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Title: Why You Don't Need Vista Now
Source: wired
URL Source: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/r ... s/0,72295-0.html?tw=wn_index_1
Published: Dec 13, 2006
Author: Bruce Gain
Post Date: 2006-12-13 09:35:39 by A K A Stone
Keywords: None
Views: 389

Windows Vista will have a major impact on the personal computing experience of millions of users worldwide during the coming years, but that doesn't mean Microsoft's latest operating system is a killer product, nor something you necessarily need or want.

Wired News recently obtained a copy of the final RTM, or Release to Manufacturing, build of Windows Vista Ultimate from Microsoft. This edition of the operating system is the most powerful and advanced of the four editions Microsoft will make widely available Jan. 30, 2007.

Other editions of Windows Vista are made for home users (Windows Vista Home Basic, $200, $100 upgrade), users who want a better entertainment experience (Windows Vista Home Premium, $240, $160 upgrade) and business users (Windows Vista Business $300, $200 upgrade). Windows Vista Ultimate ($400, $260 upgrade) is made for the hard-core gamer, the media collector and anyone wishing to squeeze the best performance out of drool-worthy high-end machines.

Visual splendor is Vista Ultimate's greatest selling point -- the new operating system does offer a graphically intensive interface that differs greatly from that of Windows XP. Also, Vista dumbs everything down for you, streamlining the Wild West of complex OS software into a useful product. This makes tasks ranging from networking to setting parental controls a lot easier.

However, I encountered several bumps in the road during testing that show Vista is not ready for everyday use by millions of people just yet -- no matter how pretty it looks. Installing Vista

Vista developers managed to adhere to Microsoft's tradition of making the operating system much easier to set up than the previous generation of Windows. Two decades ago, installing DOS was a delicate and risky process that often required professional help.

Incremental improvements were made over the years, and Windows XP was about as easy to install as a video game. I found that Vista coddles you even more than Windows XP did during installation.

For our tests, I used two different machines: an HP Compaq nc8430 laptop and an Advanced Micro Devices Athlon 64 PC I had built. I installed 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista Ultimate on two separate hard drive partitions on the Athlon desktop, and the 32-bit version on the laptop. Every installation took less than an hour to complete.

System Performance Rating Tool Vista scans your computer when you install it and applies a performance rating to your hardware. Microsoft calls this rating the Windows Experience Index. The software then adjusts its settings to best match your hardware's score.

I was humbled to learn that my AMD Athlon 64 3500+ PC with an Nvidia 6800 Ultra graphics card -- albeit with the minimum 512 MB of DRAM required just to run Vista -- merited only a 2.9 rating out of a possible 5.9. Why Microsoft chose 5.9 for the high end we may never know, but the index will be adjusted to include higher numbers (6, 7 and upward) as newer and faster hardware becomes available.

As reported earlier by Wired News, a stand-alone graphics card is required to load what Microsoft calls the "Windows Aero" visual experience, replete with Vista's enhanced translucent folders and 3-D images. Assessed by itself, the Nvidia 6800 Ultra graphics card, which can sufficiently run high-powered games like Oblivion, rated a 5.3.

The system performance rating is designed to give you a high-level indication of how well Vista will perform on your current hardware. This may explain in part why vendors are so excited about the new operating system. Users who want to have what Microsoft calls the "ultimate Vista experience" will have to spend a lot of money upgrading to high-end hardware components.

At the same time, whether or not you have the most beautiful graphics interface does not have much bearing on your applications. Whether your Windows Experience is rated at 3.1 or 5.1, you will probably notice little if any difference in performance while drafting a spreadsheet, using a word processor, browsing the web or even watching a DVD.

How Different Is It? The first thing you notice about Vista when you load it up is its pretty graphics, which are still not any more beautiful than those of my equally robust (and much less expensive) SuSE Linux operating system.

However, other than the new graphics, Vista's overall look and feel are not drastically different compared to XP.

Vista has media, networking and other features that XP does not, but I have yet to find a single feature not already available with Linux distributions or freeware.

The e-mail software, called Windows Mail, is fundamentally the same compared to Outlook Express. Navigating the "Start" and "All Programs" menus is essentially the same.

Adding Peripherals When I tried to plug in my peripherals, my troubles with Vista began. Since I was missing a 5.1 sound driver for my speakers, an audio device error screen appeared when I connected speakers to the PC. I had to plug in a set of headphones in place of my speakers to get the sound to work.

Also, Vista didn't recognize my Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 5150 printer when it ran the initial peripheral-compatibility check. When I tried to load the printer driver software anyway, it would not install. A Google search did not reveal any readily available drivers, so I gave up. I ran into the same problem when I tried to install my Logitech webcam -- the driver wouldn't load.

While the Vista version I tested is exactly what consumers will receive in January 2007, compatible drivers for peripherals might become more plentiful as the launch date approaches.

Watching a DVD Windows Vista Ultimate comes bundled with Windows Media Center, a package that allows you to watch and record TV (provided you have the required TV tuner hardware), burn and watch DVDs, and play video or music files. Nevertheless, many commercial software packages -- as well as freeware -- that do the same have long been available for Windows XP.

I was able to immediately watch DVDs on the Athlon machine using Vista's preloaded Windows Media Center. However, when I downloaded and installed codecs and decoders from HP's website to watch DVDs on the test laptop, my installation of InterVideo WinDVD software did not work.

Security and Privileges Security has been one of Microsoft's key talking points when hyping Vista. Given the vulnerabilities that constantly emerge within Windows XP, who can blame the company? Wired News did not seek to exploit or discover any Vista security flaws. However, Vista does make some simple security features available that you would previously have had to install separately under Windows XP.

After setting up a user with administrator privileges, you can configure Vista to require the administrator to key in a password when new software is installed. This comes in handy when someone is logged in as another user and is not permitted to download potentially damaging software without your permission (such as the smiley faces that my 11-year-old daughter once installed to pop up in every outgoing e-mail message in Windows XP's Outlook Express).

Having to key in your admin password to install software might represent an aggravation for some, but given how quickly a Windows XP machine can amass 50 or more programs -- often mixed with malware that constantly runs in the background while you are caught unaware -- I welcomed this feature.

Parental Controls I turned on Vista's parental controls and selected them for my daughter's account. Access to certain websites -- as well as games with a mature rating -- could be blocked. When I tested this feature using my daughter's account, I found that English-language porn sites could not be accessed.

One flaw I found is that the website-blocking feature is not worth much in a multilingual home or office setting. Good ol' American porn sites were blocked, but I had carte blanche access to the raunchiest of raunchy French and Spanish sites. I was also able to use Google to search for vulgarities in those languages.

I found this particularly aggravating since I live and work in France. Microsoft is able to detect my France-based IP address, and I know this because it imposes French-language web pages on me when I try to access its help sites. If Microsoft can figure out how to switch over to a French site based on my IP address, why can't it make its website-blocking feature multilingual?

Admin privileges also allow you to track the websites your kids visit and e-mails they send, among other user activities. Whether you choose to do this or not is up to you.

File Sharing Enabling file sharing between PCs under Vista is a lot easier when compared to the often painstaking process under XP. Still, file sharing remains quirky in Vista.

For example, Vista blocks you from accessing the "Set Up File Sharing" option in the "Network and Sharing Center" menu unless you are first connected to a LAN. Only after connecting the two Vista test PCs to my LAN's router was I able to enable what Microsoft calls "Sharing and Discovery." Next, I was prompted to toggle File Sharing, Public Folder sharing and other choices on or off. After inadvertently switching all of the choices to "on" -- enabling "Password Protect Sharing" in the process -- I was blocked from accessing a shared folder from my other Vista PC when my login name was not recognized.

Sharing folders and files between a PC running Windows Vista and one running Windows XP was a royal pain. After finagling with the shared folder settings and the internet protocol, or TCP/IP, settings to enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP through Local Area Connection properties, then disabling the Windows firewall, I managed to allow a Windows XP computer to access the Vista PC's shared file folders. However, when I tried to browse shared folders on the XP machine from the Vista machine, my user name and password were rejected even after I enabled file sharing on the XP machine.

Power Consumption Vista has garnered some initial criticism because of the ample amount of computing power it devotes to its graphics interface. At least in theory, more computing power requires more energy, which in turn eats up a notebook's battery life.

Surprisingly, the nc8430 laptop's battery lasted longer with Vista running than it did with XP running. And that was without tweaking Vista's power settings to extend the battery life.

During my test, I ran the laptop at full load -- complete with a sample picture menu, 10 Internet Explorer windows open and a DVD of Endless Summer playing. The battery lasted 3 hours and 5 minutes with Vista, compared to just 2 hours and 35 minutes with Windows XP. Both XP and Vista became glitchy under the load with only 512 MB of memory, but the applications managed to run.

The Verdict Vista's power consumption superlatives aside, I would not recommend going out and buying Vista off the shelf or pre-installed on a PC when it becomes available. Users will likely suffer many headaches with missing peripheral drivers and a lack of backward compatibility with legacy software, and those headaches will not make Vista worth its hefty price tag.

If possible, wait a year or more after Vista's launch to invest in the operating system. At least by then, numerous updates, hardware drivers and service packs will likely have been released.

One potential treat I hope to review in the near future is how game developers will take advantage of Microsoft's DirectX 10 API, which Vista offers. Unfortunately, DirectX 10 games and capable graphics cards were not yet available when we ran our tests.

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