has changed, and this has left Creative to find a completely new way to interface with their cards to expose the 3D functionality.

    NVIDIA doesn’t have it much better off what with the sweeping and drastic changes that went into the new driver model. Drivers are not simple pieces of software, and they aren’t very easy to test. Frankly, I applaud NVIDIA for caring enough to not release a half-assed driver and instead carefully re-architect what they need to change. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot of functionality they relied on that is now gone in Vista. How ATi managed such a quick turnaround with their driver, I don’t know.

    (Yes, I realize that they had a lot of opportunity for development while the OS was still in beta, but realize that with any API design change comes a series of unstable APIs being exposed and deprecated. There may have been a number of changes that made NVIDIA sit back and wait for Microsoft to settle down.)

      • Shintai
      • 13 years ago

      Maybe ATI started on the Vista project when they should, while nVidia waited too long focyusing its code team on quad SLI?

      Besides creative and nVidia I dont see anyone missing. I have been using Vista 100% since late october. And I never had a problem with 1 single driver.

      • willyolio
      • 13 years ago

      y[

    • squeezee
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve found vista to be much better overall than XP, the underlying improvements, especially to Networking and File I/O make it much more responsive. Also video playback is much smoother than with XP even on one of the slower machines i have without DX9 and Aero acceleration.

    I too miss the directory “UP” button in explorer and file dialogs, however i love the new style addressbar. Being able to jump down to any directory and if you click on the arrow, to any other subdirectory inside that one is probally the biggest UI improvement. Also connecting to and browsing network shares is 500x faster than with XP. My only big complaint with explorer is that it now doesn’t automatically refresh remaining diskspace like XP.

    UAC isn’t all bad and i doubt your ‘average’ computer user will run into it very often during normal usage. However it will drive you crazy getting that notice so many times while first installing all your drivers/applications/etc.

    • Jigar
    • 13 years ago

    Can you tell me what size LCD do you have ???

      • Cyril
      • 13 years ago

      It’s a 20.1″ Viewsonic VX2025wm.

        • Jigar
        • 13 years ago

        Sweet 🙂

    • Locke
    • 13 years ago

    I just finished installing the 32-bit ultimate version too…along with Office 2007. I like it so far – I prefer the look to that of windows xp, but I’m still not entirely sure where everything is yet though.

    Performance-wise, though, it feels just as fast (if not faster?) than xp..though this is a fresh install and the xp install is getting a bit old.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 13 years ago

    THIS Blog Rulz!
    I can’t properly relate how much this is a mirror of my experiences in Ultimate land.
    Kudos
    Edit: §[<http://216.250.101.7<]§6/images/3D.Desktop.jpg

      • eitje
      • 13 years ago

      that one shortcut is “porn shortcut”, isn’t it?

        • DrDillyBar
        • 13 years ago

        Acutally, no. But Funny. 😉

          • eitje
          • 13 years ago

          ….funny shortcut? \:-|

            • DrDillyBar
            • 13 years ago

            no… funny comment.

    • blitzy
    • 13 years ago

    it does seem that a lot of the issues people are seeing are relatively minor, but add up in numbers… I hope that through patches and service packs these issues are addressed, because really Vista does have good potential I think. It’s certainly not a great leap ahead of XP, but it does take steps forward which is good

    • grug
    • 13 years ago

    My gripes:

    – No “Up” button in dialog boxes.

    – “Network and Sharing Center” is a mess

    – UAC is so unbelievably intrusive many people will blindly click “Allow” to anything, and many more people will turn it off entirely, making it worse. Yet the MacOS equivalent has never bothered me to the point where I don’t even know if you can turn it off and run as root.

    – Font installation dialog — how much OTHER Windows 3.1 cruft is hiding away in its codebase?

    – No repair install option. The only option is to “Upgrade” to Vista from within a Vista installation. If your Vista installation screws itself and won’t boot, you can’t re-install over the top.

    – The columns available in “Details” view change depending on the type of files. This is a terrible lack of consistency. Got a few MP3 files in the folder? Forget “Date modified”, “Size”, “Type”, what you want is a rating column and a blank “Date taken” column.

    – The preview window in Explorer STILL doesn’t close media files properly. It’s ridiculous that I have to end task explorer if I want to delete an AVI file that Vista decided to thumbnail.

    The pretty new task switcher (win-tab) certainly looks pretty, but it’s still not much more useful than the old alt-tab switcher which is quicker and, thanks to the new thumbnail previews, just as easy. Mac OS X’s Expose is still miles ahead.

    Technologically it might be a leap forward, but in terms of usability its a giant leap backward.

    • willyolio
    • 13 years ago

    the problem with marketing Vista is also the main reason why nobody even considers Home Basic. Nearly every review i’ve read says HB is worthless, the pricing starts at Premium.

    what if i just want a more stable, more secure OS with DX10, better driver model, etc?

    • Thresher
    • 13 years ago

    y[

      • A_Pickle
      • 13 years ago

      I like the Vista UI and GUI enhancements, overall. I really don’t understand the comments that people bring up in it being “busy,” I think it’s a lot simpler and more useful. Windows Explorer links are about the most intelligent design idea I’ve ever thought of, and the breadcrumbs address bar is genius. The search feature is fantastic, and the GUI “Views” menu is fantastic.

      That said… there are some inconsistincies with the OS that bug the crap out of me. For instance, when you right-click the desktop background and select, “Personalize,” you get that Vista-looking window to change your appearance settings. When you click “Window Color and Appearance,” you get very Vista-ish panel to change your window color and appearance. When you click “Desktop Background,” you get a very Vista-ish panel to change and setup your desktop background.

      Then you click “Mouse Pointers,” which, for some reason takes you to the “Mouse Properties” dialog from Control Panel, rather than some Vista-ish mouse pointer style changer. Same with when you click “Screen Savers,” “Sounds,” “Display Settings,” and even more aggravatingly, “Theme,” (which needs to be edited, as themes should change Window styles only, not desktop backgrounds, etc).

      Another thing that I love, but hate, is that there’s now a right-click option to “Add to Quick Launch.” I hated that there was no option to do this in XP… so I set it up so that I could right-click, select “Send To…” and then select “Quick Launch.” It shouldn’t be it’s own separate context menu entry if three or four lines down there’s a field that does [i]the exact same thing[/i].

      The Control Panel, I think, is nice, but incomplete. The Classic View is ridiculous, but the Category View doesn’t suck like it did in XP… it just… needs a few more categories. That’s what I think. And that damn Install New Fonts dialog needs to go…

      Some of the new dialogs, though, like the File Copy dialog are awesome. It’s not static, meaningless, and nonresponsive like the one in XP was. I get KB/sec, origin and destination directories, items remaining, and a sexy animation. I really think Microsoft has a fantastic operating system, if Microsoft would just clean up all the old shit, and optimize code via Windows Update, I think Vista could really turn out to be amazing. 🙂

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 13 years ago

    What do you mean dynamic disk?

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