A Longtime Mac User Reflects on 8 Months with Vista
- 2007.08.24 -Tip Jar
Windows Vista is a popular topic these days, though much of thediscussion opines that while popular as a topic, Vista is not sopopular as an operating system. There are all kinds of articles outthere, from those singing its praises to others citing horrendouscompatibility problems.
One thing is certain: People like to talk about it.
First off, I'll come right out and say that I've been usingVista since Beta 2 was released around January, though only forexperimentation purposes prior to June, when I moved my personalThinkPad T60 from XP Professional to Vista Business. I also useWindow XP Professional on my ThinkPad X41 and all of the desktopsin my office; Windows Small Business Server 2003 for my officefile, print, and email (Exchange) server; and Windows 2000 on a fewolder laptops and one older desktop.
On the Mac side, I use OS X 10.4.10 Tiger on all of my Macs,which include a G4 AGP "Sawtooth"upgraded to 1.0 GHz, a 1.5 GHzPowerPC G4 Mac mini and my daughter's 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook. As I did withVista, I will phase in Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) slowly,probably waiting until two months after release to switch businessmachines to the new operating system and perhaps taking the time tophase out one of my ThinkPads in favor of a new MacBook or MacBookPro, now that reliability appears to be back.
Patches and Bug Fixes
Back to the subject of the day, Windows Vista. Here is my takeon the newest Windows operating system after eight months of useand more than a few stability and bug-fix patches.
First, lets talk about patches and fixes. The fact that Vistarequired many patches right off the bat does not necessarily implythat Vista is a bad or buggy system, just that, like any OS, farmore hidden problems will come out of the woodwork when it hitsmainstream users than can possibly be found in the lab. Apple'sJaguar, Panther, and Tiger all benefited from a few quick pointincreases and numerous smaller patches almost immediately aftertheir release, just as Vista has, and I consider that more a signof corporate responsibility than lack of prerelease research.
Even before its release there were many complaints about Vista'sincompatibility with many applications. This will happen inany major operating system update, be it Windows, OS X,or the old classic Mac OS. I've had as many applications,especially utilities, break when moving from Panther to Tiger as Idid when moving from XP to Vista.
Apple is going through similar issues with its move to Intelprocessors and also had them when moving from 680x0 to PowerPCprocessors - and even from G4 to G5, with Virtual PC 6 a greatexample of a program that worked great on my G4 but wasincompatible with the G5. Vista didn't outright break anyapplications for me, other than disk utilities.
One issue that I had that gave me an initially sour impressionof Vista was iTunes causing my PC to crash whenever I tried to playa video. I complained to Apple and to Microsoft, but the problemturned out to be from a Toshiba driver, which was still in beta. Bythe time of Vista's official release, new drivers were availablefrom Toshiba, and everything works like a charm.
Lets look at a few of the positives being said about Vista, andthen at a few of the complaints. The most obvious "improvement" isthe visual appearance, which many in the Windows world rave about.I'm talking about the "Aero" interface with its transparentwindows, live previews in the task bar, and the 3-dimensional flipviewer (Microsoft's answer to Exposé).
There is no doubt that Aero was heavily influenced by OS X,and also no doubt that it is visually impressive. Whether you findit functional or distracting, it looks very cool to hold your mouseover an item in the taskbar, such as a movie that is playing, andsee a miniature appear above with the movie running inside.Very slick.
Flip 3D is also visually impressive, holding each open windowdiagonally and letting you flip through them and select any of themlive, also with full movement of each window as thought it wasopen. Again, very impressive. Exposé accomplishes the samething, only using different effects.
With a large or multiple monitors, I prefer Exposé, as itcan show you a meaningful and legible representation of each ofyour open windows, even if you have a lot. On a smaller, lowerresolution display, however, Microsoft's approach is better, asExposé makes every window too small to monitor. Both aregood, and while Microsoft clearly copied Apple (as it often does),it still added a useful utility that some will prefer and otherswon't.
Vista is more secure than XP. Windows fans talk about UserAccount Control (UAC) and how it makes Vista secure, but that'sjust the beginning. Vista, by default, has its ports closed and isgenerally very malware resistant. Mac fans point out that by onlygiving a dialog box instead of requiring a full password Vistaisn't as secure as OS X, and they may be right. That's onlypart of the story, however.
UAC's dialog boxes are not easily scripted as they are not, fromwhat I understand, mapped to actual commands, but rather are UIonly and cannot be scripted. A script to select "Continue" wouldnot work on UAC, at least according to Microsoft. The reality isthat Vista is still Windows, is still the target of tons ofmalware, and still needs to be protected far more than OS Xdoes. Vista includes one of the best anti-spyware packages outthere, a very good firewall (on by default), and you can easily getgood, fast, and free antivirus software (I like AVG) to make for a quite securesystem, though one that still is vulnerable to "social engineering"based attacks.
Now for the bad points most often discussed. At the top of thelist must be application incompatibility. This is nothing new -definitely not exclusive to Vista or to the Windows platform - andwill be an issue on any major OS update. Remember the movefrom OS 9 to OS X? Did all of you applications work? Manydid with Classic, but some were broken. How about Panther to Tiger?I had to buy a new copy of DiskWarrior (my 4th time).
Vista is the same. It took a while for iTunes to become fullycompatible, but the workarounds were fine in the beginning (excepton Toshiba laptops with software RAID). Some applications (mostlydisk utilities) were broken, but as with the Mac or previousupdates to Windows, most applications still work. I have some veryold software that runs just fine on Vista, older than anything thatwill still run on the Intel version of Tiger, for example.AppleWorks 6, FileMaker Pro 3,and Age of Empires (from way back in1997) all work just as well on Windows Vista as they did on Windows95.
For stubborn applications, there is emulation of older Windowsversions. Even device drivers from older versions of Windows canoften be "forced" in Vista, which allowed me to use my old HPportable printer during the five months it took for HP to release aVista driver.
The next most common complaint is that the hardware requirementsare too high. This is clearly not true. Yes, Aero needs some heftyvideo hardware, but so do Apple's Quartz Extreme, Core Image, andCore Video. Aero's requirements are a bit higher, but not much.
Take the Mac mini as anexample. The last G4 Mini's 64 MB Radeon 9550 did not support CoreImage, but that same GPU in a PC does support Aero, though notfully. The Intel mini's integrated Intel GMA 950 video fullysupports Core Image, and it also fully supports Aero. I shouldknow: My daughter's GMA 950 equipped MacBook is running both Tigerand Vista, and both systems give excellent graphics performanceeven with all of the eye candy.
Aero is only one part of the hardware requirement issue, as manypeople complain that Vista is slow on older hardware. The truth is,Vista is slow on even the newest hardware for the first few hoursit is used. This is because Vista indexes the contents of your harddrive for faster searching and access. Once this is finished,Vista speeds up nicely.
XP had the same issue, as did Windows 2000 and NT, only on theolder systems it was turned off by default and had to be enabled.OS X, by the way, is sluggish as well when first installed asit - you guessed it - indexes your drive. How else would Spotlightbe so fast.
Vista on Laptops
I have three computers currently running Vista; all are laptops.First is a very powerful Lenovo ThinkPad T60 with a 2 GHzCore 2 Duo, 128 MB ATI X1400 graphics, and a moderately hefty2 GB of RAM. Now that indexing is (long ago) finished, VistaBusiness simply flies even with full Aero UI and all of the malwareprotection active. This is clearly the fastest computer I have andeven plays high-end games like Doom 3 and Neverwinter Nights 2beautifully with all of the eye candy on. I've also tried XP onthis machine, and Vista has no speed penalty.
Next is my 2-year-old ThinkPad X41, a 2.7 lb. ultraportable witha tiny (and slow) 1.8" hard drive (think iPod). This machinealso runs Vista business, though with Aero off to speed things up alittle. This machine is also very fast in everything except diskaccess, which is the case no matter what operating system isinstalled.
Finally, I have a 6-year-old ThinkPad T22 running Vista HomeBasic. This is a 900 MHz Pentium 3 with only 512 MB of RAM, yetVista is fast and smooth on this computer as well, with perhaps a10% speed hit compared to XP Home. I've been running Vista sinceJanuary, and while the betas crashed on occasion, I've yet to havea retail version of Vista crash other than a Toshiba laptop playingiTunes video, which is a RAID driver issue.
Even Home Basic Looks Great
Okay, complaint number 3. Unless you buy the expensive versions,you get a crippled and ugly OS. Again, not really true. I don'twant or need the media center, so I didn't pay for Ultimate or HomePremium. I do want offline server access, remote desktop, anddomain access, so I use the business version (was a free upgradefrom XP for my T60, a paid upgrade for the X41). For the old T22,which is used mostly at home and doesn't need to connect to thedomain, Home Basic was perfect (came free for a desktop PC thatstill runs XP).
The non-Aero interface of the Home Basic version (or higherversions with unsupported video) is just as pretty as the full Aeroversion, only without the translucent windows, without the livepreviews, and without Flip 3D (Alt-Tab still works great). It'skind of like moving a widget to the dashboard on a non-Core ImageMac. It works, but you don't get the cool ripple effect. The basicicons all look the same, as do the colors and the rest of the UIelements. In short, at first glance you can't even tell that Aeroisn't on, and unless you are really vain when it comes to showingoff fancy video effects, you lose almost nothing.
Home Basic loses only the Aero interface and the media centerapplication to the pricier Home Premium version. Put another way,the only difference in the Vista versions from the XP versions isthat you can get the media center on a business system (Ultimate),something you couldn't do before. Vista Business is a directreplacement for XP Pro and both Home Basic and Home Premium aredirect replacements for XP Home and XP Media Center,respectively.
The next complaint is that Vista is just too different. Yes,things were moved around and changed, sometimes not for any logicalreason. Of course, most of those changes can be turned off. Forinstance, if you don't like the Aero theme or the Vista theme onnon-Aero systems, you can just turn it off and use "WindowsClassic", which looks much like Windows 95 did. I use WindowsClassic on my Home Basic system because its ancient 8 MB videocard balks at 32-bit color at XGA resolution, slowing the entiresystem down for screen draws. That was just as true in XP and evenWindows 2000.
A few control panels have new names or have been merged withothers, and this too can cause some confusion when you first startusing Vista and when switching back and forth between new and oldversions. Of course, this was also the case with many Classic MacOS and OS X releases.
Protection Is Annoying
There are complaints about UAC making the system annoying touse. This is also very true when you first start using Vista, butit quickly subsides once all of your applications are installed andused a few times. UAC remembers your selections and stops botheringyou for the things you do often.
My Vista systems almost never prompt me for anything unless itssomething new. My install of Vista Business is about four monthsold, and the only time UAC really bothers me is when using WindowsUpdate or when trying to run something "as Administrator", which isusually for software installers.
Some system settings also bring a UAC prompt. This isn'tparticularly annoying and happens with about the same frequency aspassword prompts on OS X. Passwords are by nature more securethan a dialog box, but as previously mentioned, UAC isn't astandard dialog box that can be scripted.
A Failure in the Marketplace?
Lastly, many articles complain that users are avoiding Vista andcite Microsoft's continuing to offer XP as proof that Vista is aflop. This ignores how Microsoft did the exact same thing with eachprevious Windows release. This is because IT is slow to change andoften requires older versions because of their own corporate orgovernment policies. I remember buying a Toshiba laptop a number ofyears ago that was preinstalled with Windows 2000 and NT, with theuser selecting which license he preferred on first boot, with thecomputer then installing that choice and not the other. Apple didthe same with OS X for a few years.
Back in 1999 you could still buy PCs with Windows NT 4 insteadof Windows 2000, which many articles complained was incompatiblewith some older applications and peripherals. In 2001 you couldstill buy PCs with Windows 2000 for the exact same reason that youcan still buy a PC with Windows XP today. Most corporate andgovernment IT departments won't allow a nonstandard OS image ontotheir networks, and creating that image (an OS, full applicationload, and all settings) can take a lot of time, especially whendealing with proprietary applications and stringent securitysystems. Such organizations will continue to purchase the older OSversion until the new OS is "validated" and a stable image fortheir use is created and thoroughly tested.
When I left the Federal government in 2005, we were barelyswitching from Windows 95 to Windows 2000, while other agenciesthat I encountered were still using Windows 95 and NT 4.
Better than Windows XP
My conclusion is that Vista is clearly still Windows. Itimproves on previous versions in many ways and makes PCs more funand more productive, for me at least. Windows users should like itafter overcoming initial annoyances as Vista tunes itself to youand your data. So far I find Vista to be more stable than XP, tohave far more robust and easily configured networking, andgenerally to just work better than any previous version.
Yes, many features it was supposed to have were dropped from thelist, but this is still a significant OS upgrade.
No, it isn't the Longhorn we all wanted, but it isn't adecorated XP either. Actually, Vista is based on Windows 2003, aserver-only release of Windows. Windows 2003 is more robust than XPas well and was a good foundation on which to build Vista onceWinFS and other radical architecture features were cut.
It's Still Windows
Mac users will still hate it because, well, because it isWindows. This is not the revolutionary step that Windows 95 wasfrom Windows 3.1, but more evolutionary as Windows XP was fromWindows 2000. In Mac terms, it's more like moving from Panther toTiger than from OS 9 to OS X.
I don't think any version of Windows will ever have Mac usersenvious, but that doesn't mean that Vista is a bad product or thatoften incorrect observations should be perpetuated. Microsoft hascopied many UI and application elements from Apple over the years,and, yes, Apple has copied a few from Microsoft as well(Alt-Tab/Cmd-Tab is a great example). Fundamental differencesremain in the way the two systems operate, how they handle filesand display windows, etc.
I've said many times before that I find very little differencein usability between the two and consider most of the "I can do iteasier on my system" arguments to reflect familiarity more thansuperiority. Mac windowing is different from Windows windowing, andthere aspects of each that annoy and that delight me.
Now what I'm really waiting for is Leopard, so I can put a newMac OS through its paces. Patience, patience.
Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.
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