Impressions of Vista

After using Vista for a whole five days, the time has come for me to post my much anticipated review. I’ve divided the review into several subsections, which I hope logically breaks down the different aspects of the new OS from Microsoft.

My setup
I’m using a Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop with a 2GHz Pentium M Processor, 1GB RAM, 100GB hard disk, NVidia 6800 graphics card with 256Mb video memory. I previoiusly had Windows XP Professional installed and upgraded to Windows Vista Home Premium.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of Vista is the heinous cost. Vista comes in three main flavours – Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate. If you want all the main features Vista has to offer you have to go for Home Premium or Ultimate. The full retail cost of both the later versions is quite high, and for Ultimate absolutely ridiculous at almost $AU700. Thankfully I was both upgrading and and academic user, making my upgrade only $AU165. This would have been over $AU400 if I had have chosen Ultimate, which doesn’t justify the extra cost.

Now moving on the OS itself. The problems with Vista started with the installation. Vista decided that I’m not allowed to perform an in-place installation when upgrading from XP Pro. An in-place install is only allowed when upgrading from XP Home. Don’t ask what the logic is with this, but potential upgraders beware, Vista does not always allow in-place installs -you need to carefully check which versions you’re using first. This left me with the daunting task of having to perform a full backup and reinstall all my software post-installation.

Admittely, the new Vista interface is quite nice, and definitely an improvement over XP. However, to use the new interface you need a high end 3D graphics card, and even then it takes a significant toll on system performance (see next section). As far as I can tell, there are three main new interface features. The first is the Aero Glass 3D interface, which 3D renders windows with transparency effects. Second are widgets, which are none too different to Google or Yahoo widgets. Finally is the window ‘flip-book’. This is an attempt to compete with OSX’s window selection feature where all the windows are temporatily arranged non-overlapping and the user clicks the window to bring to the front. Microsoft’s approach is to instead present a side-on view of all the windows stacked in front of one another, which can be flipped through. Having used both systems, I find Apple’s approach much more elegant and intuitive. Flipping through windows is simply not an efficient way of finding the one you want. I really can’t see myself making heavy use of this feature.

System performance
Away with the superficial stuff. What about the ‘guts’ of the operating system. Well, unfortunately Vista is definitely no high performing OS. It takes an enormous CPU toll. Even the simplest tasks like moving the mouse around or draggin a window can chew up a third of my CPU cycles. The performance drain is even more noticebale from within CPU intensive applications like the audio software I regularly use. Here real-time performance really suffers when compared to XP. My impression is that if you use CPU intensive apps Vista is not a good choice unless you really have a powerful CPU.

Unfortunately, as is perhaps to be expected from Microsoft, Vista also exhibits very poor system stability. After installing Vista my system was crashing evey half hour. I then downloaded all the latest drivers for my system components, which stopped the half-hourly system crashes. However, even now I experience full system crashes occassionally. This is extremely poor for an OS that has had so much money invested into it. If it weren’t for the fact that some of the software I use isn’t available for Linux, I’d switch to Linux for this reason alone. Hopefully this is something that will improve with future service packes.

Software compatibility
Software compatibility with my old XP software appears to be quite good. So far, everything I have tried to install works correctly.

The verdict
On the whole, knowing what I know now, I probably would not have upgraded from XP to Vista. For the average user Vista appears to offer no noticeable improvements over XP, other than the fancy new interface, which drains CPU power like a V8 does petrol. Unless you have an extremely high end machine I strongly recommend against upgrading to Vista. Even then, for the extra cost of Vista it’s doubtful whether it is worth it. The notable exception is if you want to use future Vista only software, which includes several upcoming gaming titles that rely on DirectX 10.

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