The decision for some small business users to upgrade to Microsoft Windows Vista once it becomes available in early 2007 will depend largely on what the new operating system can do for you and what hardware you have to run it on.
It's still early, and Microsoft could easily change aspects of individual features between now and the final release. But based on what I've seen after living with Windows Vista beta 2 for a week, here are five things I think you'll like about the new operating system -- some of which might persuade certain fence-sitters to upgrade -- and five things that may convince others to stick with Windows XP for a few more years.
What I love about Windows Vista
Learn about the new features within the Windows Vista operating system that I think you'll like.
What I hate about Windows Vista
See what I think is wrong with the new operating system.
Windows Vista pros: What I love about Windows Vista
On this page, you'll learn about the new features within the Windows Vista operating system that I think you'll like. Since the Windows Vista Aero graphics system, which I like, will work only with certain high-end hardware configurations, I've focused here on features I like within Vista that do not require Aero. At the moment, all of these features are scheduled to be included in the Home Premium and Business editions of Windows Vista. If you're mainly interested in what's wrong with the new operating system, move on to the next page, where you can learn more about glitches we've encountered so far.
1. Search or create virtual files
Forget directories, forget directory trees. Microsoft has integrated search throughout its new operating system, and you'll quickly come to wonder how you lived without it. You can search for all documents authored by John Doe, then save the search as a virtual file folder for later reference without having to physically relocate or make copies of all those files.
2. Widgets -- er, Gadgets
In Windows Vista, Microsoft allows you to drag and drop Gadgets (think Widgets on the Apple OS X desktop) to tell time, calculate currency, or tackle any trivial task you perform regularly that would be handier if it were always on top of your current screen. Presently, you can acquire Gadgets, or Widgets, for your Windows XP machine from online sites such as Windows Live. In the near future, Microsoft says you'll be able to write your own Windows Vista Gadgets, allowing you to really personalise your desktop.
3. Built-in diagnostics
Programs won't run, the operating system crashes -- Microsoft says these will be in the past with Vista. So far, we've seen more dialogs, from explaining why an application won't run to warning us that there are driver conflicts that prevent our laptop system from going to sleep. For example, Vista will listen to your hard drive and report pending problems, giving you ample warning to back up your data.
There's also a Problems Report and Solutions monitor where you can see what problems Vista has encountered, and then go online to find possible solutions. And, have you ever noticed how Windows computers get slower with age? That's because files get separated from each other on your hard drive and require occasional defragmentation. Most of us never do it, in part because it uses too many system resources. In Vista, the process is automatic and runs in the background, so you won't even notice it.
4. Need more oomph? Vista will find it for you
Need more RAM? How about borrowing some from that 256MB or greater USB drive? In Windows Vista, the new Windows ReadyBoost feature can swap flash memory with any large USB device. If your laptop has a new hybrid hard drive, the Windows ReadyDrive can improve your system's overall performance, battery life, and reliability by taking advantage of the drive's built-in flash capabilities.
New Windows SuperFetch can cache on your hard drive frequently used apps based on the frequency of use so that, for example, every Monday morning when you arrive at your desk for work, you can count on Outlook and your Internet browser to launch quickly. Also, finally, there's a new feature called Low-priority Input/Output that should keep you productive: in Windows Vista, user applications will get higher priority with system resources than antivirus or defragmentation processes.
5. Enhanced help
Help used to be limited to a few pithy sentences about the task you want to perform. Windows Vista changes all that. There are more options available within Help inside Vista. For example, you can initiate a remote-assistance session so that someone you trust can take over your PC remotely and diagnose a problem or perform a task for you. You can also go online and search Microsoft's knowledge base or contact Microsoft's technical support.
One really cool feature, however, is labelled Do It Automatically. Here, a task such as checking the version of a driver will be automated, with your desktop going dark as a pointer arrow floats over the screen indicating what to click and where. From time to time, the pointer will stop and a dialog box will require your input before it continues to perform the task. While there are only 15 of these automated help sessions within the current Windows Vista beta 2 release, we hope Microsoft adds more.
Windows Vista cons: What I hate about Windows Vista
On this page, you'll learn about the new features within the Windows Vista operating system that I think you won't like. If you're mainly interested in what's good with the new operating system, move to the previous page, where you can learn more about features I can't live without.
1. Your current hardware won't fully run Vista
Get ready for the media blitz. Get ready for the frustration. While many computers in use today will be able to update and run the new operating system, they'll be able to run it only in what Microsoft slyly calls Windows Vista Basic. That means while you'll have the ability to search files, you won't have 3D Aero graphics, live animation along the Taskbar, or smooth streaming graphics on your desktop.
Unless you buy a new PC sometime in 2007, or add a high-end video card and some extra memory to your current PC, you probably won't get the full visual Vista experience.
2. Vista's Aero graphics gobble up laptop battery power
If you're used to your laptop lasting on a long, cross-country flight, you might want to reconsider upgrading to Windows Vista -- that is, if you want the new Aero graphics features turned on.
In our tests, a laptop running Windows Vista Aero had significantly reduced battery life compared to one running in what Microsoft calls Windows Vista Basic. You'll sacrifice the 3D and smooth streaming of video, but you'll make it to your destination with some battery power to spare. Unfortunately, changing from Aero to Basic is harder than it should be.
3. User Account Protection
The User Account Protection feature has already gotten a ton of negative press. While I understand what Microsoft is trying to do -- protect the user from rogue software installs -- I don't think the company has figured it out yet.
In order to perform basic tasks, such as install or remove an application, even administrator account users must answer a series of pop-up messages, adding time to the process. Worse, whenever you are prompted to respond, the whole Vista desktop goes dark while the pop-up message remains on the screen, preventing you from doing anything else. While this feature can be valuable if rogue spyware attempts to install without your permission, good Internet behaviour will do as much. For most of us, the frequent appearance of User Account Protection on common tasks will be security overkill.
4. Missing drivers and incompatible apps
Not having all the necessary drivers or not having software compliant with a new operating system is to be expected in the beta of a new operating system, but even after several months of developer testing, I was surprised to see a number of common drivers still missing from the public beta for Windows Vista. For example, I had to manually import several Acer TravelMate 8200 drivers from a Windows XP partition on the same drive.
5. Troubled sleep
Microsoft claims that it has addressed the complicated issue of whether to put your laptop to sleep or have it hibernate when it is not in use. Instant Off, a new option on the Start menu, allows Windows Vista to take a quick snapshot of your system, then shut down completely, thus eliminating the occurrence of a hot laptop inside your backpack.
After experiencing several false starts -- literally, I was unable to resume my Windows Vista session as I'd left it -- I discovered through Vista's Performance Ratings and Tools report that several legacy drivers, some installed by Vista during installation, were preventing the new Instant Off feature from performing correctly. Vista politely asked that I find updated drivers to replace those on my machine or remove them. I suspect a lot of people will encounter this problem in the months immediately following Vista's full release.