Before you go Vista: Advice from nine experts

Before you go Vista: Advice from nine experts

Summary: I asked some of the best known of the Windows experts out there for one -- just one -- piece of advice they'd give to users who have decided to take the Windows Vista plunge. Here's what they said -- and showed, via some interesting screen-shot captures.

TOPICS: Windows

Not all experts are created equal. In the Windows world, there are a handful who really live and breathe Microsoft operating systems -- and whose opinions influence everyone from Microsoft's developers, to its customers.

I asked some of the best known of the bunch for one -- just one -- piece of advice they'd give to users who have decided to take the Windows Vista plunge. Not the fence sitters. Not Mac users. Not Linux champions. But individuals who have decided they are going to go with Vista, and probably some time soon (if they haven't already.)

Given that a number of Windows experts have been working with Vista for months, if not years, they've already found a few "gotchas" and potential pitfalls to avoid, as well as some hints that might help make the lives easier of Vista users, be they newbies or well-versed techies.

I've listed the experts' tips alphabetically by last names. And here are some nifty Vista screen shots that help illustrate their Vista tips and tricks.

ZDNet Blogger and Windows Book Author Ed Bott

Bott, who has just published his latest of a growing family of Windows books (Windows Vista Inside Out, 2007, Microsoft Press), has a tip for those planning to set up a dual-boot system with Windows XP and Windows Vista.

"If you set up a dual-boot system with XP and Vista, you'll be gotcha'ed the first time you boot up the new operating system, and again each time you switch," Bott warned.

The problem? "The two operating systems use different formats for System Restore checkpoints. When you boot one OS, it looks at the System Restore checkpoints, assumes they are corrupt, and deletes them. This is true even if you urn off System Restore protection in either OS. The check is automatic and there's no way to stop it."

.Net Developer and 64-bit Expert Ryan Hoffman

Given his role as founder of the site, it's not too surprising that Hoffman has been putting the 64-bit versions of Vista through their paces. And here's what he's found:

"One of the biggest Windows Vista x64 'gotchas' is its new signed driver loading policy," Hoffman explained. "Hardware drivers which are not certified by Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) are not allowed to load into the 64-bit Windows Vista kernel.

"When installing a non WHQL driver, Windows will pop up with a warning explaining that the driver is not WHQL certified, which gives the user an option to continue anyway. Once the driver is installed, Windows tries to load the driver (which fails), and an unhelpful error message is displayed: 'Windows cannot load the device driver for this hardware. The driver may be corrupted or missing. (Code 39).'

"Instead of simply stopping the user from installing the driver in the first place, Vista's otherwise improved error messages and diagnostics fail to help the user," Hoffman said.

Read more expert comments

.Net Developer and Windows-Now Founder Robert McLaws

McLaws is an outspoken Windows tester and tinkerer, as well as the founder of the site. His piece of advice to Vista users revolves around back-up.

"One of Windows Vista’s most important advances is in the way it handles backing up your critical information. The addition of 'Previous Versions' and 'CompletePC' backups, along with improvements to 'System Restore,' means that your data will be safer than ever," McLaws said.

"But Vista’s improvements came at the expense of the backup program found in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003: NTBackup. It’s not on in Vista at all, and the new backup application doesn’t support the format… meaning that (it looked like) your old backups (would be) worthless."

However, McLaws pointed out, Microsoft just recently released a stand-alone version of NTBackup that is compatible with Windows Vista.

"Just make sure you follow the installation instructions, as there is a “gotcha’ in there that will keep it from working properly," he cautioned.

Tech Pundit Chris Pirillo

Anyone who knows uber-geek Chris Pirillo -- of Lockergnome, Gnomedex and/or "Rent My Chest" fame -- knows he cares about good design. And he cares a lot. So it's not too surprising that many of Pirillo's beefs with Vista (and Windows in general) are all about the user interface (UI).

"I think 'immaturity' is the word I'd use to best describe a lot of new and/or updated apps throughout Vista," Pirillo said.

Number One issue for Pirillo: "The Search tool is a mess. Compare Vista's client to Copernic's Desktop Search - and the difference is like night and day. In terms of UI and usability, so many third-party apps are far more elegant than Microsoft's."

Given that Microsoft is touting its new integrated desktop search as one of Vista's main selling points, Pirillo's point is especially sharp.

(Even though I told him he could only mention one "gotcha," Prillo couldn't resist throwing in another UI critique: "Windows Calendar looks like a white trash, knock-off version of iCal. 'Nuff said.")

Houston Chronicle Tech Blogger Dwight Silverman

Silverman wears a lot of hats: computing columnist, techblogger, and "Interactive Journalism" editor at the Houston Chronicle. He also is in the throes of co-authoring Microsoft Windows Vista: The Learning Series with Larry Magid (2007, Peachpit Press).

Silverman's advice to all users considering a Vista upgrade:

"Do your due diligence before installing Vista by running the free Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor (available at, which scans your system's hardware and software looking for issues.

"It flags you to hardware for which Vista has no built-in drivers and programs that may not work or cause conflicts. It rates problems based on severity, and you should take its recommendations to heart. If it warns you to remove or upgrade a program before you install Vista -- particularly as an in-place upgrade over Windows XP or 2000 -- then do it! It knows what it's talking about."

MVP and Windows Book Author Steve Sinchak

When Steve Sinchak talks, techies listen. And with good reason. Author and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Sinchak really knows in the ins and outs of Windows. He's got a new book coming out in May, Hacking Windows Vista (2007, John Wiley & Sons) to add to his shelf of Windows tomes he's written.

Sinchak's Vista advice comes from personal experience:

"A few weeks ago after my hard drive was getting low on space I ran disk cleanup to try to delete some unneeded files. Since I needed a lot of space fast I also checked the option to clear my hibernation file. It turns out that was a big mistake," he explained on his Windows Tweaks blog.

"After clearing my hibernation file, my laptop's ability to hibernate was destroyed. It was so badly damaged that I could not get to the control panel hibernation settings to turn it back on. Thanks Disk Cleanup! "The fix is actually very easy to do.. Since the control panel settings were gone, I simply used the the command prompt to turn it back on. If you have a similar problem, run the follow command at an administrative level command prompt to turn hibernation back on: Powercfg /hibernate on. After a reboot the ability to hibernate is restored."

Microsoft is acknowledging the bug and has a Knowledge Base article available on it, Sinchak noted. 

SuperSite for Windows Editor and Book Author Paul Thurrott

Thurrott, the News Editor for Windows IT Pro Magazine, is well-known for his comprehensive Windows reviews on the SuperSite for Windows. Thurrott also has a new Vista book, co-authored with Brian Livingston, Windows Vista Secrets (2007, John Wiley & Sons).

Thurrott's advice for soon-to-be Vista users is to start out with a dual boot in order to make existing apps and hardware work before going whole-hog with Vista.

"Once you know everything is going to work properly, you can go back and upgrade XP to Vista or wipe out the existing system and perform a clean install. Just be sure not to activate Vista on this temporary install just in case," Thurrott explained.

Dual booting isn't a feature new to Vista, but there is a new piece of Vista functionality that makes dual-booting even better, Thurrott said.

"To see it in action, you need to install Vista by booting PC with the Vista Setup DVD (and not do so by starting Vista Setup from within XP).

"Here's how it works. If you start Vista Setup from within Windows XP, Vista will be installed to whatever partition you choose during the setup process. Let's say this is the D: drive. So when all is said and done, XP will be on C: and Vista will be on D:. These drive letters will remain constant whether you're using XP or Vista.

"If you trigger Setup by booting from the Vista DVD, however, and choose exactly the same partition during Setup as noted in the above example, you'll see a different drive letter layout depending on which OS you're using. In XP, as before, XP will be on C: and Vista will be on D:. But when you're running Vista, Vista will appear to be on C: and XP will be on D:. So whichever OS you're in will always appear to be on the C: drive."

Why is this important? "Many applications are poorly written and automatically try to write data to hard coded locations under the C: drive. So if both your OSes appear to be on the C: drive, these applications should always work better. And if you're particular, as I am, it makes more sense for the operating system to be installed on the "first" drive. Even if it's been physically installed to a second drive or partition," Thurrott said.

MVP and Windows Book Author Sandro Villinger

Like many of the Windows experts on my short list, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Villinger has co-authored a Vista book, Windows Vista -- An Overview (with Christine Koch, 2006, Microsoft Press).

In his hands-on time with Vista, Villinger so far has discovered only a couple of "gotchas," he said. But one of these is hot -- literally: Battery-power problems. (Yes, they are still with us.)

"Last summer I acquired this nice Media Center laptop from Acer (the Acer Aspire 9504) with a bright 17” monitor, 2 Ghz Intel Centrino, 2 GB of RAM and a fast hard disk (fast for a laptop, that is). I am using it as a sweet test machine for Windows Vista which runs pretty smooth but one thing that I really hate about the new Microsoft OS is that it definitely does not try much to save battery power when compared to Windows XP," Villinger blogged over on his Windows-Tweaks site.

"Even if I’m on the airplane and disable EVERY piece of battery draining hardware (Bluetooth, WLAN, LAN, USB, Firewire) and crank down the brightness to the absolute minimum the laptop battery runs dry after 1 1/2 to 2 hours and that is barely enough for watching a movie on DVD. With Windows XP the laptop lives at least 2 1/2 hours and sometimes even three (if I just watch a movie and don’t do anything else)."

MVP and CEO of Stardock Brad Wardell

Wardell is the CEO of Stardock Corp., a software developer well-known to Windows users who've dabbled with WindowBlinds, ObjectDock and other utilities (not to mention the Galactic Civilizations II game, also a Stardock product). Wardell also is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and runs the site. Wardell also helped with the development of content for the DreamScene Vista Ultimate Extra.)

Drivers -- specifically video drivers -- are likely to be the bane of Vista users' lives, at least in the short term, Wardell said.

"When you install Windows Vista, you absolutely, positively must make sure you have the latest drivers. At launch, the nVidia drivers are definitely weaker than the ATI drivers.

"If you are planning to play any computer games, you will need to visit the ATI or nVidia sites in particular to see if there have been updates. Expect to see a lot of rapid-fire updates to the video drivers as problems are encountered and solved."

Don't forget to check out this slideshow with Vista screenshots illustrating the tips and tricks from Wardell and the other Vista experts.

Topic: Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • The Majority Of Experts All Agree

    It's not worth it.

    End of discussion.
    • Out of context

      That's not what the quoted experts said!!

      This article was written in the context of those who were going to install Vista anyway. There are many who need to do this, such as:
      - IT department developers testing whether their existing third-party and in-house apps work, as a technical precursor to cost versus benefits analysis of staying as is, upgrading or changing to an alternative.
      - Individual users of significant Windows-based apps (that is, Windows is a byproduct of their use of the app), that need to be prepared before their application no longer supports the older version of the OS. Some apps, such as for audio recording, are so resource dependant that their developers will use whatever new facilities an OS provides as soon as possible, obsoleting previous versions of an OS prematurely.
      - Reviewers of Vista and Vista-based apps.

      The common thread in these is that these users have a critical dependency upon the OS (essential to their main focus) that they must be proactive with it or be left behind.

      Before anyone trolls to say 'change to Linux', for the above people, a few hundred $ to upgrade an OS is nothing compared to the ramp-up time to use an alternative to their main app. For example, an audio recording app takes months (if not years) to understand how to use the many facilities available, as well as requiring much tweaking of the OS to support it. Its individual users are not going to change to a completely different OS if they have to buy and learn a whole new audio app and the myriad effects plugins they have accumulated along the way (if they are even available).

      Enterprises that amortise their development and testing costs across 100s or 1000s of users can afford the time to examine alternatives, but many will still have too many embedded dependencies within their application portfolio that make it too costly to make a complete change of OS. I think changing an OS would be like changing your business to another country: many apps would need to be replaced or expensively recustomised because local regulatory and cultural conditions would make them awkward or impossilble to use. I have developed many MS Word and Excel spreadsheets that directly access corporate databases. These often have to be revisited before new versions of Word or Excel or the OS are deployed due to subtle (or major) changes in the way VBA works. Changing to a new OS and office suite would require total revaluation and development of such (often locally embedded) apps.
      • Linux isn't the only alternative to Windows, there is Reactos

        If you want to see an alternative, that still runs win32 software, you could donate a few bucks.

        It's getting better all the time.
        • Reactos

          The only thing that's going to pull us out of the snare of the Microsoft operating systems will be entrepreneurs, such as yourself, who will offer alternatives that actually will run things smoothly for our previously-purchased expensive applications. Do that, and I'm onboard.
        • Great post, I'm open to all OS alternatives

          I must say, I've never heard of this software and I thank you for posting as I have always enjoyed looking at optional software.
        • Good Luck!

          I certainly wish the reactos development team the best! We need more alternatives in the market. Hopefully MS doesn't try to:

          -Buy them out and shut them down
          -Employ scare tactics (laywers or goons or both)

          Cheers!!! :D
    • You may be correct for now, maybe not

      I'm not taking sides on Vista as I believe it comes down to the individual, what they want, how they want to use it, what apps they need to run it and what they need. I said need, not want as there is a difference. It really becomes the choice of the individual and it's up to the individual to decide if it is worth it or not.
      Personally, I can't get past the License terms or conditions so buying Vista is not an option as I refuse to buy any software that forces me to verify it being authentic to the manufacturer. If that wasn't enough, I won't spend my time, at my expense, activating and reactivating a legal copy of anything if I paid for the rights to use it, then I should be allowed to use it without having to prove it's legally mine to use. I especially find this to be over the top when I call and I have to call back as I couldn't understand the person I was talking to. Then go through a 42 digit procedure on top of that ! Hey, folks, this has now reached the plateau of being absolutely ridiculous. I've had enough, more than enough, so Vista's issues won't be a problem for me as I'm just not buying into anymore of that.
  • A comment or two

    First regarding Ed Bott's advice. I'm using a dual boot setup and turned off system restore in Vista and set it up in XP so that the partition with Vista is turned off (no restore points for it). So I get restore points just fine in XP--they aren't deleted on boot up (a caveat here, I'm using RC1, I haven't got around to loading the release version yet and I had serious problems with RC2; so I don't know how the release version will behave).
    Second regarding Paul Thurrott's advice: I loaded Vista on partition identified as G: on my system. When I run XP it's on C: and I can see the Vista files on G: When I run Vista the XP files are on D: and Vista is on C:. Not a problem but dual booters need to be aware that's how it works. Of course the same caveat as above applies.
    • I'm waiting for SP7

      You can translate that plan to "up"grade. I have XP on my laptop and SuSE on my desktop...both are sufficient and working excellently. I'm not here to be a revenue source...when I do buy an OS - it's because *I* benefit, not to keep some company's revenue cycle going. (IOW, when I see sufficient, compelling reasons, I'll pay...and I'm not seeing them anytime soon from Redmond.)
      • Blah blah blah...

        Who cares if you're upgrading or not? I don't. Microsoft doesn't -- the only revenue stream they really care about is from new OS purchases from new PC's, not consumer upgrades.

        To read your post, it seems you'd rather MS never release another OS upgrade. I suspect then you'd complain too about that. I think you just like to complain.

        But, when you *do* by Vista (and I'm willing to bet that eventually, you most certainly will) it won't have much to do with "compelling reasons", and much more to do with you purchasing a new PC. Good. We're all happy. Move on.
        • the point was..

          unless a new product brings the user some advantage over their old product there is no point in changing. As far as your first statement I've yet to see a company that cares how they get your dollar they just want the money in their hands. In this case what your really saying is that microsoft sees no compelling reason for most users to upgrade and doesn't expect upgrades to be a large source of revenue in the near future.
        • the point was..

          unless a new product brings the user some advantage over their old product there is no point in changing. As far as your first statement I've yet to see a company that cares how they get your dollar they just want the money in their hands. In this case what your really saying is that microsoft sees no compelling reason for most users to upgrade and doesn't expect upgrades to be a large source of revenue in the near future.
        • the point was..

          unless a new product brings the user some advantage over their old product there is no point in changing. As far as your first statement I've yet to see a company that cares how they get your dollar they just want the money in their hands. In this case what your really saying is that microsoft sees no compelling reason for most users to upgrade and doesn't expect upgrades to be a large source of revenue in the near future.
        • Many people have many different thoughts

          Hi, I read your post and came to the conclusion I should make a post to clarify some points that not everyone that has decided not to upgrade are here to bash or even hope MS goes down the tube. I won't be upgrading to Vista, but it has nothing to do with how much MS makes, how good or how bad Vista is as I think it will work well in the end as time corrects the problems with it. I can't upgrade to Vista because I can't agree to Vista's license terms and conditions. There are a lot who have the same reservations as I do so try to consider that we are not willing to continually prove to MS that we have bought a legal copy of their software and have to spend our time and our money to reactivate it by calling somebody in India who we may or may not be able to understand. MS could rectify this. Then we have to go through a 42 digit procedure ? Does anyone think this is something I should have to do ? It's ridiculous and I've had to do it with XP more times than I want to think about. Enough is more than enough, MS has the right to protect their software, no argument, but they don't have the right to force me to do it on my time and at my expense. Anyone getting any of this ???
          • Yes we do....

            But your argument is a non-issue. The experience with Vista is no different than XP as far as the Validation is concerned for those who use their computers for work and performing necessary functions such as paying bills, online research, writing papers, etc. If you constantly change your configuration then it is an issue, but this is out of the norm from the majority of users.

            I agree with you that this is a PITA and I don't blame you for complaining but life moves on. have a great day!
    • Dual boot issue same as dual XP

      Paul Thurrott's dual boot issue occurs with a dual XP boot as well. It all depends upon whether you change the System drive (as opposed to the Boot drive) between installs. Personally, I prefer to have the partition letters remain the same rather than swap depending upon the current Boot drive. I found it was too easy to forget which Boot partition I was in when it came to cleaning up things (on a dual-XP boot that is!). Each Boot has its own registry and own copies of apps with their own configuration files, so that apps shouldn't get confused between Boots. Just make sure that the data to be accessed by the same apps on both Boots have the same drive letters.

      To prevent Frank's issue (differences in drive letter allocation between boots):
      1. Make sure no drive D: exists for the first OS install (that is, use the Drive Management system app the change it).
      2. Disconnect all other hard drives than the dual boot hard drive.
      3. Do not change the System partition if you want the OS partition letters to remain the same, regardless of Boot partition.
      4. Install the second OS to D:.
      5. Reconnect the other hard drives.
      6. Use the Drive Management app to map all data partitions to the same letters for both installs (for data that you want to make available on the same letters for both Boot partitons' apps).
      The first OS (say XP) will be C:, and the second (sax Vista) will be D:, regardless of which is booted.

      Letter allocation for drives increments across drives before partitions, as in HDD1P1, HDD2P1, HDD1P2, HDD2P2. You cannot change the letter for an active boot partition, and definiteley do NOT change it for the non-active partition because it will probably will not boot up (registry settings may point to the wrong OS drive letter, if it still exists).

      Why dual boot XP? Well, I use the same system for general computing (internet, etc) and audio recording. Because audio recording is very critical to timely availability of memory and drives, its Boot has minimal apps, most non-essential hardware disabled (in Device Manager), optimised for speed, no visual effects, no anti-virus and no internet access except for windows updates (via Windows firewall). This gives a lower memory footprint and a cleaner registry and thus more memory for data and less interfering apps running concurrently. It also allows installing the same apps in the general Boot partition to test newer versions before commiting them to the specialised Boot partition. If the apps have software-based copy protection, most will work with the same codes across both Boots, if the drive letters remain fixed. Windows XP and other MS product authorisation codes are the same for both Boots.

      Using dual-boot with the same OS in this way may be useful for those who develop or test applications and want a controlled environment, but do not want to tie up a dedicated machine with it.
      • Idiotic drive lettering

        Why, why does Windows persist with its idiotic naming of drives A, B, C, etc.?

        Mac OS has no such constraint, I name disk partitions wahtever I like, then tell it
        which partition to boot from and it just does it. Mac OS has been doing that since at
        least OS 7 (circa 1992).
        Fred Fredrickson
        • It is known as

          backwards compatibility.
          On the plus side, it means the same code I wrote hooking OLE in Office 97 running on WinNT4 still runs, without the need for so much as a recompile, with Office 07 and Vista.
          On the down side, you have idiotic drive lettering.

          90%+ market share has its drawbacks
          • Backward compatibility

            You mean like letting users use their old backup files or their older versions of office files?

          • For the customer, for sure.

            That says it all.