I need to get to grips with Windows Vista because, well, it's the latest thing and I'm employed in a capacity to basically promote the latest thing to computer enthusiasts and PC gamers etc. So I should know what I'm talking about. The following is a quick diary of experienced I intend to update as I boot into Vista and go about reconstructing a computing environment that I'd actually be happy using, including playing games on.
I work for a rather well known computer manufacturer but the company is unable to provide for me a copy of Vista that I can actually install on a machine I have now. I doubt expenses would run to an outrageously priced Â£210 Windows Vista Home Premium retail copy so I just bought an OEM version of Vista Home Premium for the princely sum of Â£70. The price difference is patently absurd. It's only supposed to be sold with new systems but no UK e-tailer I've seen has qualms in flogging it stand-alone.
The destination PC has a specification of: E6600 CPU overclocked to 3.0GHz, 2GB RAM, MSI Intel 975 board, 76GB Raptor + dual Seagate 7200.11 320GB drives in an Intel Matrix Raid configuration (mirror for apps/data and stripe for games), ATI X1900 XTX graphics card and a Creative X-Fi sound card.
XP was on one partition on the raptor boot drive so first I used Partition Magic to split the partition into two. I used an OS install option on PM which didn't go down very well with Vista in the end. I had to manually tweak the partition to non-hidden but it was pretty painless really.
Installing off the DVD seems pretty fast and didn't want much in the way of interaction from me at all after the initial entering of the product key and selecting a fresh install rather than an upgrade (ghosted out anyway, OEM version I guess). I selected the partition and off it went. System rebooted surprisingly into the native resolution of my TFT at 1920x1200 which was dead impressive. The motherboard network port also worked, which doesn't work in a default XP install. All in all it booted into a high resolution usable system.
Rather than all the silly blurb adverts you get when installing XP, Vista boots up and then proceeds to 'check your PC performance' or some nonsense like that and then show you a pile of advert slideshow type stuff for Vista. I think it's basically still installing and the checking performance stuff is pretty much a lie, after all why thrash the HD like that?
I can see the stuff nicked from OSX, nice clock top right and an RSS reader there as standard. The windows do indeed look damn lush, the see-through stuff in particular is absolutely gorgeous. Now when I used XP I never liked the kindegarten default XP theme so I always switched machines back to Windows class for that Windows 2000 look. One look at the start bar in Vista though and I'm kind of taken by the logic in where they've put stuff, particularly finding recent files.
I did things mainly by looking at drives low level on XP, aided by some uber third party software called Directory Opus. Software which doesn't exist on Vista and may not be necessary if I can train myself into the Microsoft way of working with files. This is definately teaching an old dog new tricks but I'm willing to give it a go to get the default Vista user experience.
Vista leeched a few updates immediately and installed. I noticed that during these it actually shut down the graphic interface, replacing the whole thing with a black screen and flashing DOS-like cursor which is a little disconcerning for a simple update. When I downloaded Vista drivers from ATI, I was treated to the same thing three times while it was installing drivers. The ATI stuff was installing all sorts of bollocks like Visual C++ runtimes and it was cycling pretty pictures while installing too. I wonder if this sort of rampant bloatware is a sign of things to come with Vista drivers?
Sound card, a not entirely uncommon Soundblaster X-Fi, is completely unrecognised in Windows Vista. Not even basic support. The Creative driver is a beta from late last year and doesn't support any of the standard bundled apps. I've a meeting with Creative next week and I'll try get some frank views on this. For now I didn't even install the beta, I'm thinking I'll reenable the on-board mobo audio (which is pretty good as it goes) and see how Vista likes that.
It was interesting to see a software firewall like warning come up when I edited the machine name and work group through the standard control applet (which looks exactly like XPs). That seems a little kludgy really, if it can't actually work out that real user input on the local machine is legit then rather than sort security problems at cause, they've just sort of bolted on another layer of security on top? I'll be checking this stuff out more closely, that's for sure.
Anyway, that'll do for one day. Conclusion is basically Vista installs very quickly and smoothly on a modern PC and the most immediate thing one notices is the dramatically enhanced visuals over XP. Next up I'll start to check out the usability some more.
Time for a bit more of a play. I booted up and was informed of a couple of updates. I switched off the stupid security notification thing in the task tray which was whining about the lack of AV software. It kind of irritates me that Vista still has no default actions when you left/right click on the desktop. Instead on XP, and seemingly now Vista also, default behavior is that you want to monkey with your graphics cards settings if you right click. Personally I think it ought to do what Directory Opus does and fire up a file browser when you click on the desktop. That said, when browsing around I did notice the very nice Directory Opus like way little composite images are created for folders giving you an indication of what's inside.
Interesting there was an alert telling me how to fix a Vista problem, interest piqued I checked it out and it was basically directing me to Creative's web site to download some drivers for the X-Fi sound card. That's pretty nice since it was top of my list of things to do anyway. Creative are still a bit of a farce with this stuff though. Apparently my sound card is a Creative Soundblaster X-Fi Xtreme Music. Downloading a driver for a Creative Xi-Fi Xtreme Audio recognises no hardware, 40MB download wasted. Pretty stupid. Anyway audio is up and running. The default sounds on Vista are nice little stereo pings and subdued sounds rather than the awful sounds of XP.
Next up, Logitech stuff. There's still no Vista driver for my G15 which is a bit of a gaming showstopper really and of course renders the LCD useless and makes it impossible for me to play WoW since I use the G-keys. Logitech really need to pull their finger out. Incidentally, I've found Logitech's setpoint and the G15 software doesn't work right if your account isn't an administrator, which is also stupid. I expect better from Logitech. Anyway, there was a Vista Setpoint for my G5 mouse! Installed that, pretty smooth - appears to work fine. It immediately wanted to download an update, fine. But then when I rebooted it wanted to download another update. Bit excessive for a mouse driver eh?
For kicks I thought I'd go straight into a game allegedly supporting DX10, although my ATI X1900XTX graphics card isn't a DX10 card. Unfortunately I'll have to reinstall Supreme Commander apparently, running it whinged about the lack of a DX9 dll. I couldn't be bothered so I tried WoW instead. That works fine and not even that, I can get the sound to hardware mix which doesn't actually work on XP with the latest X-Fi drivers. Frame rate seemed the same, or nearabouts. Everything fine although of course with no G15 drivers I couldn't actually play WoW properly so still no thumbs up for gaming for Vista.
Strangely there's a lot of hard drive thrashing on Vista also. I mean the same sort of levels as I have on XP when a third party background defragger is kicking in. I had a look at the task manager and couldn't see any culprits, it might just be because it's swapping? That's kinda poor on a 2GB system I think. The new task manager is kinda cute also, it shows services which is more techy than I would have thought they'd put into Vista.
I've heard word that the G15 drivers might work on Vista anyway so that's what I'll try next time. Also I'd like to try out the networking and file sharing stuff in Vista because this is an area in particular which I perceive to be tragically weak on XP so it'll be interesting to see if Microsoft cleaned house here at all. It's probably about time to start loading on some playback software and codecs also, so one can watch Xvids and that sort of thing. I'm not sure how that's going to work yet...