Microsoft

Vista first impressions: Comparing features to the Mac

It’s been about two weeks now since I upgraded my laptop from Windows XP to Windows Vista (Home Premium). After reading various reviews—both positive and negative—I thought I would give you my first impressions of Vista, plus one or two issues I have run into along the way.

I don’t know if others find this, but it’s certainly true for me: Every six months to a year I find myself needing to re-install Windows. It’s one of those things I have come to look on as inevitable. Whether it’s down to invisible malware of which I’m not even aware or just a jumble of unused registry and remnants of uninstalled software; it gets slow and unstable. I recently came to such a point; for some reason the display would freeze for a second every few minutes and would completely freeze up once every few days. This was annoying enough to prompt a rebuild, and with Windows Vista available, I decided I may as well give it a go!

The installation of Windows Vista is very straight forward; I don’t think it’s worth me wasting time in going through this as it really is a no-brainer. I went for a fresh installation as I always feel it’s much cleaner than an upgrade.

Look and feel

The Windows Vista Aero theme is very nice. While Windows Vista is still very recognisably Windows, the look and feel has changed for the better. All of the major components we see every day in Windows XP are pretty much the same but with an additional bit of ‘polishing’. The StartBar is still there with a Windows icon; the functionality, however, is quite different. Just as in Windows XP there are shortcuts to useful locations like Documents, Recent Items, and Control Panel. On the left side are the programs and program groups accessible via the ‘All Programs’ button with the most popular applications being shown as default. The feature I like best is a small search box at the bottom of the Start menu which allows you to search for an application. Now I don’t have to arrange all of my programs into categories and sub-categories in order to be able to find them!

One of the first things I noticed was the preview window which pops up if you hold the mouse pointer over an icon in the taskbar. This is 'cool' although I find it to be of little use as the preview is too small to actually show anything useful. The glass window borders are nice and do give a better depth perception than shadows alone. The Windows Sidebar is a very nice addition and I use it constantly; mine displays a clock, network activity monitor, stock monitor, Gmail monitor, and RSS news feeds. I’m not quite sure whether or not I prefer Windows Sidebar or Apple’s Dashboard. The Sidebar is in a good screen position and can be made to stay ‘always on top’. Apple’s Dashboard gives a much better working area and easy one-click access but widgets can’t be made to stay on top while working on documents, etc.

Flip 3D is, of course, a crowd pleaser; using the Windows+Tab keys will activate the 3D window manager allowing application windows to be scrolled through with the cursor keys.  This is prettier than the Alt+Tab method but nothing like as useful as Apple’s Expose.

Search plays a very important role in Windows Vista, and search boxes can be found everywhere. IE7 of course allows searching via any number of search providers (thanks for that feature, FireFox), searching of local files and content can be carried out from various locations including the StartMenu, Media Player, Photo Gallery, and Explorer windows (thanks for this feature, Apple Spotlight team). This video on YouTube provides an interesting angle on these new Windows Vista ‘features’.

Protection

I have had a few issues with software not yet supporting Windows Vista. My first focus was to find a working anti-virus solution. Several anti-virus software companies offer 60-90 day free trials, so I decided to try one of these. I had issues with Norton AntiVirus 2007 and McAfee. While both claim to support Windows Vista, neither of the latest demo versions I downloaded would install, claiming ‘this operating system is not supported’. I finally found Trend PC-cillin Internet Security 2007 which installed without any complaints. I tested this by inserting a USB key intentionally infected with a virus—Trend picked it up right away. With anti-virus protection and anti-malware already in place in the form of Windows Defender, I felt much more confident and could surf the Web without fear of infection.

Next week, I’ll continue with issues that I’ve come across while installing software—some serious and some not so much, as well as a few network-related issues, which I have not been able to resolve as of yet. In the mean time, I would be interested to hear about readers' first impressions of Windows Vista.

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