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The Vista Experience

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The “Weekly Rant” column was featured in the PC Mechanic Newsletter since 2005. Topics relate to some aspect of technology, which include opinions on hardware, software, new technology, technology companies, and computing standards.

I had a chance over the past couple days (off and on) to sit down and use Windows Vista.  In a couple of words, let me just say, “it’s ok”.  Not utterly fantastic, not downright horrible, but just okay.

Many of the basic functions are more or less the same between Vista and earlier versions of Windows.  There are differences, but it’s fairly intuitive to the reasonably experienced user.  People who rely on icons not shifting positions (where’s the little round green icon with the white arrow?  Oh, it’s blue now.) may want to avoid Vista if they’re already used to something else.

If you’re a power user, you will probably be slightly annoyed to find that almost *everything* has be moved, reorganized, and tucked away in seemingly illogical fashions, compared to previous versions of Windows.  I suppose some things would make sense to the first-time user, but if you’re used to Windows 2000 or XP, it’s a whole other world.  You’ll have to re-learn how to tweak everything to your liking (and in my case, probably getting everything looking more like XP).  For instance, directory navigation is a little bit different, and may take some time to use efficiently.  One notable thing is that all the “My” prefixes have been dropped.  While that makes sense, it still looks odd coming from XP.

Anyway, the really big thing that Microsoft was proud of was the Aero interface.  While I’ve read about some interesting features of the new interface, seeing it running right in front of me resulted in some disappointments.

The only advantage I saw between the Aero and Basic interface was the 3D window tiling…which wasn’t really that 3D or detailed.  Most of the windows I had open showed the frame with the title and a blank white center where the window’s content should’ve been.  The classic ALT+TAB seemed much more useful and faster to work with in this regard.

The other major thing I noticed between the Aero and Basic interface was the layout of the control panel.  The Basic interface looked pretty much like Windows 2000′s or XP’s classic layout (which I tend to like since everything is listed right there rather than in all these submenus).  The Aero interface, like I just alluded to, hid everything behind menus and submenus, which I’ve never liked since you have to guess where everything is.

Overall, the Aero interface didn’t seem to bring a whole lot to the table, and I’m not exactly seeing how anyone can get overly excited about it.  Sure, it has some eye candy, but it’s nothing that can’t be done with the hundreds of themes and skin packs for XP that are available all over the web (most notable, Vista Transformation Pack).

While working in Vista, I had to install a number of common applications that I use on (more or less) a daily basis.  Now, I was sort of expecting a few quirks here and there, but entire applications refused to run correctly at all.  Granted, they didn’t officially support Vista, so it’s no fault of the developers there.  It’s just annoying to find that a tool you rely on every day just will not work correctly and you either have to forget about it, or find something else.  A few things here and there that are actually built into the operating itself also have issues.  One really obvious bug is the audio mixer’s interface for controlling volume levels…while the new design seems to be a better idea than what XP has, it would help if it actually worked and displayed properly.

If anything I said here did or didn’t deter you from using or switching to Vista, take note that this was only one day with it.  Other than that, my only bit of advice is to wait until Service Pack 1 gets released.  From what I’ve read so far, it looks like it’s the shoe polish the operating system needs.  Until then, as you can imagine, I’ll still be chugging away on XP as long as I have a choice.

(Originally published in the pcmech.com newsletter)