Initial Thoughts on Vista

My ZD7000 finally gave me the irrits enough that, after careful consideration, I had to relegate it from ‘uber gaming / development machine’ to ‘remote desktop machine’ since it’d last about week before cooking another 1G SODIMM. I can’t afford to keep replacing them, and I think it’s largely heat related, despite being on a Targus Coolpad and having fresh heatsink paste applied to the CPU (which incidentally dropped the average working temperature about 4 degrees).

So the ZD7000 is now sitting on the desk. It’s sad when a machine with a 3.2GHz processor and a gigabyte of RAM doesn’t cut it any more! But, for development with JDeveloper and OracleXE it’s the RAM that’s king, and 1G is only a principality, not a kingdom.

With that in mind I (being in the PC Repair business) purchased all the bits to make a new desktop PC, since they can cope with the heat better and I have little need to be portable (at least whilst developing software) any more since all my dev work is done from my remote office. Desktop RAM is also considerably cheaper to so when the inevitable day arrives that 2Gig is no longer enough, I can double it to 4 fairly easily.

I ummed and arred (are those real words? no) about whether to stick with XP or to go to Vista, but as I have a couple of customers on Vista now I figured I ought to at least know my way around it in case they call me for support. Kind of helps you not to look stupid in front of them if you’ve actually used it. So I went for Vista Business.

I have to say, I’m actually glad I did. It’s got some really nice improvements over XP. One of the biggest for me is the removal of that awful ‘Documents and Settings’ directory and the replacement with a much more sensible ‘Users’ directory. All the directories inside this user directory have also dropped the ridiculous ‘My’ from everything. So ‘My Documents’ is now simply ‘Documents’. This may sound trivial, but when you’re using environments that really don’t like spaces in file names this makes things a lot easier.

I like the new File Open dialogs too. It defaults to your user directory, but has links to the Documents folder and the Downloads folder amongst others. If you find you’re regularly opening files from a particular directory, you can add that to the links on the left simply by dragging and dropping.

The Vista sidebar is one of those things that you start off thinking is just eye candy and is really not all that useful. Until you start using it. I love it. I’d been using Google Toolbar (to which the Vista Sidebar is strikingly similar) but it caused XP not to shut down properly, or gave some weird shutdown error that I never bothered to really figure out. I have the clock in the corner and the calendar gadget below it. It’s very nice to have that there all the time because beforehand I was constantly being asked ‘whats the date today?’ or thinking to myself, whats the date today. I also have a CPU and memory monitor sitting in the sidebar, and todays AUD to GBP exchange rate, and a GMail message notification gadget. Of course, if you’re using the sidebar it’s advisable to have a widescreen monitor because a normal 4:3 monitor would probably end up too squished.

IE7 and WMP11 never felt quite right under XP. They’d got the Vista look which was somehow just foreign under XP. But they fit in nicely and feel good under Vista. IE7 under Vista is considerably faster to load pages than Firefox – and I’ve not yet figured out how this could be – perhaps someone knows? Has Microsoft deliberately crippled Firefox, or does IE7 on Vista do something funky to speed things up? Maybe it’s just optimizing how it loads images.

I do pretty much all of my browsing with IE7 as a result. However, Windows Mail is a totally different story. It’s IMAP implementation is just broken – like most other implementations of mail clients that Microsoft have produced, IMAP is just an afterthought that never really works very well. In this case, you end up with a message that says ‘Is No Longer Available On The Server’ and Windows Mail strikes a red line through the message in the message list. Clicking the message gives a fake e-mail message stating that because IMAP can be accessed by multiple clients, perhaps one of those clients has deleted the message while you’re trying to view it. Not so, I only use one client at a time – but in any case, if that were so, why keep that silly ‘pointer’ in the message list. When you try to remove it manually you discover that you actually cannot remove it. No error is generated but the message stays there. The message IS available when I check using Webmail to the same IMAP account, and Thunderbird does not exhibit this. So I use Thunderbird now.

The UAC is something that gets a lot of mixed press. I do however like it, even though I’m not entirely familiar with how it works under the cover, the impression is that it does provide an extra layer of security by ensuring that even if you’re an administrator on your machine you can’t actually edit any files that belong to the system without gain the administrator token. Linux (or certainly Ubuntu) has had a similar system for years, called sudo or gksudo. I have experienced first hand it’s protective ability however, because as part of my developing I regularly need to change windowssystem32driversetchosts to add temporary names to the resolver. Under Vista I can no longer just click the item in Explorer and edit it because when I come to save the file it says ‘permission denied’. I’m just a user and the hosts file is now owned by the system. This prevents one of the common attack vectors of trojans, which is to overwrite the hosts file with duff addresses for, for example, Norton’s update site. Given this fairly simple example, I suspect other files that belong to Windows itself will also be protected. Of course, they’re only protected until you press the ‘allow’ button, so there needs to be some education of the average user to make sure they are actually expecting system files to be updated and don’t just blindly press the accept button.

And then of course there’s Aero. What’s to say about Aero – it’s nice. It feels polished and is largely just about the ‘chintz’ factor, but I do like it. I’m not sure it adds a great deal to productivity, although the generated thumbnails that appear when you hover over items in the taskbar, or when you press ALT-TAB to get to the task switcher are quite helpful. If you try out the WIN-TAB combination you probably won’t use the regular task switcher ever again.

The power management in Vista can be a bit of a maze to get right. However, when you do it’s worthwhile. I rarely switch my PC off now, prefering instead to simply ’sleep’ it when I am finished. Or indeed letting it sleep because it’s determined that I haven’t used it for a while and it might as well go to sleep. When I want to start using the PC again I press the power button but instead of waiting minutes for it all to start up, it’s immediate. And I pretty much mean immediate too – maybe one or two seconds, but I generally haven’t had time to get my hand back to the keyboard before it’s back.

However, it did take a while to get the power management working properly. The first time I tried the PC never went properly to sleep, leaving all the fans on and sitting in some weird suspended animation but not actually asleep. I followed the advice of many articles on Google and switched off the wake by keyboard, wake by mouse and wake by network. It seems as though the one which did the trick was the keyboard. The next trick was to stop the PC from waking up at weird semi random intervals. After a day or so trying to track it down I realised that every time it woke up, it immediately declared there was new mail. So I checked, and lo and behold there was indeed new mail. So I suspected that although I’d told it not to wake by the network that it actually was. And it was. There’s 2 places you need to check when disabling wake by network. Under Device Manager, if you select the network card and choose Power Management you must uncheck the tick box that says ‘Allow this device to wake the computer’. I had already taken the tick out of this box, but for my particular network card there is another option under the Advanced tab, called ‘Wake from Shutdown’. This option had been set to Magic Pattern by default and changing this to Off resulted in my PC sleeping correctly and not waking up until I ask it to. I look forward to the reduction in electricity bill!

All in all I find Vista is very stable and the improvements are nice. It’s much more polished and professional than XP and the user experience just seems more fluid. I prefer using Vista to XP – just as I prefered using XP to 98 (though lets face it, 98 was just horrid). So if you’ve got a reasonably modern machine and want a new experience, give Vista a look.

Comments

  1. I’ve got Vista on my new laptop, and the UAC was driving me crazy until I created a non-admin account and use that as my primary account. I’m still not completely sold on many of the features, and it was rather tedious to uninstall all the "helpful" software additions they give you when you purchase a new machine with Vista. Hopefully I’ll have it all cleaned up better as I use it more.

    My biggest gripe with Vista right now is how long it takes to shut down. I’m sorry, but 90 seconds just to power down is rather annoying. Maybe it’s just the HP laptop, or maybe it’s Vista. Whatever it is is a pain in the patootie! I haven’t tried the sleep option as I want it powered down when it’s unplugged and in it’s case. I’ll have to test drive that to see if it’s any easier. Maybe I’ll just set the laptop up somewhere and keep it plugged in between uses.

    Alli

  2. thank you for your review. was very interesting to hear professional analysis rather then commercial promotion. I suspect that with new patches coming up in the future, as they always do with MS, the system will get degraded slightly, I’m especially concerned with IE7 in that regard. Personally I’d prefer not to use new OS until at least one service pack is out. besides, not all third parties are quick to react to the headspinning changes in Microsoft products, so there is always compartability issue with third party’s applications. (Here we have some that don’t run under XP yet! :-)

    I also agree that to drive Vista user has to have certain set of basic knowledge, otherwise from the support point of view it is a disaster-in-waiting. (What I wonder: did Vista retained the most useful feature of XP – system restore?LOL)

  3. Hey, thanks for that… I have been wondering about Vista myself. I’m thinking about finally upgrading to a flat screen monitor and had been thinking about adding Vista. Sounds like I should do it in that order! Thanks to your comment. I DO have an old monitor that already is too squishy for lots of sites.

    It’s nice to read a review from someone I trust too. Sometimes out in the WWW, you don’t know who you are dealing with when they recommend a product these days.

    Thanks again!

  4. I wonder if Vista Business is a lot better than Vista personal? It seemed to me that Windows XP home was crap whereas XP business was good. I would only use the home versions, and I know the biz versions have to be very good, or companies wouldn’t buy the software!

  5. are ya?