Let me get this out of the way first: I really
dislike commenting on beta software. It's almost always unfair
because it can contain a lot of debugging code, is rarely optimized
and will certainly have some bugs. That said with the recently
announced delay of Vista I figured what the heck, I'd take a swing
at a beta version of Vista knowing that there would probably be at
least one more beta and certainly one, if not two, release
That said I'll try and limit my
comments on features rather than performance and stability.
I fired up beta 2, build 5308 which was released
in February, 2006. Installation was pretty much the same as any
other version of Windows and generally took about the same amount of
time. The install media is DVD and I don't have any info on how
Microsoft will distribute Vista, but my guess is that they'll provide
it on both CD and DVD much like they offered Windows 95 on both CD
and floppy. That's just a guess but I'd be surprised if MS would
shut out all those machines without a DVD drive.
Security and Gee-Whiz
There are two areas that stand out immediately;
security and the "gee-whiz" factor.
No question that Windows has taken a slamming on
security issues. I don't claim to being any kind of security expert
but it has always occurred to me that Windows could easily be more
secure if it simply shut down all ports and didn't allow any program
to run even if the user was running as administrator.
I also recognized that this would be a royal pain in the butt.
Vista does just this; even if you're running as
administrator just about any system tool or change now requires an
extra "do you want this to run" click. Say you want to change a
network component. You click the network icon in control panel and
bang, up comes a windows asking if you want to allow the applet to
run. Well duh, sure you do so a click is required.
Of course the flip side is if malware was trying
to do something nasty you'd get the window as well and I suppose
since you hadn't asked for the applet to run you'd tell it no. But
regardless it seems like you'd be requesting it often, much more
often than malware launching it so you end up doing a lot of
unnecessary clicking. I would hope that there will be a hack out to
The "gee-whiz" factor is to improve what I call
the "user experience" and ranges from look and feel of the icons and
windows. Certainly things like the look of the icons, transparent
windows, "thumbnails" of the screen when you mouse over a program
entry in the task bar are way cool.
A bit more about the latter; when you minimize a
program on the task bar and then mouse over it the thumbnail isn't
static but is dynamic; it shows the current screen for the program,
not a snapshot of what the screen looked like when it was minimized.
There's even a gee-whiz change to how you can
cycle through active programs. Click the Windows key and the
spacebar and you'll get this display:
Each screen is fully active; that is it continues
to display the real time image of that screen so if you have a video
playing it'll show the video. Ditto alt-tab which shows a thumbnail
of the window vs. the old method of showing an icon; everything in
the thumbnail is real time.
And an example of a very small thing but
indicative of the numerous small things that have gone into the
interface; if you want to change the size of the desktop icons you
only need to hold down the ctrl key and turn the mouse wheel to
increase/decrease the size of the icon. Slick.
Lots of changes, some of which make great sense,
others that make me scratch my head. For instance in the latter
category to bring up task manager the key combo has been changed
from ctrl-alt-del to ctrl-shift-esc. Why change a key combo that's
been around forever?
But there are tons of new features that make a lot
of sense. For instance there's the event viewer; not only has it
been expanded to cover more areas but there's also a consolidated
view that contains the events from all the various areas
(applications, systems, security, etc.). Far more handy than having
to look into each category.
Somewhat outside of my ability to fully explore
but it appears that the structure of drivers in Vista is a big
change from previous versions and they no longer run as part of the
kernel and are thus unable to crash the OS. If this is correct it
should eliminate drivers as a source of crashes.
There are several new applets in the control panel
and the most intriguing to me is the Performance Rating and Tools
which gives a nicely detailed inventory of CPU, RAM, hard drive and
graphics device info along with a list of performance issues with a
hot link to help you fix them. Some of them didn't make sense; the
two programs that were identified as causing Windows to start slowly
were Windows services that couldn't be eliminated. But again, this
is a beta version.
Another new feature I see as being very helpful is
virtual folders. You can do a search (and Vista is big on searches)
and create a folder with the results. For instance you search on all
files related to a certain topic and can then make a folder of those
There is a new "sleep" mode that allows a very
fast restart. While Vista boots quicker by allowing some start up
tasks to run in the background the new mode is different than
previous hibernate modes and allows a very fast restart.
Help has a new "guided help" feature. It was
incomplete in the beta version but it's a window that moves around
the screen showing you what to click next. With the changes in how
things are done in Vista I expect it will be a feature used
frequently even by those experienced with XP.
The Bottom Line
I would expect that the final version will be
faster than the beta version I tried and while I don't like all the
clicking to do simple administrative tasks Vista looks like a nice
leap forward. I could live without the gee whiz stuff and settle for
more stability with the changes in how drivers are handled.
Certainly it's an
upgrade that'll bear a lot of consideration not the least of which
will be price which, at this time, is unknown.
On the other hand if it keeps getting delayed I'll
never have to make the upgrade decision....