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Thoughts on Vista and a Brave New World

by @ 10:10 am on 2/15/2007.

Through my teaching part-time in the evenings career, I was given a copy of Vista to work on for use in the classroom environment. Luckily, I had purchased a Vaio laptop not too long ago, which is Vista and Aero ready… So I loaded it up to give it a run through. What do I think? Well for the short summary version… There is a unique opportunity here for another OS to come along in the next year or so that could take a sizable chunk out of MS’s marketshare. For the slightly longer version, read on…

First off, Microsoft provided the school with a busted download iso file… Vista bluescreened towards the end of the install every time. After several long hours wasted trying to get a successful install, trying everything I could think of (and losing my entire hard disk contents in the process – thank goodness I had made backups before trying the install on a single partition), I had given up. Then the school’s IT guy hands me the MSDN disk that MS had sent, and told me everyone else using the iso had the same issue. Okay, one last try.

By this time, I had already managed to wipe out all my partitions, so I just did one huge partition, solely with Vista on it (I then reverted to get a Zeta partition back in there… more on that in a bit). But from earlier attempts at installing, Vista will allow you to save your XP (or other Windows OS) install, and install onto a second partition. This way, if it doesn’t work for you, you can always boot back into an older version of Windows. This is nice. No longer does Windows have to be on the first partition. However, it will write to your MBR, and only include the previous version of Windows and Vista as boot options – it doesn’t ask you if you want to have the options of any other potentially bootable partitions. But this was all on the non-working iso, so I cannot confirm anything other than the fact that I could, in fact, get back into my XP partition at the time.

Back to the good install… After installing, I was greeted with a very pretty, full of eye candy, screen. Looked really good. My laptop is new enough that the Aero features do not task the cpu or memory too much. I’ve heard that others, with relatively new systems, sit at nearly max memory used and the cpu at 40% sitting idle. Mine sits at 35% memory used (2Gb installed) and around 1% cpu utilization while idle (core duo 2Ghz). Not bad. Apps launch pretty slow though.

Speaking of apps launching… Vista has a new security feature that is really, really, REALLY annoying. It asks if you really want an action to happen – EVERY TIME. Launch an app: Are you sure you want to launch this app? Delete a folder: 3 dialog windows to ensure you really want to do this. Tampering briefly with the Local Policies, I was able to disable the process/app confirmation dialog, but now I get an annoying bubble at the system tray (you know those annoying bubbles from XP) that pretty much stays on stating that the Policy is disabled and presents a security risk. Ugh.

I then used the MS Disk Management utility to repartition the drive. Yes, MS finally added the feature to repartition/resize partitions non-destructively under their Disk Management app. I partitioned off a FAT32 space, and then partitioned off a Zeta partition. I installed Zeta 1.2 on the laptop, installing the boot loader at the end. The next time I tried to boot Vista, there was a bootloader error. I put in the Vista CD again, did a repair operation, and all was fine. I had a dual boot system using the Zeta bootloader. Okay, that worked well enough – dual boot with Zeta works fine.

Next, was the ordeal with loading up the Sony drivers and apps. Sony has not yet caught up to Vista, and many of their apps and drivers are incompatible at this point. There are a few downloads available, but not all. They are supposed to provide a DVD in the future (for a minimal cost) with all their Vista compatible stuff. But I’m not holding my breath, since they said that it would be available at the end of January, but checking now, mid February, the page now says to check back at the end of February. So, going with what they do have available, I trudged on forward.

As soon as I installed all the available Vista updates, I noticed something shortly afterwards. I could no longer copy files between partitions. Every time I tried, Windows Explorer crashed and restarted. Doing some searches on Google, I was able to find an application called shellexview that would allow me to look at all the shell extensions. I disabled everything non-windows (ie, all the stuff I installed from Sony). Copying worked again. I then had to re-enable the explorer shell extensions one-by-one until I found the guilty party. Turns out, it was the Bluetooth drag and drop extension. Now, everytime I boot the system, I have to disable bluetooth using shellexview if I want to copy between partitions (or to USB and SD drives).

Another thing I noticed was that my touchpad wasn’t fully functional any longer. No more tapping to click, and no more touch scroll functions. There was no update from Sony for this driver, so I installed the XP one. Vista told me that it would not work, and did I want to continue. I did, and even though it warned me again at the end of the install that it would not work, it did. Scroll and touch tap clicking worked again. But I got a warning at every boot that the driver wouldn’t work. At least until I realized there was a “don’t show this again” check box on the warning dialog.

I then started loading all my normal applications: Office, Works, Visual Studio, VMWare, Roxio, etc. Office 2003 Pro installed and works, so far, fine. Works 2005 installed and appears to work, all except Microsoft’s own MS Money. “This software has known compatibility issues” warning. But it installed. Haven’t yet tried to use it, since I don’t have any exisiting Money data, and haven’t started using Money religiously yet. MS Visual Studio 2005 also gives the same error. Now, I’ve only had this working installation for a couple of days, so I haven’t had time to verify this works either – haven’t had time or motivation to try to compile any MS programs in the past couple of days (not that I had used VS much since buying it, due to time issues). But this is extremely frustrating – Microsoft released an OS product that isn’t even compatible with some of their own latest software applications, and pretty important ones at that.

Roxio installed, and I’ve burned iso images to disk that booted successfully. I also installed AnyDVD and CloneDVD, and was able to copy a DVD successfully.

VMWare installed with a known compatibility error, but I was able to get ubuntu 6.10 in a virtual machine without any issues. However, I noticed after that (a day or two later), that I no longer can read any CDs or DVDs. Each time I try to access one, burned or otherwise, I get a prompt that the “blank” CD needs to be prepared for writing… this includes audio and software CDs that are ROM and not R or RW. 🙁 I don’t know if this is from VMWare or some other issue at this time, but it is quite a PITA. I haven’t had problems with a CD drive or CD in Windows since the 3.1 days, back when 4x drives were expensive. I’ll probably need to spend another day or two of free time trying to get this problem figured out and working again.

    So, Microsoft, in all their innovation, have added eye candy galore:

  • – The taskbar now acts like OS X, all pretty and shows ‘previews’ of the windows when hovered over;
  • – Neat little gadgets, which immediately remind me of something called Replicants that were on BeOS some dozen or more years ago;
  • – Transparency in windows, something found in enlightenment years ago.
  • – And a new interface for most everything that is more annoying than anything else. I wonder who at MS actually thought that their way of doing things was actually more productive or useful?
  • – The neatest feature I don’t think I’ve seen before is the new 3D window twitcher, but then again, that probably came from somewhere else too.

    All that eye candy does come at an expense – a couple of them, as a matter of fact:

  • – Huge cost. Not only do you have to pay large to upgrade to Vista itself, but if you don’t have a state-of-the-art machine purchased in the last 6 months to a year, you need to upgrade huge on hardware as well.
  • – Major compatibility issues. Even Microsoft’s own software doesn’t work with Vista nicely. Nevermind some of that shareware or other apps that you’ve become tied to and can’t live without.
  • – Major driver issues. Some work, some don’t, some say they won’t but will, and others will break things that they shouldn’t, such as Bluetooth breaking copying on Windows Explorer.
  • – Getting used to a new interface and way of doing things. Things you expect to ‘just work’ don’t any longer. I still haven’t figured out how to optimize my start menu so that I don’t have 18 million entries at the level just below “Programs”.

  • Microsoft may as well have called Vista something other than “Windows”, because it’s a whole new beast that really is too buggy and incompatible to be released as the next XP. IMHO, MS has screwed the pouch big time, and has left a “window of opportunity” (pun intended) for someone else to come in and grab some of those disgruntled OS users – a chance for someone else to grab more marketshare from MS than Apple has ever been able to.

    I wish Haiku was close enough to ready to be this someone. I really do. But, for now, I have set up an external drive to boot Ubuntu, and I will work to one day replace all I need on Windows, be it with Linux apps, WINE and/or CrossoverOffice, and, barring all else, running XP in a VMWare session on Ubuntu. Once I’m able to do all my day to day needs with Ubuntu (dual booting with Zeta/Haiku, of course), Windows is gone – forever. Maybe I’ll end up on a Mac. Who knows. Back in the BeOS R5 days, I managed to live a year without Windows altogether. I am confident I can do it again – and now I’m motivated to.

    I have seen Microsoft’s vision of the future, all their “innovation” for the next generation of OS, and I am totally displeased and do not see why I should continue paying MS for an OS with features I can get elsewhere with better stability and compatibility. Vista isn’t ready for the public… it’s still a beta product, as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing original in Vista worth paying for, and the lack of compatibility and bug levels are so high for a “finished” and released product, I’m over my head in frustration. I’m packing to leave, and I’m not going to look back when I do. And I get the feeling I may not be the only one.

    There is a window of opportunity here for Haiku. There really is. I’m actually getting excited about Haiku like I was once with BeOS in the R4 days. Microsoft has screwed up enough that someone might be able to get in the door easier than back in 1998. Take the moment and run with it… run like hell, ’cause it isn’t going to be easy to hit that window with Haiku where it currently is and where it needs to be. But it could be a very close race. Good luck to the Haiku team – I’m rooting for you to make it!

    UPDATE:  For some reason, the CD blank problem disappeared after clicking to “Okay” the preparation process (which I did on a CD I knew was ‘finalized’, in which Vista then correctly popped up a dialog that the disk wasn’t writable).  Every CD I inserted after that one is now recognized immediately without the prepare dialog.  I then rebooted and the problem did not reappear.  Ugh.  At least I can access CDs again.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on Vista and a Brave New World”

  1. Bardo says:

    Nice review, interesting too. I’m still doubting whether I should spent a hundred bucks (in Euro) on a minimal download of Vista, or not. I’ve concluded I’d better spent my money on the next release of Zeta 🙂

  2. root says:

    Fairly good (your experiences) and that says a LOT about Vista.

    Thanks for taking the time to write up an article about it but do hope your desires are not shattered in vain. Just remember computers are only tools, they should work for you – not the other way around. Atleast that’s what I keep telling myself lol 😉

    Ick, illnux.. Yea I used to like that too – circa 1998-2000. In the end it became too dumbed-down and corporatized for my tastes. IMHO SuSE was the last great vendor (and Novell screwed us all).

    One last thing however, the content protection scheme (aka DRM) that people don’t realize about Vista:
    Which btw is one of the culprits to endless CPU-grinding (even at idle) on non-certified or non-drm-capable hardware (under Vista).


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