posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 8th May 2007 13:19 UTC
IconMonths go, I reviewed Windows Vista, and concluded: "All in all, I am impressed by Windows Vista [...]. Windows Vista is better than XP, and definitely more than just an improved look as many say." After 5 months of usage, it is time to put that statement into perspective.

Hardware Requirements

First and foremost, I want to address the issue of hardware requirements. The laptop on which I originally reviewed Vista was a fairly new one; not extravagant in any way (Intel Pentium M 1.73Ghz, 768MB DDR2-RAM, Ati Radeon x300 with 128Mb of (dedicated) RAM), but certainly well capable of running Windows Vista. Realising not everyone has such a machine sitting around to try Vista on, I wanted to try Vista out on my very old desktop machine. This machine has an AMD Athlon XP 1600+ processor, 768MB of pc133 SD-RAM, an nVIDIA Geforce 6200 with 128MB of RAM, and a 40GB IDE hard drive. Microsoft NL was so kind as to provide OSNews with a review copy of Windows Vista Ultimate for the purposes of this review.

As I had anticipated, this desktop machine was anything but capable of running Vista. It 'ran' alright, but that was about al you could say. It took ages to load applications, Explorer was slow, and boot times were nothing to write home about. The installation process also took hours to complete.

What intrigues me the most is the the fact that when Vista was still in development, it ran much faster on that same machine; in fact, it was usable [the video in that post is gone, sadly]. Where in the laptop Vista's performance improved significantly during the transitions from the release candidate stages to final, this does not seem to be the case on this piece of very low-end hardware.

I can now say that if you want to run Vista comfortably, try to get your hardware up to par with roughly what is in my laptop. While this certainly is not a low-end machine, it is also not as high-end as some people want you to believe. Still, Apple seems to be doing a much better job in the hardware requirements department, and Microsoft can definitely learn a thing or two (or, 25) from their friends in Cupertino.

It is important to note that Ubuntu's performance in combination with Beryl was not exactly stellar either on the desktop machine. All the effects had a delay and were jittery. Note that I have yet to try running Beryl 0.2-final (I only ran the test versions of 0.2) on this machine.

Annoyances

Annoyances are those things that need time to actually manifest themselves. After only a week or so of usage, it is very difficult to identify those things that will drive you nuts, and that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to write this follow-up.

The first annoyance is one I did already note in my first review: the time it takes for Vista to reconnect to my wireless network after waking from sleep. It may take up to 30-40 seconds before it reconnects, and this is far too long in my book. OSX does it in a few seconds, while Ubuntu 7.04 (ndiswrapper/bcm4318) needs about 5-10 seconds. Some may call this whining, but I regularly need to find something quickly on the internet before I leave for work or university, and then these 30 seconds may mean the difference between catching or missing that train.

The second annoyance evolves around copying small files. As many have already noted on the internet, removing something as small as a shortcut file may take tens of seconds, which is of course ridiculous. Therefore, some have concluded that Vista is slow on disk I/O, but I have observed something different: the actual deletion of the small file take less than a second; what is taking Vista so long is the creation of the progress window and the calculation of how much time is remaining. Hopefully something Microsoft can solve in a service pack.

Thirdly, what is up with the "Windows has blocked startup programs" notification balloon? No matter what I do, it keeps popping up after a reboot. There is no logical method of turning it off, and I don't even know what it does, since all startup programs it lists are actually running! So what is it blocking?

User Account Control

Contrary to popular belief, User Account Control is not an annoyance. As I have noted many times before, you will only encounter UAC when you change system settings, or are accessing files or locations which do not belong to you; in other words, when you are installing applications which are not yet adapted to the new, stricter UAC (which equals just about any application out there). In my day-to-day usage, I rarely, if ever, encounter UAC.

Some have noted that UAC's habit of 'taking over your screen' is an annoyance. What these people generally do not realise is that this is not a bug, it's a feature, as they say. UAC prompts live in something called 'secure desktop mode'; this prevents spoofing of the dialog, presumably making UAC more secure (you can turn secure desktop mode off, but this is not advisable from a security point of view). Interestingly, the gksudo in Ubuntu also takes over your screen (but it does not live in a secure desktop mode). As an added annoyance, the gksudo dialog in Ubuntu will also take over your screen when it originates from a minimised or infocused window; this will not happen in Vista.

Comparing Vista to Its Competition

With all the recent developments concerning Ubuntu and Dell, as well as the increased awareness of Apple among ordinary users, comparing Vista to its competition has become more relevant than it ever was.

Comparing Vista to Leopard, it is interesting to see that Vista actually already implements the biggest user-visible change coming in Leopard: Time Machine. On top of that, it does not only implement it, it does it in a cleaner way. In order for Time Machine to work, you need a second hard drive or partition to back up to; without this, Time Machine will not work. In other words, Time Machine does not allow you to go back to previous revisions of files if you do not own a second (external) hard drive.

Vista, on the other hand, has something called 'Previous Versions' (an implementation of Volume Shadow Copy). In the properties dialog of any file/directory, there is a new tab called 'Previous Versions', which will allow you to revert back to any previous revision of that specific file/directory (Previous Versions saves around one revision a day). No additional hard drives required. The interface certainly is not as flashy as Leopard's, but the implementation itself is much cleaner than the crude one in Leopard. The downside is that PV is only available in Vista Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate.

Another big feature in Leopard will be full resolution independence. Vista's resolution independence is not 'full', so on this point, Leopard will certainly be an improvement over Vista.

When it comes to Tiger, Vista does some things better. For instance, User Account Control is more advanced than the implementation of sudo in OSX, but obviously it is important to note that Windows actually needs this. OSX, on the other hand, has had far (far!) less security issues than Windows, so it does not require something as advanced as UAC.

However, there are also things Tiger does better: most importantly, Spotlight feels a lot faster than Vista's instant search, even when comparing my aging Cube to that much faster laptop! Other than that, Flip3D is fairly useless compared to the utterly brilliant Expose (seriously. Thank you, Apple, for Expose).

Ubuntu 7.04 is an interesting competitor to Vista, especially because Ubuntu has an advantage Vista will never be able to fight: it is free. Free as in, you don't have to pay EUR 500 for the full monty. This advantage alone justifies going with Ubuntu instead of Vista. As for the other features, Ubuntu can definitely be made on par with Vista, but sadly, it still requires some googling and handywork to get it that way. As an example, take the restricted drivers manager: it is a really nice utility, but nowhere does it warn the user that you actually need to manually activate the restricted repositories before this utility works. You can click the 'activate' button behind the Ati driver a million times, but it will not warn you that it will not work.

To me, the two biggest disadvantages to Vista are its price, and the many versions to choose from. Vista Ultimate is ridiculously expensive, especially when you take into account that while it has increased in out-of-the-box functionality over XP, it still is fairly meager compared to especially Linux distributions.

Conclusion

After 5 months of usage, the only conclusion I can draw is that Vista certainly is not as bad as many make it out to be. It has its faults, surely, but as long as you stick to switching to Vista when you want to replace your computer, there is little in the form of showstopper bugs.

The most interesting thing about using Vista on a day-to-day basis is the fact that you discover new features almost every day. A few weeks ago, I found out that Vista can actually resize its own system partition on the fly, without needing a reboot, in less than a minute's time! After this, I could easily install Ubuntu 7.04 alongside of it. You discover these little touches very often, and that only confirms my feeling that Vista has indeed a whole lot more to offer than just a pretty face and UAC.

In other words, I stick by the conclusion presented in my previous review. "All in all, I am impressed by Windows Vista [...]. Windows Vista is better than XP, and definitely more than just an improved look as many say."


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