*ahem* And the kicker, a biased review from someone enjoying their Vista experience.... me!
I'm just catching up on this whole discussion now, so please forgive the length of my post. I know I'm probably gonna catch some flak for this, but I really like Vista overall, and I am rather enjoying using it. Don't get me wrong, I too have issues with some aspects of the OS, but I think regardless that it was the inevitable and logical next step for MS. They could have done some things differently without a doubt, and other choices were just downright wrong, but Windows has a HUGE user base and trying to please such a diverse and ever-expanding group of people doing god knows what with their software means they can no longer just focus on supporting new devices or adding new functionality, because there is more than that to compete with now, and simply more to live up to in this ever-evolving new generation of computing which is largely visual-based. I have good hardware, but, regardless, I do get better performance in Vista even with most default services enabled than I ever did with Windows XP x64 Edition. Booting up takes a surprisingly small amount of time, then before you know it the pleasant login screen fades into view. And, it sure doesn't hurt that the whole OS looks great too.
Regarding Vista's Art, Appearance, Accessibility, and Security
Windows had never been much for eye candy until Windows XP introduced themes. 6 years or so later, all those people that eagerly gobbled up Luna so long ago that have sat staring at it for all this time are hungry for more. Naturally their expectations rise with each passing year ("They must be doing SOMETHING big"), and today it's all too easy to find features and functionality in a Mac, or even with open source software. It's not enough to be the biggest or richest company anymore, because even groups of volunteers and medium-sized development teams can roll out new technology and support new features, and usually produce more frequent updates to boot. But can they capture the hearts of today's hip new-millennium youngsters and entrepreneurs by hiring on major production-quality art direction and then shoving it in everyone's faces with really expensive marketing? I think not. But MS can. How impressed would the average consumer be to walk into Best Buy and find a white box (or even a blue box with clouds, heh) labeled Windows Vista listing all the new specifications it supports or how the API is changing or technical features like ASPM? Probably not very; they'd probably still sell a lot of copies I'm sure, but from a marketing standpoint it would be better to tout lesser features that more people care about than better features that less people know about or know what to do with before they try it. Those that shell out a bit more for the Ultimate edition (which might be needed for some of the features I just listed, too) also get extra programs released by Microsoft periodically, which I suppose are essentially glorified power toys (and there's only a couple so far), but one cool thing is that they are checked for and included in Windows Updates.
Driver support is an issue, as it usually is in a new operating environment, but Microsoft sure as hell did better at getting companies to make their devices work on Vista than they did with XP x64. Many companies didn't even admit the release of x64, even after it was available in retail computers and as an OEM product. But this time around almost everything was installed before I even saw the desktop and even things that weren't included were detected and displayed properly and just needed drivers. Nvidia and ATI and many other major brands are already fully certified (and ATI's installer got a nice upgrade in the process, maybe as a result :-) ). Even Logitech released certified SetPoint software already whereas they took a number of months to release a production version for XP x64. In fact, the only thing I upgraded in my computer before installing Vista was my power supply (and that was because I simply didn't have enough wattage before either and just got a new job), and all of my hardware at least works right now. Creative is lagging a bit behind and is only offering beta drivers, and only of the Audio Console and drivers, not of their software, etc, but it still fully works and I'm using OpenAL in all my games that support it. I went through hell getting Steam to work; it turned out that while trying to troubleshoot the problem, when I enabled Compatibility Mode for XP SP2, I caused another problem which kept me from thinking the first problem was fixed and... well, it was a long night for sure. But it's fine now.
Maybe they went a little overboard with Aero and 3d acceleration in their interface, but it's only optional and they still offer a themeless mode that looks and acts quite a bit like previous versions of Windows, even a lot of properties windows look like they used to if you disable themes. Though I quickly took to Aero and now use it whenever I'm not playing games. I think graphics hardware is to a point now where any program has the potential of being "enhanced" with effects, filters, 3d models, etc. and it's just a question of if the enhancements make sense, and of course that they don't hinder performance. I have not noticed one bit of sluggishness since I got Vista (Ok, aside from the first time I tried installing Steam and it locked up the OS for about 15 minutes on-and-off before crashing to the familiar NT bluescreen) while using all effects, transparency, etc. Granted I have 2 GB of memory and a dual-core Athlon, but those are not uncommon specs today. I think that, too, was inevitable and it was just a matter of when during the maturing of graphics hardware and software would it not be stupid to use a significant chunk of resources to make the user's experience more pleasant. Well, I'd say that's when the technology is advanced enough to where it has plenty of resources to spare while doing almost any task. Well, I think that time is right now for most hardware... with DirectX 9 and the newer generations of video cards there have been huge strides in performance, quality, capacity, and a slew of cool new features, so I say why not at least give the user an option to utilize some of that smokin' chunk of juicy, waiting resources while browsing the web or checking email, or, you know, doing otherwise-non-graphically-intensive things. I mean, nobody's losing anything with all the new polish, because you can just turn it all off (very easily). But, if you think about it, technically they were to blame for not offering an option to turn them ON before.
And sure, all this over-hyped security and accessibility is laughable from the point of someone who knows what they're doing (For instance, because I never download or install suspicious files, what good are a bunch of extra system checks or monitors or pop-up confirmations?), but in an age where people hear about the latest worm going around on the evening news, can't you just picture the whiteboard in one of MS's development offices as they list hurdles to overcome in creating a stable operating environment for today's masses? Whether or not it's the fault of the Operating system, whenever some random virus or malicious program infects the computer of a non-tech-savvy consumer in today's media-saturated culture, I'm sure many of them immediately chalk it up to whatever they were running at the time (Windows). If MS is going to intensely market Vista's stability, then they have to somehow make it so that if someone's going to infect their machine by doing something stupid, they do it as a conscious decision, thus making it obvious (by force) that it's not the OS. Of course that's just one view. Personally, the first thing I did when I installed Vista was disable most of the security features (Windows Firewall, Windows Defender, IE's new enhanced security mode, etc.) After all, why put my software through all those extra intermediate services when I've got a hardware router/firewall and all my local software is valid and known clean anyway?
One thing I do actually really enjoy in Vista is the new layout, and the settings and navigation changes, and seeing all your negative reactions to it disheartens me a bit, because I feel that basically every feature I have had to search around for was simply because old versions of Windows worked differently... not because it's illogical or a bad decision by MS. On the contrary, I think MS spent a huge amount of time, effort, and money to simplify things and design things in a logical and "human" sort of way. Sure, you might not know how to quickly get to certain features at first because they were a simple icon in the control panel (however foreign those icons looked to non-technical users) or properties box and are now seemingly nested deeper in, meaning that a path has to be taken to get to it. But that's the thing: why not categorize and organize everything in a logical (not necessarily so to the person still used to the old way) and hierarchal way so that new users don't have to look at everything jumbled together or located in several different sections on the computer, and then provide more ways for both new and experienced users to find and utilize the options they already know they're looking for (for example, the new search/run bar in the start menu, where you can simply type the name of the program you want to run, sort of like a much less configurable or powerful version of FARR built right into the shell)? I look at it from the standpoint that they wanted to do things better rather than continue along the same path of previous versions even if that meant doing things differently and having to make users get used to something new. Some features are really quite convenient, such as the fact that a lot of old properties windows are now integrated into an explorer-type interface (and therefore have back/forward buttons, address bar, a sidebar to list history and related links, etc.)
Another thing I like is how aesthetically pleasing everything looks and feels, and how everything blends together and looks great without taking your attention away from what you're doing (especially using one of the dark themes, like the default one). No more little blocks inside progress bars, no more big explanations and unnecessary details about messages and other events unless chosen or requested, no more opening dialogs on top of dialogs on top of dialogs to get to a specific setting, etc. It's all truly simple, but you have to think about it logically and forget what you knew about finding those things in old versions. Because there probably is an easier way utilizing the search bar or a shorter path to take to get there than going to the control panel (since that's the logical all-inclusive main hub for settings, organizing it makes it actually useful to people who don't already know about the options in the control panel, even if there are actually a few more clicks involved) Even in the new Windows installation program they have actually taken out a lot of the unnecessary details, and they removed the whole user setup and other dialogs during installation and instead wait until the first logon (which makes an incredibly greater amount of sense than waiting for the user to set a bunch of non-essential options before the installer will even finish... what if the user doesn't want to sit there and wait and doesn't know about unattended installations?). I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but it just seems like they finally said "I don't care what we did in the past, let's just do it right." It takes change to make change, and I do not think Windows has ever been done completely right. But I think it's still moving in the right direction. Plus Microsoft has a lot of new opportunities than in years past to offer direct upgrades and enhancements over the Internet after the fact, and I think once they see the general response of consumers to certain positive and negative aspects, they'll have a good idea of what people want changed, are not willing to accept, or just how to do things better. Vista ventures out in a lot of directions that Microsoft hasn't really travelled in, at least nearly as much, in the past. Back to the visuals, for example... it's not the cleanest thing around, but I think I like the new look of Vista better than I like the look of any other theme in any other operating system I've ever tried.
They also included a lot more in-the-box than previous versions of Windows. Their new alt+tab options pretty much make my copy of TopDesk unnecessary. The new backup software (yes, the one that's not compatible with backups made in XP apparently) now has the ability to schedule and automate (though I still use and prefer Backup4all). The Task Manager now tells you the title of the process instead of just the process name, something most Task Manager replacements have been doing for a while and something MS should have done long ago to make people less confused when they have to end or investigate a process. Windows Update can now download the Recommended updates automatically (or manually) along with Priority ones via the Windows interface for those who don't like browsing to a website to get updates. The sidebar works well, rendering my old widgets engine (that I never used much anyway) completely useless. Their inclusion of Windows Defender is I'm sure a pretty big deal for non-technical consumers who need but wouldn't otherwise download protection from spyware and other malicious software. Windows Live Messenger is a lot cooler than old versions of MS's messenger, although I'm sticking with Trillian 3.1 Pro for now until Trillian Astra is released, which I hope is soon.
My point is that I think most users have the Windows version of highway hypnosis... we've been staring at the same thing for so long that we're entranced by it
and change is a bit frustrating, because we don't like feeling like novice users when we were experts just hours before and for years past. But I for one am quite happy that sticking with Windows doesn't mean having to look at beige dialogs from my childhood any longer. And as new settings and configurations need to find homes in the control panel, I know I won't need to scan past 30 or 40 icons to find it. I have always wanted a mac for its beauty and design, and because I was just sick of Windows, but no matter what its current flaws, I think Vista goes to show that Microsoft can actually move forward... that with their essentially limitless power in creating an operating system they actually did want (strive even) to give users a great experience. Because even if that's not the most important thing to focus on, it logically must be focused on at some point in any software's development cycle, because all of the huge features that you wanted to include originally have already been taken care of, and other operating systems are being released; how long did you think Microsoft was really going to drag their feet before delving in to try and capture more of the crowd? If you think about it, a lot of the "new" features that Vista comes with were just recently released in XP SP2 (probably to pave the way) or on Microsoft's website, so we kind of got a lot of the spoilers (IE7 (bleh), Windows Firewall, Windows Defender, Windows Media Player 11, the Security Center, etc.) before it was even released, making them mundane now, and making the other, less important but actually NEW features seem like the biggest deal, but the other features are there none-the-less and that's one less step I have to take to improve the computer's security after installing Windows.
One thing I just learned from this topic, however, was that the upgrade can't be installed on a clean drive, and that makes me feel cheated. I can live with it, because at the worst case I'll just need to waste a little time installing x64 first if I format my drive, but since I keep Windows and its direct relatives on the C drive by itself, I can still format my temp partitions, programs, games, and data drives and then just format C: from the Vista installer. But that does suck. Why would putting in my freaking x64 CD not be enough? I think I'll still have to try it for myself someday, maybe they released my particular Ultimate 64bit OEM Upgrade with the ability to verify the other disc. But I doubt it.... since it's an UPGRADE meant for system builders, Microsoft probably expects (or enforces) that it be installed over the old version since the OS has to come pre-installed on computers that use OEM software because of its license. But still... I did pay about $200 for a freakin' OEM upgrade, the least they could have done was include the ability to install directly to a new/wiped hard drive. Isn't having to call Microsoft for reactivation after re-installing a few times enough of a burden already? Oh well, I'm still having a good time exploring around Vista and tweaking my software in it. The translucent borders in Aero are truly beautiful to look at, especially when there are other windows or patterns underneath. Then, in a Zen-like fashion, if you maximize the window it is no longer translucent and you are seeing both the task bar and title bar in pure fashion.
OK, back to working on my Steam mod... if anyone actually reads this whole post (or even just part of it and therefore not this sentence anyway), let me know why you agree/disagree. I wonder if I'm really the only DC user who's having a blast in Vista? Until next time...