In Half-Hearted Defense of Vista

With Windows Vista Service Pack 1 kinda, sorta ready for its public debut, I felt it was time to follow the time-honored IT tradition and make the leap to Vista on one of my primary-use PCs for good. While I've spent hundreds of hours with Windows Vista and its beta

With Windows Vista Service Pack 1 kinda, sorta ready for its public debut, I felt it was time to follow the time-honored IT tradition and make the leap to Vista on one of my primary-use PCs for good. While I've spent hundreds of hours with Windows Vista and its beta iterations over the last two years, reviewing various subsystems like wireless networking system, I've never really experienced the operating system for day-to-day computing. It's about time to change that.

This oversight is not out of character for me, as I've a history of slow migration. For instance, I did not move from Windows 2000 to Windows XP for good until late 2003 -- a full two years after XP made the scene. Ultimately, as a user, I really don't want to incur the time or dollar expense to make a move that doesn't motivate me. I don't care -- nor do I want to care -- about what operating system I use. Rather, my concern is simply for the applications and devices I need and want.

Do my applications run right, and can I do what I need to do? For me, this means e-mail, IM, word processing, Web surfing and maybe my taxes need to work. Everything else, I will figure out as I go along.

I decided to burn one of my precious 32-bit Vista Business activations for the install, figuring this particular PC does not need the full media capabilities offered by Vista Ultimate, but I wanted to get more of the experience than is possible via the more basic versions. The PC itself is a laptop, a Lenovo T60p with a dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 802.11n wireless. The Vista Experience score is 4.3, with the graphics subsystem being the most lagging component.

With resounding success, I threw the open-source gamut of applications on Vista for my productivity software. OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Firefox and Pidgin all installed perfectly. For testing and research, VMware Workstation seems to work just fine. And for security, the latest iteration of Trend Micro Internet Security installed without a hitch.

In fact, the only thing that did not work was my printer drivers. I have an HP LaserJet 1000 attached to another PC in my network. While I could install the printer drivers offered from the share, I could not actually print any jobs. The HP Web site had a note from December 2006 saying Vista drivers were coming soon, but there has been no further news in the intervening 14 months. It's disappointing, but I can't blame Microsoft for HP dropping the ball.

After three weeks of frequent usage, Windows Vista somehow seems like less than the sum of its parts. I know there are a lot of compelling features under the covers (I've reviewed them ad nauseam), but their impact is hidden by a few glaring features that are constantly in your face, making you forget -- or never notice -- all the interesting stuff under the hood. Unfortunately, this is the level of experience that most people will have with Vista -- intruded upon by the three features and characteristics that dominate the Vista experience.

One, everything has moved. I'll never understand why Microsoft feels the need to rearchitect the interface for every iteration of Windows. The company is looking for an intuitive interface, presumably to make it easier for new or novice users. But for most people, navigating an OS is a rote affair -- find something, play with it awhile, try to remember where it is for next time. Yet every iteration, Microsoft moves stuff around to make it "easier" but destroys everyone's rote memories. And Vista changes things a lot more than previous iterations, so I am constantly looking for that which I used to know where to find it.

Two, Aero Glass is an uninteresting resource pig, completely unworthy of all the resources it consumes. Forty percent of my system memory is consumed out of the box right now, and Aero Glass is the largest consumer. For what exactly? A 3-D ALT-TAB screen selection screen, translucent window edges and a handful of Sidebar widgets. This feature single-handedly hamstrings Vista installations with only 1GB of RAM, making slower computers swap memory with just one or two applications open.

Third is UAC, and it does not bother me at all. I've been a big proponent of Least User Privilege computing in the enterprise for a long time, and I have tried with varying success to practice it at home as often as possible. Frankly, Least User Privilege is much, much easier to accomplish in Vista than in any other Windows operating system. I can live with it, and actually appreciate it.

Save for the printer drivers, everything works, and I can safely say that, so far, I am fine with Vista. I wouldn't say it impresses me, but it does (almost) everything I need it to. The operating system certainly does not live down to the reputation it has garnered out in the field. I can see how it has frustrated many, but not to the level that would cause me to petition to keep Windows XP alive longer.

I wouldn't spend money on an upgrade necessarily, but I would definitely go with Vista on any new PCs that I buy. It makes absolutely no sense to waste money on a 6-year-old operating system that is winding down its shelf and support life. In this case, newer may not be significantly better, but because it is newer, it will last longer. And as history has shown, Microsoft will make it better over time.

That's why we wait for the service packs.