Sunday, April 01, 2007

From Windows XP, over to Vista. A good idea?

I have been using Windows since Windows 3.1 and have tasted the various flavors, both good and bad, which Microsoft had to offer. Vista was long due, and now that it is released it's main competition is with its own family member, namely Windows XP. I had been using Windows XP SP2 since long now, and found that it is quite stable now, being able to do all that I need, with very good software and hardware support and good performance. Windows XP was my comfort zone, and I was not sure if Vista was all that it promised. I was content with XP, but being a technology enthusiast, I just had to try Vista, even though I had heard lots of mixed reports about Vista. Having installed and used both versions of Windows, I thought I could do a comparison of the features which matter to the end-user(like me), and hence this post.

I own a Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop, and one week after I had bought it, I had removed all its partitions and had reinstalled Windows XP to clean it of all the numerous stuff which Dell installs, which I do not need, and strongly believe that degrades overall performance. The installation sure was smooth, but even though the laptop was able to do all basic functions, I could not connect to internet till I downloaded the wifi drivers from Internet. So, I had to install all the basic drivers from the Dell website. I also needed drivers for my external hard disk.

Installing Vista was a different experience than previous Windows versions. My laptop has a Pentium M 1.73 GHz processor, with 1.25 GB RAM, ATi x300 dedicated video ram, with a 7200 RPM 60 GB HDD. This, I would say is not the best and the fastest hardware, or something to write home about, but it does what I need it to do. I am not into gaming, so anyway this config works great for me. I installed the Vista Ultimate edition, and discovered that it was almost a one click solution. If I wanted to, I could start the installer and leave the house to do some chores or go to sleep. It was fully automated and did not require me to be baby sit it. But then, Vista took not more than about 45 minutes. It was only after the full install that it asked me the basic questions it wanted me to answer.

The Pros
After using it for about 2 months now, I found that Vista offers a mixed bag of experience. For starters, I did not have to install a single piece of independent driver! This was real neat. I really faced a problem when my reinstall of Windows XP could not even connect to the internet without a hardware driver. Vista detected and installed drivers for my network devices, sound card, video card and even external hard disk all by itself. The first impression impressed me. Here are some other cool feature of Vista, which made me sit up and look at Vista with a new found interest:

  • The start button has been revamped completely. I am a power user and try out various applications, with the end effect that my Windows XP start menu had become pages and pages which used to fill my screen. The new Vista start menu now scrolls, and automatically appears sorted.
  • The quick search. I admit that I used utilities like Launchy, to index my start menu in XP, so that I could launch any application quickly. That is now inbuilt in Vista. Superb! Just start typing the name of any application, and press enter. No need to wade though the hundreds of applications or to find them.
  • The Start search is actually much more powerful, because it is rooted from Windows Indexing feature, which also indexes your documents! So, you can also type in a word inside one of your recent documents, and Windows will popup that up too almost instantly, and you can thus open it quickly.
  • As I mentioned earlier, hardware driver support is very good. It could detect my wifi, sound card, video card, external hard disk all by itself.
  • I used to install a third party software to show the time of different time zones, but now Vista can do that natively too. I can add multiple clocks, from different time zones easily. This is really useful for me to see time both of India and New York.
  • Vista manages power much better. With Vista, now I can press my laptop's power button to send it to a special sleep mode. So that at the end of the day when I return from office, I can press the button again and Vista is ready for use within almost a second! Yes, this actually works for me this way. Windows XP resume from hibernate or even Standby was never so responsive. What's more, I had left my laptop on battery on sleep(not hibernate), and even then at the end of day my battery had 90% charge left. Added to this is the fact that my applications still can wake up my laptop for scheduled tasks, such as defragmentation of recording my favorite TV show. This is achieved by Vista supporting the S3 power saving mode of your hardware.
  • The new NTFS file system is backward compatibles with Windows XP etc., but adds some neat new features such as transactions. This means that apart from other error control benefits, Vista can save versions of all the files on the hard disk. You accidentally deleted some important text in a text file and then saved and closed the file? No problem, you can easily open a "previous version" of that file!
  • Windows firewall is now better, by being active for both incoming and outgoing directions.
  • Networking is much simpler, with Vista supporting WPA2 out of the box for wifi. Unlike in XP, I did not have to select the type of authentication and encryptions of my wifi router. Vista selected all that by itself. I just had to type in the password.
  • Windows explorer navigation has been revamped. Navigation is now intuitive and much simpler. It has started to grow on me now.
  • Vista also supports media sharing. So your family members connected to the same network, can easily see your shared media like songs and videos and directly stream it off your computer. This is simple and works.
  • Audio mixer now works at a much more precise level, so that unlike Windows XP you have a much more fine control on the volume. Also, now every application has its own volume control. So that you can maybe reduce Windows sounds, while keeping the windows media player volume to the maximum. This would not startle everybody with a DING, in between a movie playback.


But then, there are places where Vista needs to improve too.

  • Though almost all my software works fine on Vista, ZoneAlarm still is not ready for Vista. Also, I had to spend a week to setup my PVR on Vista, which consisted of numerous open source initiatives. This would have almost worked out of the box in XP.
  • I must confess that UAC was an irritant for me. I had to turn it off, for a better experience of the OS.
  • Some things have been simplified too much. The inbuilt defrag now has almost no interface! You cannot simply do an analysis, or even select which hard disk drive to partition. It does all that by itself.
  • Similarly, while importing pictures from your camera, you cannot individually select the pictures to import. It's a one click solutions, which unfortunately does not work for me. I have to still open the SD Card as a drive and manually select it fro the directory structure. This was much better in XP.

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