Windows Vista - 19 months of usage and counting

Summary:I downloaded my first beta of Windows Vista on July 27th 2005. Over that 19 month period I've been making increasing use of Vista platform. What do I think of Vista? Am I hooked? Is it worth upgrading?

I downloaded my first beta of Windows Vista on July 27th 2005.  Over that 19 month period I've been making increasing use of Vista platform.  In a few weeks I hope that all the main rigs here at the PC Doc HQ will be running Vista and that XP (along with Windows 2000 will be relegated to test machines and VMware installs).

Since my blogging colleague George Ou posted his Week one report card for Vista, I thought it would be interesting to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings about the platform having been using it for over a year and a half.

Interface

First off, the interface.  Let me just start off by saying that by the time Vista RTM was released, the Vista interface no longer felt new or different to me.  I've spent a long time with Vista on one PC and running another PC with XP Pro on it via remote desktop.  Since I run a dual monitor rig I can have Vista in one screen and XP in the other and I've been able to compare and contrast the Vista with XP over a number of beta releases.  I think that it was very beneficial to be able to go through all the beta releases for Vista and see how the platform evolved from being a tweaked XP into what Vista is now. 

From an efficiency point of view, Vista beats XP hands down (I'd also say that it beats Mac OS X too, but I've been using Vista a lot longer than Mac OS for that to be a fair comparison).  It's the small things that make the difference - the improved Start Menu (which a lot of people hate because it involves scrolling - my tip is to get a scrolling mouse and learn how to use it), improved search, the larger, more detailed icons (which are a real eye saver if you run at screen resolutions of 1280 x 1024 and above). 

Aero is nice but it's not an essential aspect of Vista.  Yes, it's pretty and yes, it is eye candy, but I'm still running it (and I used to be someone who would cut down on most of the cheesy effects that were contained in the XP theme).  What Aero does is for the first time give you a truly 2.5D desktop in Windows. 

Another surprise is the the fact that I still have the sounds switched on.  With all versions prior to Vista the first thing I used to do was kill the sounds because they were intrusive and annoying.  Vista is a lot better and so far the sounds have survived (with the exception of that annoying startup sound!).  The fonts are also nice and readable and improve the overall usability of the operating system, as does ClearType (a feature that I was never all that fond of on XP).

I'm not going to pretend that Vista's interface is a million miles ahead of XP's.  It's not.  Put the two systems side-by-side and there are a lot of similarities (elements such as the Quick Launch toolbar and the System Tray are pretty much unchanged).  What I would say is that Microsoft has made the interface tweaks where they were needed and kept other things the same.

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Stability

From a stability point of view I've found Vista to be very good from the start.  Some of the early betas had a lot of rough edges but most of these were worked out pretty early on.  That's to to say I've not had my fair share of issues.

Throughout the beta testing I felt that the graphics card drivers shipped (certainly for ATI GPUs) were pretty poor.  Yes, they were fine for standard desktop work but sucked for gaming.  Only in recent weeks have solid drivers been released by the manufacturers and certainly where ATI is concerned the drivers that you can download from ATI are far superior to those that are shipped with Windows Vista.

However, graphics card drivers aside and I think that Microsoft has done an excellent job of bundling many of the drivers that users will need.  They're basic and lack the refinements and extra features that the manufacturer's driver will have but they work.  Since the beta 2 of Vista I've not had to install any drivers in order to get Vista up and running (with the exception of drivers and apps for my Hauppauge WinTV card - might have to buy a new one unless Hauppauge gets a shake on and releases Vista compatible drivers for older cards).

Crashes and lockups on Vista are few and far between.  With some of the early betas I found that games were particularly prone to lockup but with the RTM release I'm finding that most applications I've tried are pretty well behaved under Vista.  The rumors and FUD that you have to chuck away your old apps is unfounded.  Some programs still have problems with Vista but the blame for this really falls on the vendor and not Microsoft.

Is Vista more stable that XP?  Hard to tell as I don't have a lot of problems with XP but I do feel that Vista is on the whole more robust.

On the overclocking front I've had no problems taking a Pentium 950D up from the stock speed of 3.4GHz up to 4.1GHz with no ill effects.  Maybe I'm seeing the effects of having a nice and stable ASUS motherboard.

Upgrading

I'm not going to pretend for one moment that upgrading to Vista is going to be 100% pain-free.  If you have older software or hardware that you rely on then you need to be careful and test thoroughly.  If you are blitzing your existing XP system in order to go up to Vista then having an image of your system is a good idea.

Another thing to be mindful of is Vista system requirements.  I've written at great length about this before and I'm still standing by my belief that the base requirements for a Vista Capable PC is too low.  While you can run Vista on a system with 512MB of RAM and a low-end CPU, it's not fun.  If your PC is having a hard time running XP, it's not a good idea to upgrade.  If your PC is running XP but it's sluggish then steer clear of Vista.

If you want to run the Aero interface and your graphics card isn't on the list of ones that support it then you're going to want an upgrade there too.  If your PC is running on an "on-board" graphics card then the chances of getting Aero running is at best slim and you'll need a separate card.  Fortunately Aero-compatible graphics cards aren't all that expensive.  However it's worth while factoring this into the cost of upgrading.

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Performance

Is Vista faster than XP?  To be honest that's a tough question to answer.  If you compare a new install of XP with a new install of Vista on similar hardware then the experience seems about the same. 

Some aspects of Vista, for example the new media player and the new Photo Gallery viewer do feel faster, but as for the rest of the OS it's debatable whether it's faster or not.  However, two aspects of Vista which are much faster than XP is system startup and shutdown.  The system takes about 12 seconds to boot up and 3 to 5 seconds to shutdown - a huge improvement over XP.  It remains to be seen if this effect will last though.  As more software gets installed and the detritus starts to build I expect these times to increase (I'll be surprised if they don't).

Another performance upside of Windows Vista is the ability to plug a USB flash drive into a free USB port and make use of ReadyBoost.  This isn't a substitute for having the CPU power and enough RAM to run Vista, but it is nice when you're pushing your system harder than usual.

Bugs?

Are there bugs?  Yes.  I've not encountered all that many but I'm sure that they're there.  What I can say quite honestly is that there seem to be far fewer bugs in Vista then there were in XP when it was released.

Is it Worth Upgrading?

Everyone's different and there's no such thing as a standard user.  Everyone has different needs and wants.  Having been using Vista for over 18 months I believe that it's a huge improvement over XP and even though I still use XP I find that I miss many of the features that Vista offers. 

However, I wouldn't call any of the changes earth-shattering.  When I'm using XP systems I miss some of the features but not so much that they push me to upgrade any faster. Microsoft wants users to put down a lot of money for Vista when XP still has plenty of life in it.  If you like living on the edge and want the latest then Vista is a must, but if you're happy with XP or you are the kind of person that doesn't actually use the OS that much, then you're probably safe holding back and waiting until you buy a new PC before getting Vista.

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Topics: Windows

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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