Oh boy! Vista test system is due any minute now

Oh boy! Vista test system is due any minute now

Summary: After noticing how Doc Searls was doing a bit of reminiscing on his blog (warning, it takes you back to 1965), I realized that August 1995 -- exactly ten years ago -- is not a period of time I will soon forget.   On August 24 in that year, the computer industry witnessed what, up until that time, was the most anticipated and most lavishly marketed product launch of all time -- Microsoft Windows 95.

TOPICS: Windows

w95cd.jpgAfter noticing how Doc Searls was doing a bit of reminiscing on his blog (warning, it takes you back to 1965), I realized that August 1995 -- exactly ten years ago -- is not a period of time I will soon forget.   On August 24 in that year, the computer industry witnessed what, up until that time, was the most anticipated and most lavishly marketed product launch of all time -- Microsoft Windows 95.  I remember that day well, as well as the period leading up to it -- during which I was working in the Labs at PC Week (now eWeek).  For over a year,  I had been living with the beta version of the operating system, the new builds of which were distributed on CD on an almost weekly basis (I still have all the CDs, see photo above right).  Back then, with no broadband in place, you didn't download operating systems over the Internet.

After working with the operating system for countless man hours and then coming up with a testing methodology that could produce a report card with letter grades for five major categories of OS functionality (one of which wasn't security -- imagine that), PC Week Labs gave Windows 95 an overall grade ofvista64CD.jpg a B minus and the publication sent me down to New York to explain on about five nationally televised news broadcasts why.  That was a whirlwind day as I was whisked in a town car from one TV studio in Manhattan to another.  Hurry up and wait.  Hurry up and wait.   Oh, and get make up (it was the first time I ever wore make-up).  Say what you will about Microsoft.  That was a pretty exciting time to be a part of the industry.

On August 24 at the launch on Microsoft's Redmond-based campus, I couldn't help but marvel at how the blue skies over Redmond resembled the images of blue skies that were a part of Windows 95's branding.  What were the odds that Microsoft would get a day like that for the launch?  Who did Bill Gates know? I remember walking from one event on campus to another (a day that ended with an outdoor comedy performance by Jay Leno) with Microsoft's two top guys on Windows 95 -- Brad Chase and Brad Silverberg.  At PC Week, we called them "the Brads." Nothing sticks out more in my mind than when Chase said "Give me your honest opinion David.  Isn't it the best of all worlds -- Windows 3.11, Mac, OS/2, and even Motif?" Of course, the answer wasn't as simple as that.  There were some things that Windows 95 was very good at -- particularly for a graphical operating system that ran on pretty cheap hardware.  But, there's always room improvement and we said as much back then.  Little did we know what was coming on the security front.

In the following year, Microsoft would launch the first version of MSN -- a non-Internet version that had chat rooms and was designed to compete with services like CompuServe.  While playing around in one of those chat rooms on July 13, 1996, talking to the moderator about the technology, I engaged another chatter -- a woman who, three years later, would become my wife.  We actually have a copy of the very first words we exchanged.  For all its faults,  I still have Microsoft and its technology to thank for forever changing my life (for the better). 

So, why reminisce?  Here we are in 2005, approximately a year away from the launch of what could be Microsoft's most important operating system release ever and the circumstances are remarkably similar.  Back then, my boss and the editor in chief of PC Week -- the one who sanctioned the year long testing of Windows 95 -- was Dan Farber.   Today, my boss and the editor in chief of ZDNet is Dan Farber.  Two weeks ago, the e-mail came.  "When does your testing on Vista begin?"  Talk about yer' flashbacks.  Even though it was in beta for longer than a year, I used Windows 95 as my production system starting when it wasn't even called Windows 95 and the CDs just said "Chicago" on them.   I can't count the number of beta related crashes and catastrophes I had.  Am I prepared for that again?  I guess so.

To test Vista, I decided it would be best to subject it to an environment that stressed some of its most important and advanced features.   The two that came to mind were mobility and 64-bitness.   Looking around my garage and basement, I didn't see any 64-bit notebooks laying around so I turned to ZDNet head honcho and my Mr. Money Bags Stephen Howard-Sarin for approval to buy one.  The answer was yes, as long as I publish lots of pictures of the things I encounter during testing.   Sold.   Now, the only question was, which system.  There aren't many 64 bit notebooks out there.  Of the ones out there, only AMD makes the chips in them.  Having recently interviewed AMD officials about its newest Turion mobile 64-bit processor, I thought I might as well go for broke and get the latest greatest 64 bit mobile technology.

So, here I sit, waiting for an AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari 4005 notebook that I found on Buy.com through CNET's Shopper.com.  The first thing I'm going to do -- and it's going to kill me to do this because of how nice and bug free a fresh version of Windows XP is -- is wipe out Windows XP, load up VMWare's VMWare Workstation 5 virtual machine software in hopes of running Windows XP and Vista side-by-side (I'll need to check with the VMWare folks to make sure it's possible).  Then, I'll reinstall XP on one partition while also installing the Beta 1 of Vista 64-bit on the other.  But not before I take pictures of the system and follow Howard-Sarin's orders to publish them.  Hopefully, I'll have those tomorrow.  If you have thoughts on my testbed, or on things to look for while testing, use the comments below or send them my way at david.berlind@cnet.com.  It's deja vu all over again.  It's gonna be a long year and if there's one thing I can guarantee, it's that there won't be a wedding at the end of this road. 

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Mobility

    Hi David,

    Since you will be testing Vista on a 64-bit nootbook, it would be interesting to compare that power consumption figures and power management of both XP and Vista. I heard that Vista would have only two states of operation, "on" and "off" with different degrees of "offness" decided by the OS, as compared to standby and hibernate in XP. I would love to see how that affects the overall performance of the system in terms of power consumption, bootup times, and agility of programs to "wake up". There are other important aspects to look at such as security (whether users get a bundled firewall, anti-virus software, pop-up blockers, anti-adware software, anti-phishing tools, etc.), flexibilty and ease of enabling/disabling updates, the relevance and speed of searches using the new search engine, file and disk management, a better add/remove tool (?), the ease of installing the new OS, compatibility with the existing hardware (a pointer to the minimum system requirements without the bells and whistes features of Vista), and the efficiency of the system registry.

    Happy testing!
  • I suggest you...

    Send the new lappie to me for umm, testing, yeah that's it, testing. <g>
  • Screenshots, dude!

    I want lots of screen shots of Vista stuff, not photos of your laptop. (Though I'll take those too.) For those of us not brave enough to install Vista, at least we can live vicariously through your pix.

    Stephen Money Bags
    Stephen Howard-Sarin
    • OK, OK....

      You'll get yer' screenshots. The system will be slick too though.
  • I remember Chicago was late

    Hi David,

    And IBM was talking up OS/2. 10 years later, it's Linux on the server, and who cares about the client OS? I think I liked the old labs in Medford. Look forward to your results. Again.
  • Best (temporary) feature of Riska

    No 64-bit viruses . . . yet! While you're at it, load Solaris and Linux (OpenSuSE?) on that thing. You'll be the first one in town to have ALL of those OS's on one box! I WONDER if you could get your hands on OS/X . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • Windows Vista Testing


    I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Howard-Sarin - lot's of screen shots during the entire test period. While your usual editorial is very good, we all love eye candy giving credence to the clich? about pictures and words.

    As far as testing goes, I would like to see you test Microsoft's claims that "Vista is a HUGE leap forward in personal computing." In order to achieve this claimed leap forward, Microsoft has indicated that Vista has five components of advancement: reliability, security, ease of deployment, performance, and manageability. Therefore, I think at some point systematic testing should be done with the goal of validating these claims (or not).

    From the perspective of my brethren that do desktop support, I would be very interested in you testing the ease of deployment claim and the image based setup (See http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/basics/deployment.mspx). Why not start by wiping XP off the AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari 4005 notebook and installing Windows 2000? Then upgrade the notebook from Win2k to Vista and report your findings. Why Win2K? I recently read on ZDNet that, as of the last quarter of 2004, 48% of PCs in the business environment are still on Win2k according to an industry survey. My work PC is one of the 48%. I predict that some of the admins of those systems will skip XP and migrate directly to Vista if the advancements (and cost) can be justified. Of course hardware lifecycle management will push many of those Win2k systems to XP even before Vista is released, but there will be late adopters.

    To be inclusive of the XP systems primed for upgrading, wipe the notebook again and install XP. Then upgrade the notebook to Vista from XP. What problems will you encounter? What works and what?s cool? Then after that testing, setup your system with a dual OS configuration as you described.

    In my fantasy world, Mr. Money Bags would allow you to purchase two of the AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari 4005 notebooks so that new imaging features can be tested across the wire. In this fantasy, you could test both the upgrade from XP and the fresh install (no OS on notebook) using the "fast new installations and upgrades" features of Vista. You could use one notebook to make the image and the other notebook as the "receiver" of the image.

    As a network admin, in addition to the ease of desktop deployment and imaging, I would like to see the security advancements thoroughly tested (See http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/basics/security.mspx). Unleash the hounds of |-|3ll and pound that Vista based AMD Turion-based Acer Ferrari 4005 notebook. Don't install third party firewall or anti virus and intentionally throw malware at it (in a controlled environment of course) and see how well Vista can take the beating.

    And what about the "multi-tiered data protection" with "full-volume encryption"? According to Microsoft, "Advanced data protection technologies in Windows Vista reduce the risk that data on laptops or on other computers will be viewed by unauthorized people, even if the laptop is lost or stolen." Does that fancy new AMD Turion-based (64-bit) Acer Ferrari 4005 notebook have a trusted platform model (TPM) v1.2 chip? If so, that's an advancement definitely worthy of critical testing.

    Then there's custom authentication mechanisms, network access protection, windows service hardening, etc. I could go on but I think you get the picture. Using the claimed advancements of Vista as a basis for systematically testing the new OS will be a huge leap in determining its value. And don't forget the screen shots!

    JD, Systems Analyst
  • Oh, AWESOME!

    I remember well when Windows 95 came out. I'd been looking forward to it so anxiously. My husband was in India at the time, though, I'd had trouble contacting him, and the stress of installing Windows 95 was the last straw - I threw a paperweight through my closet door (actually, I was impressed that I did that, in a way). Not that that was Microsoft's fault, entirely.

    I could NOT be less interested in Vista. I realize that software needs to keep up with hardware, but Microsoft has clearly lost the concept of "operating system". Instead, they are focused on adding as many applications as they can to Windows, especially if a competitor is in sight (Netscape, Real, Google, etc).

    Truth, I'm sick of Microsoft. They really don't innovate, and their software is of mediocre quality. I will not "upgrade" to Vista until forced to do so (maybe for the last time).