My Road To Vista Part 1

I recently got a (legit even!) copy of Windows Vista and decided to check it out slowly. When I got my new system I got dual hard drives, and the second one hasn’t really been used yet, so I can install a new OS and migrate over at whatever pace I need to without losing hard drive space, or having to go “all or nothing”.

I don’t want to focus on the boring stuff, benchmarks, screenshots of the install, all stuff you can find in pretty much any Vista review out there. Instead I want to focus on how using Vista affects me as a user. I’m a geek so I know about stuff, but honestly, I really want to just use the computer to get stuff done (in my case mostly game play and graphics / photography / photoshop work).

So here we go.

Read on for the geekiness.

The install was fine, I’ve installed Vista in a virtual machine a few times before so basically it was plug in CD, click, click…. click, and then wait for 20 to 30 minutes. No problems. Then the fun started. I forgot how much a huge pain in the ass setting up a new computer is. Installing in a VM is fine because you don’t actually use anything. Installing for real means you have to remember everything you use on a daily basis (or install as you find you need them), plus configure, then find all the other little things you forgot you use, then clean up the OS after itself (ie: removing the crap from the “new ->” right click menu). Even though I have a folder of all the stuff I downloaded the last time I did this, those are all potentially old and out of date files, so I may as well re-download everything. Bleah. This was way more fun the last time I did it because it was fresh new hardware so I got to go “ooh! it’s so much faster now!” each time. This time it’s onto the same hardware so there’s way less of a thrill.

Oh, and I’m sure the security gurus out there will complain that I’m running as Administrator and not as an unprivileged user, but that’s how I went because (normal user thinking here) that’s how I was let to install. Nowhere did it tell me to create an unprivileged account. Anyway.

First Impressions, starting with the good stuff:

After a few evenings of installing software and copying over settings I’m close to being able to call this new OS “my own.” The new graphics are super sweet (yay for eye candy), and it has (UAC bitching below aside) some nice new security features that I honestly believe will go very far in making computers more secure for people using them. I’m not sure if the handholding and big-brother-ness will be worth it in the long run, but that’s another discussion.

The new icons, search system, ability to save searches, the new start menu search and layout, folder views and organization, directory layout…. get all tops in my book.

All is not rosy for me though…


UAC (User Access Control) is a huge Pain In The Ass


When I first heard about UAC (where windows pops up a dialog asking for permission (if you’re running as administrator) I was convinced it would be the end of Vista. When I ran the first release candidate and got UAC prompts for changing my wallpaper or screen resolution I was aghast and sure that Microsoft had never actually used their own OS. The second RC was better and when I played with the final release under a Virtual Machine I hardly ever saw it. I felt better, and figured I had simply over-reacted.

Of course, installing under a VM is nothing like when you are doing real work.

In a discussion about this I was asked if Mac OS/X did the same thing if you were doing administrative things and it does, using something similar to the unix “sudo” command, which in essence grants the user temporary administrator rights for a certain amount of time. QED my good windows friend said, Mac does the same thing. Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but when I used a Powerbook for a year a couple of jobs ago I never had the number of administrative prompts I had in the two or three evenings I’ve been installing and setting up Vista. Honestly I wanted to throw the computer through the friggin wall a few times. The first evening I just gave up a couple of hours in and rebooted back to XP just to get some work done, and I don’t get frustrated that often.

Yes, I could have turned off UAC. But that’s not the way it’s designed. This causes a few problems for new users I think. First is the obvious frustration. If you buy yourself a new computer and start re-installing all your software your going to see this prompt a lot. Secondly is that if this is the first thing a user does then it’ll get them used to hitting the ‘yes allow’ button, potentially causing issues when they surf off to bonzai buddy sites.

Not only that, but it’s got some really stupid things as well. Lets say I want to create a new directory under c:\program files\ (as administrator). So I go into the directory, right click and select New ->Folder. The following happens.


  • I’m prompted that I’ll have to confirm the operation. Click continue.
  • I’m prompted that I’ll have to give my permission to continue. Click continue.
  • I’m returned back to the explorer where I can type in the name of the new folder. I type and hit enter.
  • I’m prompted that I’ll have to confirm the operation. Click continue.
  • I’m prompted that I’ll have to give my permission to continue. Click continue.

At that point my file appears in the folder. Now part of this appears that it takes the “create folder” and “name folder” parts separately, probably because I am creating a new folder called “New Folder” in one operation and then renaming it in the second.

Is this going to happen that often? Probably not. I do like to keep things organized though, and program files go in the program files directory even if they don’t come with a proper installer to my way of thinking. Will mom have this problem? Most likely not. Does it piss of me, a techy, early adopter and lover of shiny new things? Hell yes.

Now when deleting the folder I’m told once again that I have to confirm (click continue) and then give my permission (click continue). This last operation (done just now) took 30 seconds to complete. 30 seconds to delete an empty folder, I shit you not. Now this only happens when deleting a folder from a privileged area it seems, but 30 seconds to delete an empty folder on a dual core P4 2.40 Ghz with 2 G of ram?

Please note that 30 seconds is the amount of time counted off (no stopwatch or anything) doing this over a (fast) internet connection via RDP. When doing this before it’s still taken consistently 15 seconds, the number I expected… not sure why my machine decided to be super slow. Even 15 seconds is 100% unacceptable though.

Here’s a look at the differences between UAC and OS/X authentication where the writer sides that UAC is superior. While I don’t know either OS deep enough to discuss the technical details, I do know that as a user, UAC was far more annoying.


Incompatible Software / Hardware

For the most part the stuff I use worked fine. The two exceptions were OpenVPN (used to connect to work) and my Photosmart S20 scanner (quite old). The scanner does work under XP so I had high hopes it would work under Vista. No such luck. Not a huge deal as it’s not the best in the world, but still it would be nice to have the option to use it.

Ironically enough the reason that OpenVPN didn’t work was I installed the beta version assuming it would have better Vista support in it. Re-installing the current stable version made that all better, which is good because that would have been a deal breaker for me.

Some software also was required to be run as administrator (even though I was running as administrator) to get rid of those first time “register me” dialogs, which for some reason needed to be run once to get rid of them and then they ran without incident as my (administrative) Alan user.


Random Annoyances

A few things are getting to me as well, and I’m sure most of them are simply unfamiliarity with the environment. For example, I get a message when I boot up that “some startup programs blocked” and an option to run them or list/remove them. The program is (FYI) the Installshield update service from macrovision (from WinDVD I think).

Selecting to list them puts me in the Windows Defender program which gives me a list of start up programs (super cool) but doesn’t allow me to edit the list. There are options for remove/disable/enable there, but they are greyed out.

Actually it’s worse. It randomly allows random/disable/enable to be active. For Adobe gamma loader I can remove it, but not AVG, quicktime or iTunes (which I’d like to be able to not run on startup). So I get a tease of real power over my system for the common man…. but it’s then snatched away.

What else….

Some deficiencies I see simply by the fact I used OS/X a few years ago. Copy dialogs still pop up right in the center of the screen, and multiple copies create multiple windows, whereas under OS/X the copy progress bar appears in the top right and if there are multiple copies going on they are appended to the dialog. Also, the redesigned “replace file/folder” dialog that you get when you copy one file/folder over another with the same name gives way more information than before. Too much information I think. I applaud them for going with ‘action words’ as buttons instead of ok/cancel, but I look at the dialog and my eyes cross.

At least it allows you to deal with any file conflicts at the end of the copy!

I’m sure there’ll be other things I don’t like as time goes along too.


Overall so far I’m not willing to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. I haven’t really used it that much like I said, especially for games, and I’m a bit nervous about that based on benchmarks like these (anywhere from 2-8% drop in game performance, and over 30% drop in one). Check back for part 2 and more as I get more into actually using my shiny new OS.

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