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July 11, 2006

Microsoft Vista: First Impressions

I really wanted to like this operating system.  All the tech magazine and web site hype made it seem as if Microsoft was taking a new approach to security wrapped in an elegant interface.  While all of that is true there seems to be something left out, namely performance.  There had been reports about how Vista would come in various flavors.  Some lesser powered machines would be able to run the system without being capable of running the Aero transparent windows.  These machines would still have the basic Vista functionality.

Microsoft gave public access to the operating system through approximately the 30th of June.  The beta was distributed through an online download of an ISO disc image that was 3.39 gigabytes in size.  This is Windows Vista Ultimate which has every possible feature (from a marketing standpoint) included in the code.  The image had to be burned to a DVD for an install.  Product activation codes came in separate emails.

Microsoft warned that this was a beta, and cautioned that it should not be installed on a production system.  The other admonition was the installation should be on a system that could handle the code.  I had built a system that had the following specs:

3.2 Gigahertz Pentium 4
2 Gigabytes of memory
16X PCI Express video card with 256 megabytes of DDR2 memory
Asus P5PLD2 Deluxe Motherboard
Plextor DVD Burner
Antec quiet case with a 450 watt power supply
300 Gigabyte Sata drive
Wireless G network card
19 inch flat panel monitor

I would think that this would have enough power to run Vista.  The install was slow, but I chalked that up to the DVD rather than CD install.  It was uneventful otherwise.  At first run the screen featured a picture of a mountain range reflected in a lake.  The Welcome Center came on the screen with common tasks and icons for tutorials on changes to Windows.  The windows were indeed transparent.  So far, so good.

The real tasks now came to hand.  These included loading the drivers for the various Asus components such as sound, mass storage controller, and the like.  This is where the operation started to get interesting.  The sound driver did not work.  The message came back that they were not workable on this platform.  Some other drivers were not available but were located on the web through the automated search for a better driver feature in the Windows Device Manager.  The sound issue was ultimately solved by downloading the install files for Windows Server 2003, which was the latest that was available.

The next step was to load virus software.  Norton 9 did not work although Norton 10 did.  Rather than load that I thought I would test the Find A Program button in the Security Center.  This took me to the Trend Micro site to find a beta copy of PC-cillin for Vista.  That loaded fine although it crashed the wireless card access to my router and consistently gave me a blue screen of death every time I tried to connect.  I uninstalled it and reinstalled it in a minimum configuration and that solved that problem. 

The next step was software.  The two programs I use the most are the Roxio Suite and Office.  I also needed utilities such as Adobe Acrobat and found a beta version of Acrobat for Vista on the Adobe site.  That worked fine.  Roxio 8 was another matter.  That, and the most recent patches loaded OK.  The start-up was another matter.  It took a long time for the program to load, and an even longer time for the DVD copy module to load.  I tested the software by copying an unprotected DVD.  That worked, but the disc was ejected before the closing disc message was displayed.  The disc did play, however.  The CD copy feature wouldn't even start after that module loaded. 

Other programs had quirks.  The media slide show has new features such as selectable display and transition options.  It can even play video clips with sound as part of the file list.  As impressive as the design features were, attempting to change options stopped the machine for what seemed like minutes at a time before they would kick in.  Media Player also has an elegant look compared to past iterations.  However, there were no apparent menu choices that changed options after they were initially set.  That was a bit disconcerting.  Even the revised solitaire program seemed to take forever to load.

If I gave the impression that the operating system is slow for even the simplest tasks I want to state that is not the case.  It's not slow.  It's slooooooooooooooooow.  I can't imagine anyone having the patience in real life to run Vista in this condition without buying a really top of the line machine.  I have another 300 Gigabyte sata drive with XP loaded in the same system.  I switched cables to disconnect the Vista drive and connect the XP drive.  That OS flew where Vista crawled.

I'm going to continue with Vista to see if I can speed it up through configuration changes.  Maybe it's me.  I said earlier that I used Office.  I did load the beta of Office 2007 although I haven't used it enough to comment.  I did boot Word just to see the ribbon-like tool bar, and it is a different (read really different interface) than the Word of old.  I'll leave that to another post.  More on Vista and Office as I work with them.  Feel free to send email if anyone has a different (or similar) experience.

July 11, 2006 | Permalink

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