What Value Vista?

On March 23 I wrote an entry entitled "What Price Vista". Let's face it nothing new or better comes without a price. I always intended to try and balance the scales by starting to look at what we are getting. It is unfortunate that the first thing that you notice about Vista is the "jazzy" Aero Glass interface. At times we are all guilty of judging a book by its cover!

In this post I would like to suggest some features that I like (just my views) that might just be worth the "price of admission", or are nice to have, both for the average user and IT Pro. I do not claim this to be an exhaustive list of benefits. That is extensively debated in many places. Nor do I suggest that this is my personal final list but more of an interim one. Vista is a "huge" product.

One of the things that frustrates users is "gobbldigook" error messages which are often of no use to anyone. In that regard I think Vista has taken a giant leap forward. Not only are the messages more intelligible but they are linked to an issue resolution system, which can help the support people and the more knowledgeable user. For example, I added another 512MB memory to make a total of 1GB. All was fine for a while but then the occasional dreaded BSOD ("Blue Screen Of Death"). Ok, I am running beta code. But it got worse and Vista said "it could be me (humility is also now built in:)) or it could be your memory. Download this utility using this link and do a memory test". Low and behold I had some bad memory. I replaced it and no more BSOD's (for now at least:)). This is only illustrative of a wider range of helpful diagnostic tools that are built in. For example, "Why does my PC take so long to start-up and shutdown?" "Why is my PC getting slower?". It actually tries to tell you without you asking, giving suggestions as to what to do.

I am not totally sure what to make of the hardware rating system just yet, which I realize is still evolving. On the other hand it could be helpful to the consumer or possibly the IT Manager in matching needs to hardware requirements. To be effective though it certainly appears to need some refinement. For example, I got the definite impression that if I added the extra memory I would get some real "bang for my book". The rating stayed the same! Perhaps it is a little too course? Logically the "actual" performance has to be better but the rating system didn't reflect it.

Although I was somewhat critical of the new graphics demands from a cost/upgrade point of view in my previous post, there are some nice features other than the "glass":). When you have a lot of apps/windows open, the Taskbar Preview is actually quite helpful. This is the feature that shows a "thumbnail" of the window as you mouse over the Taskbar. In a somewhat more dramatic fashion we have the "Flip 3D View", which is basically Alt-Tab on super steroids. You can flip through the windows displayed in a perspective 3D view using the scroll button on the mouse. They even appear to come out of the screen at you! "Windows key" + Tab brings up the view (make sure to keep them both held down and use the mouse wheel to flip through the windows). I am sure that I could survive without it but it sure is "cool":).

We now have autorecovery of apps. Well at least we have a genuine attempt. So far it doesn't always work. If an app crashes Vista tries to tell you why and return you to where you left off. This of course should never be a replacement for "save often or live to regret it".

Security is always a hot issue and has been a sore point with many people. XP SP2 took things a step in the right direction with the introduction of a stateful host-based firewall. In Vista that has been extended to cover both inbound and outbound firewalling. At the advanced level it can be configured in a number of other useful improved ways. The following link explains it far better than I ever could: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/community/columns/cableguy/cg0106.mspx. The important point is that the IT Pro has a much improved set of tools.

Many people have their favorite DVD burning software (a whole argument can develop over which is best:)). However, at least now burning DVD's is now built in rather than just CD's as in XP. It may not have all the bells and whistles like Roxio or Nero, etc but it is better than nothing. Besides I can only assume that Microsoft want to steer a careful path and not get into more "legal" difficulties!

That's enough for now. I will post again when I have had more time to evaluate/research other features like the Network Centre, disk imaging, backup, deployment, etc.. One area that I haven't mentioned is Windows Explorer. Quite frankly, so far, I am having some difficulties adjusting to the changes. At this point I am prepared to accept that I am so used to the way that it is now in XP that I haven't yet adjusted. From a user perspective this could be one of the more important/challenging/contentious changes. So from a personal standpoint the "jury is still out" on that one. Look for more on my views on Vista in a little while.


Graham Jones

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