Windows Vista

I’ve been using Windows Vista for several months now, so I think I’m in a position where I can comment on it. I run Vista Ultimate 64, the 64-bit version of Vista rather than the standard 32-bit (which is what XP is, for example). The different variations of Vista make things confusing I think. Basically, there a six different versions:

  • Windows Vista Starter (designed for ’emerging’ markets, i.e. third-world/low-tech countries)
  • Windows Vista Home Basic (aimed at budget home users)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium (essentially the ‘standard’ version for home users)
  • Windows Vista Ultimate (has all of Vista’s features and some special add-ons)
  • Windows Vista Business (for small businesses)
  • Windows Vista Enterprise (only available to customers participating in Microsoft’s Software Assurance program)

All of these versions, except Starter, are available in 32- and 64-bit versions (you get both with Ultimate, although I think you need to request whichever one isn’t in the box). To cut through all that, Vista Home Premium will cover 99% of the consumer market.

I went with Vista because I was unhappy with OS X, my Mac will run Windows too and I saw a copy of Vista on a friend’s laptop and it looked good (it has a beautiful interface). I went with 64-bit version because:

  1. My machine has 64-bit processors, it seemed a waste not to use them
  2. 64-bit is where it’s going, so it’s a little future-proofing (although it’ll be some time before 64-bit is the norm I think)
  3. I have 4Gb of RAM and the 32-bit version only supports a maximum of 2Gb
  4. I read the 64-bit version is slightly quicker

There are several negatives of running 64-bit, mainly software support and drivers. Most applications built today are designed to run in 32-bit environments, Vista 64 doesn’t do a bad job running them, but some are a little clunky. Worse, anything written to run in lower bit environments (16, for example) won’t run at all. Some 32-bit apps even have 16-bit installers which can’t be run. Generally speaking this won’t affect most consumers, 32-bit will be fine. Alongside this is that the underlying code of Vista is significantly different to XP, so some apps won’t run under Vista until they have been updated and, despite being out a year now, many application providers are dragging their heels.

The other issue I have had is with drivers, mainly due to using the 64-bit version rather than anything else, it requires Microsoft signed drivers, which is expensive and time consuming. Some manufacturers just aren’t releasing new drivers for old kit, I still can’t use my HP DeskJet 1010 for example, all-in-all though, Vista has been great.

It’s far more responsive than my previous operating system (OS X Tiger), includes most of the same apps that Apple has done since Tiger (you can see a full list here) and very stable. There have been changes to many parts of the OS, some result in items being moved and/or renamed, there seems to be few areas unaffected. For the most part I like these new changes, although I’m not too keen on the way the start menu works now (for selecting apps that is), I’ve started using Launchy as an app launcher to save repeated clicking and hovering.

One of the main criticisms of Vista is that it’s resource hungry, Microsoft reckon you can run it on 512Mb of RAM, but I would say 1Gb RAM was the bare minimum just to run Vista (my machine uses around 900Mb just idling with no applications running) and 2Gb if you want to be able to use it too (it flies with four, but I rarely use anywhere near all the RAM, so it’s probably overkill). As I said, it uses a lot of RAM as standard, and that’s without smart fetch — pre-loading of your most-used apps — running, which I switched off because of all the disk thrashing. Smart fetch is another new feature that pre-loads your most used apps into RAM so when you start them they’re almost ready to run. Although it’s memory hungry, Vista will allow you to use a USB memory stick as additional RAM/smart fetch cache.

As I mentioned, there’s been some issues with my favourite 32-bit apps, Notepad++ doesn’t show up on the right-click menu as it does in XP, for example. I had to find another DVD player as neither of those I have ran (I think both have Vista versions available to purchase though, I’m just too cheap, I use AVS DVD player instead). Windows Explorer has been altered, and while it’s nice, it takes some getting used to when navigating around (especially switching between folders I find). The ability to add shortcuts to any folder is good though, and saves a lot of time and hassle if you store files in places outside your user folder (what was My Documents), or even in specific folders inside, making saving files often a simple two-click process.

I love the included media centre, in fact, it inspired me to build a media centre PC, more on that later, although the machine I’m using isn’t capable of supporting Vista (in this incarnation at least), Vista will replace Microsoft’s dedicated Windows Media Centre Edition (and is obviously to compete with Apple’s Front Row). Good integration, you can add a simple USB TV tuner and watch and record live TV, and with the addition of a Windows remote it makes using it very simple. I guess this is also part of Microsoft’s desire to make the PC the centre of entertainment in the household. If you have an Xbox 360 you can also use that as an extender to play content on your PC on your TV.

All in all I’ve been very pleased with Vista, I don’t know what all the complaining has been about. It really is a nice big step forward, but you need the hardware to handle it. The general rule for Microsoft’s OS’ is you wait until the first service pack is out before buying it. It’s due this month, and will be a big thing by the sounds of it. So now is probably a good time to look at it. I suspect most people won’t bother upgrading until the buy new hardware anyway, which will solve the problem of under-powered machines too. XP is a rock solid OS, it was the first one from Microsoft that really upped the game and didn’t have gaping holes (well, 2k was good too) and while there probably isn’t a need to upgrade to Vista, it is a step forward and definitely moves on from XP.