Thursday, November 30, 2006

Windows Vista: A Switcher's Perspective

Today Windows Vista has offically been released to the wild - or at least to businesses. This will be the first time that I witness the release of a new Windows Operating System without Windows being my primary, day-to-day OS and it has got me thinking.

I try my best not to be a Mac Zealot (although I'm sure that I am) - Windows did me well for many years but having seen the Mac way of living in the computing world - I'm not looking back.

I installed Windows Vista Beta 2 (Ultimate Edition) on one of my old desktops to get a taste for what was coming out of Redmond these days and found the experience a mixed bag. the first thing to strike me about the new Windows is that it is rather pretty - the transparencies look nice and the black coloured look and feel to the UI is far more stylish than the freaking TeleTubbie blue/green mess of Windows XP. However, this is nothing new - pretty transparencies are available in Linux distributions and, of course OS X.

Pretty pictures and colour schemes are worth nothing without an intuitive user interface. This is a difficult issue to be objective about - I've used Windows all my life and switched to using OS X as my primary OS earlier this year so I know how things work under XP and OSX. Any new OS takes a while to get used to (especially if you were adept at using the previous release). However, I can draw on my experience of how easy it was to switch from Windows XP to OS X. Switching to OS X was a doddle and, even fun, experience - it was cool to learn how Apple viewed the world. From the perspective of a OS X/Windows XP power user, I found found Vista a bit difficult. The paths of use that I am accustomed to with Windows XP are not there, but the OS is sufficiently similar for me to expect them to be. My absolute biggest gripe with the new UI is the lack of the 'List' view when looking at your filesystem - this alone is enough to put me off switching to Vista. I just don't understand why this has been removed (and if it exists in the newer releases, someone please tell me!).

Onto my next observation - Vista wants a lot of juice to run pretty. Fair enough, I was using the Ultimate Edition on a machine that is about 2 years old but the processing overhead needed to run these pretty transparencies is a bit of a joke. I can run Ubuntu on the same machine (with similar GUI prettys enabled) and the machine runs very fast. I just don't know where the extra processor power is going. Even my very old iMac G3 is able to handle most of OS X at a reasonable speed. I guess this could be due to my version being the Beta release but, having seen the system specs needed to run full Vista, I don't think that is the whole story.

I had some other teething problems but I put these down to the Beta nature of the release I was using - vista didn't recognise my Wireless Card. Also, the software Update feature had a tendency to bomb out. I can't really hold this against them though...unless I have the same problems on the production release.

The one thing I do still use Windows a lot for is as a living room PC - I think XP Media Center edition is a very tasty lil' program. However, I will not be upgrading my living room PC to Ultimate Vista for the simple reason that the new version of the Media Center software is not compatible with XP-based Media Center extenders. Having fought long and hard to get a U.S. Xbox and the U.S. Media Center software, I will not be decommissioning it to the bin for Vista. This does kinda grill me a bit, I can't believe that keeping a compatibility layer in Vista MCE could have been so difficult?

So, having played with Vista for a while, I guess my big question is - why should I upgrade? Besides the improved graphics, I couldn't see much here for me. Microsoft have touted security as being a good reason to switch but, when using my Mac, I've yet to encounter any security problems. Short of the pretty pictures, I don't see what is on offer (even to non-Mac users). Despite having taken 5 years to make, this seems more like a facelift rather than a new OS - it certainly not like the switch from 98 to XP (where MS-DOS was finally sent down stream) or the Apple switch from OS 9 to OS X. From what I can see,a similar comment can be made about OS X Leopard - there just doesn't appear to be that much new on offer. However, Leopard is going to be a darn sight cheaper than Vista and hasn't taken 5 years to make.

I have been quite hard on Vista - don't get me wrong, I don't think it is a step BACK from XP (an OS which I'm happy to work with) but it only seems to be a small shuffle forward...a small shuffle that will cost up to £224.99*

*price from

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