Thoughts on Vista

I recently built myself a new computer, and slapped Windows Vista onto it.

The most noticeable thing about Vista is that it's shiny. Very shiny. Shiny, shiny, shiny. The icons have been "polished" to look gleaming, the various widgets are shiny, window borders are designed to look shiny, even the close button is shiny.

Of course, unless you're easily distracted by shiny things, this really doesn't mean anything. Being shiny doesn't make it more usable. (Which isn't to say that Vista doesn't have user interface enhancements - it does. They're much more subtle than Vista's shininess, though, and it's the shininess that stands out most when looking at Vista.)

So, after being distracted by shiny things, let's move onto some of Apple's ads. You may remember the Mac and PC ads. Unfortunately it doesn't look I can link directly to a specific ad, but I'm thinking about the "Surgery" ad. In it, PC has to undergo upgrades in order to run Vista. This is completely true. Don't bother upgrading an existing computer to Vista. My old computer had 1GB of RAM, my new one uses 1GB of RAM just to display the desktop. (But it's shiny!...)

The other ad I can't help but think about is the "Security" ad where a man stands behind PC, continuously asking him to Cancel or Allow everything. This ad isn't really fair, though, because if anything, Vista is even more annoying. Installing iTunes, for example, caused three of the stupid things to pop up. Simply copying files off my old computer's hard drive also prompted a few "cancel or allow" dialogs.

Now to be completely fair, the "cancel or allow" boxes generally only pop up when you're installing software or configuring your computer. Once you've got that down, they shouldn't appear in normal use, like checking email and browsing the web.

Well, except that I'm using Firefox on Vista. IE defaults to MSN as its default homepage. This prompts at least three "cancel or allow" boxes over the use of the Flash plugin. Using Firefox spares me from that headache. I haven't tried Vista's email client, preferring to keep using Thunderbird.

Older software is also more likely to cause endless annoyances with cancel or allow boxes. Supreme Commander (wait, wasn't that released after Vista was?), for example, causes one to appear to use network play. This is because Supreme Commander's network support includes an updater, which requires elevated privileges to update the software. Still, it prompts you to cancel or allow running it every time you do. Plus, it had to crash (twice!) before Windows Vista automatically enabled compatibility mode, which allowed it to work.

On the plus side, Vista did that automatically. On the minus side, it was still annoying.

Finally, we have stability. You may have heard of Vista being less stable than XP - and it is. However, it's not "house of cards" unstable, it's more "crashes after a full day's use" unstable. You can definitely get work done with it, but leaving it running for long periods of time is asking for trouble.

So, ultimately, what's my final verdict on Vista? It's not as annoying as you may have heard. It definitely has some improvements over Windows XP. Unfortunately those improvements do not outweigh the annoyances, and do not provide sufficient value for upgrading. Vista isn't the complete turkey some people are saying it is. There are improvements. There are good new parts.

Even so, I'd definitely suggest waiting before upgrading. Wait for system builders to figure out how to build Vista systems. Wait for prices to come down. Wait for bugs to be fixed. In short, don't rush out for Vista. Vista has promise, but it's simply not quite worth it yet.