Microsoft

Vista: Windows XP with a better theme installed?

Following up on last week's review of my newly installed Vista Home Premium, I'm ready to start installing (or re-installing) all of those essential applications that I just can’t live without.

It’s amazing how many handy little apps we all use day-in and day-out without thinking about them—I usually only realise how much I miss them when I go to use one and find I haven’t remembered to re-install it. In an attempt to avoid this annoyance, I now go through the ‘Add Programs’ section of Control Panel before rebuilding my machine, and take a note of the programs that I want to keep. This is also a good time to re-evaluate the usefulness of some of them and avoid cluttering the new system.

For me, the most essential applications to run are VMware Workstation, WinRAR, PuTTY, Win-SCP, Azureus, UltraEdit, UltraISO, Microsoft Office, and Nero. After reading some mixed reports, I was a little worried that some of these wouldn’t work correctly under Windows Vista.

Installing the essentials

I started out installing the small but most definitely essential programs; PuTTY, WinRAR, WinSCP, and UltraEdit. I’m really happy to say that all of these installed and ran without one single hiccup. I even successfully restored all of my saved PuTTY sessions via a registry import, which has saved a great deal of time.

Getting going again with VMware Workstation and Nero presented more of a challenge. VMware Workstation 5.5 refused to install with Windows Vista as the host operating system. While Vista is not a supported host operating system, I was hoping that it would still run. After reading the support forums, I found that some people had been able to get around the ‘Your operating system is not supported’ messages by editing the installation file; once the installation was complete they still had all sorts of issues with drivers and networking, so I decided not to bother. Later on I visited the VMware Beta site. They have a beta program running for VMware Workstation 6 which supports Windows Vista as a host operating system. Another nice feature of the version 6 beta is full-speed USB2 support making the use of USB devices with virtual machines much more viable. Registering to use the beta version is free, and you are instantly provided with a download link plus activation key—the beta installed flawlessly (with one or two unsigned driver warnings), and I’m now using it without any trouble at all. Nero 6 unfortunately doesn’t run on Windows Vista so an upgrade to Nero 7 Reloaded is required. The first time I tried to install this it just wouldn’t work. A few days later, an updated version was released (v7.7.51), which seems to be fine although creating VCD’s doesn’t work anymore as the lipsync is always out.

When coming to install Microsoft Office, I decided to go with 2007 rather than the tried and tested Office 2003. It has taken me a little while to get used to the different look and layout of Word and Excel in 2007, but now that I’ve adjusted, I find it gives a much smoother workflow. I had previously used Mozilla Thunderbird to handle my mail rather than Outlook 2003. With its new layout options and additional features, I was quite tempted and decided to try Outlook 2007. I really like it; the option to send sent items to a subfolder is priceless for IMAP users who may also use Webmail while not in the office. The lack of this option in Outlook 2003 was one of the main reasons I had used Thunderbird in the past.

The only software suite I had real difficulty with was Visual Studio 2005. Although there is a hotfix/update to provide Windows Vista support, the original suite plus service packs must be installed beforehand. Running the setup with administrator privileges got things moving but the installation was painfully slow; it failed twice and finally, on the third attempt, it installed correctly (although that took almost 2 hours). After a similar wait for the service pack and patch to install, everything seemed to work fine. If you are installing Visual Studio on Vista, my advice is: “Don’t quit it”; keep faith that it hasn’t actually crashed but is just very sloooooow!

Niggles

Whilst using Vista over the past few weeks, I have settled in to the new environment pretty well. I have all of the applications that I need and the interface polishing makes using Windows Vista just that little bit more pleasant. Comparing Vista to OS X, I would have to say that I still prefer the Apple interface and Windows Vista doesn’t really offer anything that OS X doesn’t already have.

Working with Windows Vista for the last few weeks, I have also picked up some little niggles; things which aren’t quite right and can get rather annoying. The first complaint has to be slow networking. For some reason, file transfers are painfully slow over a network; copying a 700-MB file took me forty minutes when it should only take two or three. I have checked drivers and tried to disable auto tuning as described here which didn’t seem to make any difference. The security features added to Windows Vista are pretty good at making you aware of what’s going on. Messages from Windows Defender and prompts to authorise system-level operations are annoying and can be disabled but then that would defeat the purpose. Apple makes a little dig at this in their most recent ‘get a mac’ campaign. I had briefly suffered from an annoying error message informing me that PCSSRV had stopped; pretty worrying seeing as this is a service related to Trend Micro AntiVirus! A few days ago, an update fixed it and I think much of the same can be expected. Any programs which don’t currently run on Windows Vista will either be patched relatively quickly or support Vista in their next release.

Windows Vista is certainly not a reinvention of Windows. From an end user's perspective, there is little more to Windows Vista than a pretty face and lots of warning prompts. The smart new user interface is nice but Vista seems more like Windows XP with a nice theme installed than it does a new operating system, which has been in the works for more than five years. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Have you recently started using Windows Vista? What are your first impressions?

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