On the road with Windows Vista

I’m away on vacation this week, nearly 7,000 miles from home. But I’m not out of touch. After five years of lugging a Windows laptop around Europe, it’s instructive to see just how much the experience of world travel has changed because of the spread of computing technology and improvements in Windows.

I’m away on vacation this week, nearly 7,000 miles from home. But I’m not out of touch. Judy and I have been coming to Italy for the past five years, and it’s instructive to see with each visit just how much the experience of leisure travel has changed for use because of the spread of computing technology and improvements in Windows.

My second most important traveling companion on this trip is an Acer TravelMate C314 Tablet PC running Windows Vista Business. I bought this notebook in early 2006, resigning myself to a short life cycle for it. I figured its single-core Pentium M processor would be unable to keep up with Vista, and it gave me nothing but trouble all through the beta cycle. Surprisingly, however, it’s been rock-solid since I discovered Acer’s upgrade package (ironically available only on its European website) back in January. On this trip, it’s been an indispensable part of my traveling routine.

Here’s what I’ve experienced so far:

  • Power management. Vista has been widely reported to get less battery life than XP. Microsoft’s Nick White has acknowledged that Aero effects have an impact on battery life, but he suggests the total impact is 1–4%. That’s in line with my experience. More important to me, though, is the improvement in usability and reliability of power management features. If I were playing a DVD or playing a CPU-intensive game, I might have a different experience, but my experience with battery life is more about using the computer for a few minutes at a time, then putting it to sleep for a while. On this computer, at least, coming out of sleep mode just works, every time, which wasn’t true with XP. As a result, I can typically get a day’s use out of roughly 2 1/2 hours of battery life.
  • Wireless access. When we were last here, in 2005, we had only dial-up access, which made staying in touch painful at best. This time, we’ve had reliable (and free) WiFi at every stop. Vista’s interface for making a wireless connection is easy to use, and its default firewall settings assume that the network is insecure, which is the correct default.
  • Digital photography. We’ve taken 300 pictures in the past week. I’ve gone on record as a big fan of Vista’s interface for acquiring, editing, and managing digital photos, and it’s been a joy to use on this trip. I plug in the USB cable, click one button, and all my pictures are transferred and then erased from the computer camera. After the transfer is complete, Photo Gallery opens immediately, allowing me to add tags, delete the ones that aren’t keepers, and crop the rest. Reviewing the day’s digital photos has become a pleasant day’s-end ritual instead of a chore.
  • Digital media. The speakers in this portable PC won’t win any audiophile awards, but they’re certainly good enough for a little background music with an en suite dinner or a . Before leaving, I transferred some recorded movies from the Media Center PC and a hundred or so albums. That’s more than enough to keep us entertained during down times.

So what’s missing? I wish I had remembered to pack a portable combination microphone/headset, because Skype would be a big improvement over the calling cards I’m using to phone home at reasonable rates. A GPS card would come in handy too, because Google Maps aren’t available while we’re zipping along country roads trying to find some obscure hill town in Southern Tuscany.

But aside from those minor wishes, I really can’t ask for much more out of this computer. Given its performance so far, I might even be using it on our return visit next year.