Windows Vista Reviewed January 25, 2006Posted by rjdohnert in Software reviews.
I’m a subscriber of MSDN, along with this subscription comes the opportunity of beta testing some of Microsoft’s newest software offerings. This includes but not limited to Windows Vista. When I got the CTP I was fully aware this is a beta and was expecting many problems but fortunately, I didn’t run into that many. Microsoft has generated a lot of hype regarding Windows Vista. Probably more than they did with Windows 95, but I’m pleased to report that much of it is true. The systems used for this review are as follows, Pentium 4 2.4 ghz 1gig of RAM, 280 gig of Hard Drive space and an Nvidia G-Force with the Nvidia Windows Vista drivers. Pentium 3 933MHz with 768 mb of RAM, 40 gigs of HD space and an Nvidia TNT2 32 mb video card.
Installation was pretty much straight forward and is much improved over the previous versions. Before you start the installation it is best to back up all your data in case of data loss. When I installed Windows Vista on the Pentium 4 machine it was replacing Windows XP SP2. The installation left my partitions intact and it didn’t delete my data I had on those partitions which was a plus. On the Pentium 3 it replaced Windows Server 2003 and unlike when I upgraded from Windows 2000 Server to Windows Server 2003 it didn’t damage my partitions either. This looks like it will be much smoother in upgrades than previous versions of Windows. Installation was a lot faster than previous versions of Windows. In fact its as fast as Windows Server 2003 in terms of installation. No problems here and it picked up most of my hardware on both machines, even the crappy integrated sound card on my Pentium 3.
When I first saw slate, I liked slate. When I first saw Aero I hated it but Microsoft has redeemed itself . Gone is that ugly as hell start button and is replaced with a blue globe with the Windows flag. Glass can sometimes get very annoying and luckily you can disable the Glass transparencies and you can even change your color schemes. If your machine cant handle Glass, you still get the new look called Aero Basic which basically looks like Aero but without the transparencies and effects of Glass. If you aren’t happy with Aero Glass or Aero Basic, Windows Classic is till there. If this is truly the final interface for Windows Vista, this will be a good mature interface and on par with that of OS X, I think Microsoft will change the UI as it has done in the past. Microsoft has also invested in making much more professional looking icons with Windows Vista and its good to see instead of the kindergarten reject looking icons that Windows XP had.
Performance and Security
Performance on the Pentium 4 was great, Windows Vista was very responsive and didn’t take a lot of time to open applications. Booting was speedy and responsive. On the Pentium 3 Performance was okay. It was basically on par with Windows XP. It was capable of performing minor to moderate tasks. Surfing the web, checking e-mail, using an development IDE, editing digital photographs, word processing and video conferencing. Just realize you will not be playing any high resolution games, you wont be doing any kind of 3D rendering with older hardware. Security on Windows Vista is much improved. You have UAP (User Account Protection) which keeps many problems such as Viruses and Malware at bay, and for children or public workstations locking down the system is much easier than it was with Windows 2000 and Windows XP. I had some problems with some security products but will discuss that in ‘Application Compatibility’. With Windows XP you had a problem with the more applications you installed the less responsive the system would be. This wasn’t a big issue with Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 and its good to see Microsoft has done the same with Windows Vista. Microsoft has made real progress on security this go, and it was needed. It seemed like the past practice with security by Microsoft was simply applying a band-aid to a half amputated arm. I think the security critics will be very pleased with these efforts.
This is where its going to be a huge bite. With Microsoft’s new security practices, expect some application compatibility issues. I have a few Applications that I have written that access the registry, I know its a bad practice and I mostly shy away from it, but you need to be Administrator in order to alter the registry. While you can give your user admin credentials some applications still will not install properly. I use StarOffice 8, StarOffice 8 installs and works properly on Windows Vista. Using a firewall and anti-virus though is tricky. With the firewall, you have to set it up as the Administrator and then reboot into your user account and it will work properly. If you try to install the firewall using your user account, it will install but when you log out and back in will cause the firewall to crash. Yahoo Messenger and Quicktime, RealPlayer all work properly. Netscape 8 will work using the Firefox engine if you try to switch to the IE engine Netscape 8 will crash. Firefox and Opera both work on this build as does Copernic Desktop Search. Yes, Windows Vista comes with search but Copernic indexes StarOffice and OpenDocument format documents.
With the CTP you get Windows Calendar, Windows Mail, DVD Maker, Windows Media Player 11 and a new build of IE7. Windows Calendar finally gives Windows users the same type of functionality offered by iCal from Apple. Its a very professional application and will give small businesses and users real value without having to invest in Outlook, Groupwise or Lotus Notes. Windows Mail is simply Outlook Express rebranded and its also much improved. Its a shame these enhancements will not make their way back to Windows XP and Server 2003 as Windows Mail finally makes Outlook Express usable in terms of both Small businesses and it could give Thunderbird a run for its money. IE7 is much faster, very responsive and its Tabs functionality is extremely cool. It also handles RSS feeds much better than other browsers do and it appears that they must have really paid attention to the Maxthon teams efforts. Windows Vista also includes Windows Backup which is on par with many commercial backup utilities and Windows Collaboration is very nice, I haven’t had a way to test it but its meant as a P2P application that can allow users to collaborate heavily, whether across the room, on a different floor, or across the country. Windows Media Player 11 is much more improved and is visually more intuitive than even Apples iTunes. Search is also integrated into Windows Media Player. Its about time Microsoft added some commercial quality software to Windows. Oh yeah, for you Solitaire buffs, Solitaire has also been beautified..
Well, as with most software we come to the bad. The biggest mistakes Microsoft has made to Windows Vista. Well, the new common tasks pane has been moved and its seems confusing, I personally don’t like the search in the start menu. While this may take some getting used to I find it inconvenient. I also don’t like some of the Big Brother mechanisms that Microsoft is building into the system. To be fair though, I will wait until they directly affect me before I decide whether to stay with Windows or move to the Mac.
I have been very happy with this CTP and I’m very glad to say that unlike the SuSE 10.1 Betas I am keeping this one on the machine. Its stable and useful and will help me get ready for Windows Vista. For those that have been fed up with Windows in terms of stability, usability, and security Windows Vista will be a breath of fresh air. For those that hate Microsoft and cant stand anything that Microsoft makes, well you will still feel that way. For those that want an OS that helps your productivity, doesn’t get in your way and that allows you much more customization of your system, you will be very pleased with Windows Vista.