In Vista’s Defence…

[Ed:  I actually wrote this back in November, so a few things have changed, but my opinion generally hasn’t]

OK, Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead saying stuff like this, but I’m getting sick of the public FUD and smear campaign on what’s possibly one of the best Microsoft Windows releases to date.

Yes, I know how odd that sounds coming from myself – I’m a long-time Linux and OSX user and have preferred staying away from Windows for anything non-gaming related, but now we’ve got people resisting what’s a fundamentally decent change if they’re changing hardware anyway.

From my point of view, there are a few key points here:

Vista made it from RTM to SP1 in about a year, and the Service Pack 1 release improved performance for most things up to XP level.  Nobody would dream of using XP without Service Pack 2 these days, but would they still be as fond of the RTM release of XP when compared against Vista SP1?

Vista’s UAC (User Account Control), whilst infuriatingly obtrusive, is a step in the right direction for most common users and it’s continued support should see application developers start fixing their applications to operate correctly along-side it without relying on priveledge escalation to get stuff done.  We in Unix-land have been able to do our day-to-day work without superuser privileges, Windows users should be able to as well.

Vista’s video driver system is substantially more robust than the XP video driver system.  Under XP, I’ve had machines with shader-capable graphics cards bring my system down on a regular basis due to GPU crashes (mostly my old Radeon 9700Pro overheating) – and whilst the drivers have been able to intervene to prevent a complete system crash, they have forced me to reboot the system shortly after.  Under Vista, GPU crashes have been met with a transparent restart of the GPU and things have kept on going – mid game with no more than a 20second pause.  And this was with the RTM release – I haven’t seen a GPU crash in quite some time now.  These changes have cost a few features in certain graphics card drivers, but in general have improved the experience of using Windows dramatically.

Now, I’m also hearing complaints about changes in the shell – User Experience changes per se.  I think people have forgotten the transitions from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 – that was significantly more major than the XP to Vista transition, and at least the Vista Aero themes are vaugely plesant, unlike the old XP Luna theme which I’ve had to religously turn off after booting my XP systems for the first time due to it’s massive performance drag (XP’s GDI system just wasn’t up to it) and it’s gaudy appearance.  On all but my poor Fujitsu laptop, Aero performance has been good enough to leave the full, Translucent, Aero theme enabled without a noticable performance hit – certainly, disabling Aero completely to use the classic theme doesn’t yield the performance increase that disabling Luna did on XP, and Vista, unfortunately, relies on some of the Aero widget sizes and layout to look reasonable.

Theme differences aside, the new start menu makes sense – it dynamic adjusts the main options (which you can manually pin should you dislike that behaviour) to the applications you use most frequently and provides a very fast name-search to find options both in the start menu or files on your PC using the search function now integrated into the start menu.

As for hardware compatibility, I don’t blame Microsoft or Vista, but rather, the hardware vendors.  The only hardware I had any troubles with were all Creative Labs soundcards, and Creative is infamous for holding back on those to force users to upgrade.

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