Windows Vista - 19 months of usage and counting

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?

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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.

Next -->

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.

Next -->

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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  • Interesting article.

    My brother just got a new low end PC with Vista. He has not had any issues yet. I plan on waiting to replace our PC until right after SP1 comes out.
    redtrain65
    • How low end?

      Does he feel it's a good experience using Vista?
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Adrian - a common question ....

    ... is "how does Vista's Aero stack up against OSX"? In reality I guess this means how good is the graphics rendition in Vista compared to X-Windows leaving aside the actual "eye candy" aspect?

    Has Vista caught up with X-Windows? Has it surpassed it? And do you really need large resolution screens (1280x1024 and up?). Given the length of time you've had, I'd be interesting in know what you think.
    bportlock
    • Misunderstanding

      Aqua isn't just about eye candy. It expands what you can do in terms of user
      interface. MS and Linux geeks seem to think that enhanced user experience means
      photorealistic icons. That's not it at all, and it's not primarily about eye candy.

      For example, the OS X genie effect isn't eye candy. It's a very effective way to let
      the user know where his window went. Expose isn't eye candy. It's a highly-
      effective way for users to locate a desired window. The rotating cube for fast user
      switching provides smooth feedback to the user of exactly what the computer is
      doing. Ditto the flip effect when you turn widgets over.

      The new iPhone will introduce rubber banding on lists: when you go to the end of
      a list the list will go past the end and bounce back a bit. This isn't eye candy; it's
      visual feedback telling the user they've reached the end of the list in a more
      intuitive real-world way (where objects have inertia).

      It's this "meaningless" eye candy that makes the OS X experience "feel" more
      intuitive and easier on a visceral level. People who don't get it like Linux users, MS
      and most other computer nerds call it meaningless eye candy designed to appeal
      to the uneducated mob.
      frgough
      • OS X genie

        I like the OS X genie effect - there's a similar effect on Vista but the genie effect is clearer for sure. It was impressive to say the least.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Agreed

        1) not all of this is eye candy

        2) a lot of users do enjoy eye candy

        I wish the hardcore zealots would get over it. Aero and X-Windows are here to stay.
        rkuhn040172@...
      • Not a Mac man

        but that was a good description given by frgough. I think it's fair to say most of us like a little candy once in a while, as long as it doesn't interfere with our normal bread and butter base (in this case, clean and responsive system performance). As for the purists, a few are so fossilized in their thinking that they're still clinging to W2000 at this late date (citing a similar contempt for the Fisher-Price style candy found in XP). But for these dinosaur types, the bus has already long passed by even if they're the last to know it.
        klumper
        • Win2K Man

          I've used XP and I've played around with OS X, but not enough to have a real feel for what it can do. But I keep remembering all the Mac people (and some Windows users) saying how easy and intuitive OS 9 was. Well, I tried it and for me, it wasn't. Not even close. Of course, I was well used to the Windows GUI by that point, so read what you will into that.

          But my interface is heavily customized. I've been using Desktop Sidebar for over a year. I've extended the context menu to add functionality that suits me. I have Task Commander to show me running apps in large thumbnails and Jet Start to improve the Start menu. And before you ask, my machine is as quick as it was with a clean install (or at least nearly enough so that I can't see the difference). Because I keep it maintained. Even though I have hundreds of applications, applets, utilities and extensions. Plus way too much hardware (multiple drives, scanners and other peripherals). I know enough about Windows to manage it with a minimum of fuss. Not an expert, by any stretch, but sufficiently knowledgeable.

          What it comes down to is that my system [i][b]works[/i][/b]. It does the job for me and does it well and quickly. Did it take some effort to get here? Certainly. Could I have done the same with XP? Perhaps, but it's not worth it, from what I've seen (before we even get into the issue of DRM, which I loathe). Could I have a better experience with Aero or Aqua? It's possible, but then I'd have to not only re-learn the OEM interface, but I'd have to deal with all of the lack of all I've added to Win2K.

          Might be worth it in the long run and I may be forced to go that route eventually. But I'll evaluate circumstances as I need to and right now, I see no advantage in changing. Limitations on newer software and hardware may alter that, but I think Win2K still has some life left in it. I've yet to see a killer app that tempts me to upgrade and I don't expect to see one for a while. Especially with all the new software and hardware that still supports [i]Win98[/i].

          I don't claim to be a typical user. Most of my friends come to me for advice and help on computers and I wouldn't steer them away from Vista, just like I didn't do that with XP. It just wouldn't be practical. Having the current state of the art, away from the bleeding edge where Vista seems to be at the moment, is better for those that just want the computer to do the job without a degree in computer science.

          And I wouldn't tell someone not to get a Mac, even if I find it a bit pretentious to assume it would work for the less computer literate. Too many people I know can't figure out the Windows version of iTunes. OK, it's "burdened" with the Windows GUI, but given how many people use it, couldn't Apple have put some time in and done a better job? Not exactly good PR to encourage switching.

          I drive a 93 Buick Century wagon, because it gets me to from A to B reliably, in comfort and gives me extra carrying capacity. Without putting me in debt or giving me worries about dings in the parking lot. I'll buy a new one when it suits my purposes and not Detroit's (or Tokyo's or Berlin's). It's effective. I feel the same way about Win2K and Microsoft. I know where the bus is, where it's been and where it's going. But [b]I'll[/b] be the one to decide when and if I get on. If that makes me a dinosaur, I'm fine with that. Better that than a sheep.
          mds_z
          • Another bus is always on the way

            [i]What it comes down to is that my system works. It does the job for me and does it well and quickly.[/i]

            Well that point can't be argued, so at least here we agree. My point is while the latest and greatest is not [1]always[/i] better in all things, I've yet to see an exception to this when it comes to operating systems, at least Windows based ones (ok perhaps with one tiny exception, Windows ME lol). I myself started on Windows 3.1 and then was exposed to NT 3.1 a year later, and that expansion rule I have witnessed ever since. It may be an older OS works sufficiently for you -or- you may not know what you're missing.

            That being said, NT5 was and is a very solid OS, no doubt about it, though I tend to see it as being a bit long in the tooth at this point. But if it is getting the job done to your satisfaction and remains non-restricting as each new year rolls along, then power to you my friend. Keep in mind I run a copy of it [w/SP4] side by side with XP on one of my networked boxes. It still brings a smile to my face for the stability it has rendered over the years, but side by side to XP, I still say no contendere. I suspect Vista will do the same to supplant (supersede) XP in the exact same way.

            As for the sheep syndrome, that might be overstating it a bit. Even the most tech savvy tend to migrate up rather quickly, simply because of the productivity and compatibility improvements/enhancements each new OS edition brings. We may all be leashed to one collar or another, but that being the case, why not be pulled by the latest and greatest provider (master)?

            Ah well perhaps we might also agree that in the end, another bus is always on the way. ;)
            klumper
      • Yeah, I'm seeing a bit more of that in Vista.

        Yeah, I'm seeing a bit more of that feedback stuff in Vista.
        CobraA1
      • Very good point

        I never have liked what is implied by the term "eye-candy." It gives the impression that the effects are useless beyond making the user think "cool!". I totally agree that the main purpose of these effects is to make the user interface more informative and intuitive. I have Beryl configured on my Linux installation and it has definitely made things easier for me. There is a similar effect to OS X genie effect, as well as Expose. Making different windows partially see-through, live previews on alt-tab, being able to zoom in on any part of my desktop ... all of these are examples of features/effects that have made interacting with my desktop environment easier and more efficient. And, yes, it looks cool, but I really don't think that's the main point of it all; it's about making a better and more usable interface.
        phburks
      • uneducated mob

        hmm mac users don't build computers

        they use what apple gives them they use one OS

        PC users for the most part use more than one OS mac users are spoon fed like school kids by apple.

        we multitask with out having to have all the eye candy to nurse us along so who is the uneducated mob.... i wonder
        SO.CAL Guy
  • Vista Security Overview: too little too late

    When it comes to the 'perceived' benefits of improved security in Vista, this article does not paint a pretty picture: [url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/20/vista_security_oversold/]Vista Security Overview: too little too late[/url]
    D T Schmitz
    • I agree with a lot in that article ...

      ... an awful lot.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Good article

      That article Dietrich provided from the Register is one everyone should read, as it takes a fairly even-handed approach and highlights everything is not quite ideal in Vista. Still in the end, it does conclude that Vista is a clear step up from XP SP2 in regards to security, which as we all know was a big step up from XP, which was also something of a step up from ... well, you get the picture.

      Speaking of smart articles, this last one was nice Adrian, more so since you cite various examples of how things have progressed from the betas and RC's to the finished product. Coupled with Ou's recent synopsis and the ongoing Bott series, it provides a pretty comprehensive overview of Vista to date.
      klumper
    • Errors in that article

      I found so many serious technical errors in that article that they invalidated the point completely.
      Claiming that DEP is useless because users will disable it because of app crashes (haven't seen a single DEP related crash in a year of beta with tons of apps), that LUA is of no benefit because it doesn't benefit an admin (it acutally does, cause it informs you of elevated tasks, and if you didn't intend any, you know there's something fishy going on), and many other inaccurate comments simply does not lend confidence to the article.
      Of course there isn't perfect security in Vista. But the enhancements ARE real, ARE significant and ARE useful. Will they stop malware? I'm running several machines without an antivirus and in default config, browsing unreliable sites and seeing lots of malware infection attempts, all correctly handled with no effort on my part. So far, so good. And that's what security is all about.
      herbys67
      • Nitpicking me thinks

        Excerpted from article:

        [i].. but a version of Windows with truly adequate security and privacy features would certainly be a step in the right direction. And indeed, there have been improvements.

        The default security settings for IE are basically sensible and I would change only a few, and this is the first time I've ever said that.

        Data Execution Prevention (DEP) is a feature from XP SP2 that shuts down programs that handle memory oddly, and it is now set to full on by default. Both are very good ideas, and should help reduce the impact of malware to some extent. However, DEP, when full on, may cause a number of applications to crash, or interfere with their installation.

        Until MS gets it through their thick skulls that a multi-user OS needs a separate admin account and a user account for the owner, and that the owner should be encouraged to work from a regular user account as much as possible, UAC will never work as intended.

        And once UAC is disabled, all of its security enhancements are lost. Yes, the basic idea is good, but the implementation has been completely bungled.

        As usual, Windows enables far too many services by default. It would be a tremendous help if MS could somehow use its many wizards to enable only the services needed for each bit of hardware or software installed.

        The start menu now offers the option of not storing or displaying a list of recently-accessed files and programs. This used to be a real nightmare for data hygiene. Finally, it's fixed. Oh wait; it's not fixed. In fact, things just got a lot worse.

        Now there is some good news, finally. Vista ships with parental controls that are reasonably easy to implement.

        So, what have we got here? An adequately secure version of Windows, finally? I think not. We have got, instead, a slightly more secure version than XP SP2. There are good features, and there are good ideas, but they've been implemented badly. The old problems never go away: too many networking services enabled by default; too many owners running their boxes as admins and downloading every bit of malware they can get their hands on.[/i]

        So what's so egregious in those statements? Simply another take with perhaps a touch of cynicism (realism?), but where is the uneven-handed approach that invalidates the thrust of it like you're claiming?

        [i]Claiming that DEP is useless because users will disable it because of app crashes...[/i]

        I read his comments even on this differently. As for users looking for the "easy way out" and disabling protective measures that "nag" or intrude, trust me this is the status quo more than you know! "What IS that?" .. "Oh I see, well, how can I get rid of it? It bothers me." [well worn Joe and Jill Sixpack rejoinder].

        [i]I'm running several machines without an antivirus and in default config .. [/i]

        No A-V or hardening anywhere? Then you're basically a fool, as it'll only be a matter of time if you don't clamp things down a bit (or else you have far more saintly browsing and downloading habits than many of the rest of us).
        klumper
  • 64 bit or 32 bit???

    I'm someone who has to have the latest and greatest when it comes to technology. Now ofcourse i want the 64 bit version. I mean thats why I bought the Athlon x2 series. But I hear that the driver support for the 64 bit version is even worse than the 32 bit version. What would you recommend? The programs I'm conserned with running are games. I'm afraid that in the next year games will be increasingly popular on a 64 bit OS.Let me know what i should do.

    PS. I really hope you guys say the 32 bit version is best cause that means I can get it today :-)
    saint9121@...
    • If you're worried about compatibility ...

      ... stick with 32-bit!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • for later..

        would you expect a problem with compatibility in say 1 year with the 32 bit version or not at all?
        saint9121@...