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Aug 08

Windows Vista Hardly Worth the Effort

 I’ve been running the released version of Windows Vista for the past 8 weeks or so, and I can summarize my experience so far in 1 word:

 Yawn.

 To me, this is nothing but a makeup on a pig. I’ve gotten Vista to blue screen numerous times, always due to driver incompatibility issues. Driver incompatibility? This has been an issue since Windows NT 3.1 and Microsoft still hasn’t figured it out. Sure, the Windows Compatibility testing is there to address the issue, but I’m blowing up on known-good Windows XP drivers for a USB NIC. That causes a blue screen?

 Every time I browse a directory of videos, I get a strange “COM Surrogate” error. Surfing the web, this is an error that is somehow caused by incompatible CODEC’s. CODEC’s causing a Windows error? Seriously? You can’t squelch this error?

They got rid of the mediocre HyperTerminal application and replaced it with…nothing. This is always a nice move to remove an applet out of the OS, especially one that proved to be exceptionally handy to IT networking people.

 Windows Sidebar is the biggest yawn – it’ll be the flashing 12:00 of the new Millennium. By default, Windows sidebar is installed stealing screen real estate on the right hand side of the screen. By default, you have to click a link to enable an rss feed. By default, the overwhelming majority of people will *not* click the button to enable the feed, and I’m sure that the majority of non-tech savvy folks will ask me how to get rid of “that annoying thing on the right side of the screen.” Oh, it’s also nice to have gadgets on there which pop up their own errors – yet one more place where i get to click “OK” for no great reason. I got rid of it and have no intention of turning it back on.

 On my brand new HP NC6320 laptop, the resume from standby doesn’t work. Could be an HP issue, could be a Microsoft issue. However, on the NC6120 with XP, I never had this problem.

 When I copy files from the laptop to my server downstairs via 802.11G, Windows never figures out how long the copy is going to take. It just says “Calculating Time Remaining” until the copy completes. However, when I click the “advanced’ button on that screen, the dialog box shows how many MB are left to copy. Um hey Microsoft, here’s an algorithm you can have for free: (MB left to copy)/(time take to copy data so far)=(File transfer speed). Now, take (File Size)/(File Transfer Speed) and now you have estimated time to copy file. If you’re really snazzy, update it every second and then figure out how much time has already passed and give an estimated time to completion. Showing “Calculating Time Remaining” for 4 minutes is unacceptable.

 Also unacceptable is this graphic, which has been on my screen for five minutes. Vista has basically locked up trying to delete a file. I never had this problem in DOS. Notice that the “Cancel” button is greyed out because I already clicked it. Five minutes ago!

Vista Cancelling a file Delete

I saw some web video where Microsoft claims to have done more usability testing than anyone has ever done before on any Operating System ever. Really? Did you test using the Beta versions, because those were unusable (I know, I tried using them). I imagine the results of all of those surveys were “Why did Explorer crash on me constantly?” They seriously can’t believe that they have made vast steps forward in GUI design. Sure, everything looks cooler and sleeker and more space age, but things are harder to find. Look at the default Save dialog in the image below.

Vista Save Dialog

What happens if you don’t want to save in the default location? What do those “>” symbols between the directories mean? Why do I have to hit a down error to Browse Folders? Answer to question one is “I’m still a bit confused on those things and tend not to use them.” The answer to question 2 is because apparently Microsoft wants you to click more often with your mouse. I suppose it’s also to save screen real estate by optimizing the size of the dialog box, but that can’t be the case because they have the useless Windows Sidebar on the right hand side of the screen.

The built in security….Well I guess they had to do something. By default, NO ONE gets local Administrator rights on a Vista machine. That’s fine, until you want to do something that requires Administrator rights. When that happens, your screen suddenly dims and a dialog box pops up asking you if the action you want to perform is permitted. If you click Yes, Vista temporarily assigns you Admin rights, does the request for that task alone with Admin rights, and then drops you back down to regular user mode. The dimming down and the dialog box is annoying but it also doesn’t really solve the security problem. It doesn’t pass the “What would my mom do” test.

 The “What would my mom do” test is the following: Given a moderately technical request, how would my mom react to that request? So if a virus or spyware were trying to install itself and Vista asked her if she should allow the program to run, what would my mom do? The first 10 times, she would call me and ask me what to do which causes disruption to her work flow. I would most likely tell her to permit the action each time. Eventually she would quit calling me. 99 times out of 100, it is going to be OK to permit the action. But that one time when she should have called me, she won’t and BAM – spyware is installed.

 Vista isn’t any faster, not that I can tell. It sucks the life out of the battery of my laptop. I estimate my battery life is reduced close to 50%. I’m using the snazzy new Aero interface and that apparently is leading to much of my battery drain. The Aero interface requires a certain class of computer and is ultimately not that cool.

 There are new screen savers, but you can’t tweak the settings like you could in all previous Microsoft screen savers. There are more and better games included such as chess. The help system is really good. That’s a major improvement.

Here’s a fun one. I’m trying to copy new songs to my USB-connected MP3 player.  This device connects to the PC via USB and just shows up as a hard drive. I can then drag and drop files back and forth just as if it were another hard drive. However with Vista this isn’t working very well with Vista. I just tried copying some files and it came up with some stupid error that the data on the the remote drive has changed and do I want to try the copy again? So I click “Try Again” 20 times. No luck. I disconnect and reconnect the drive, and I get the same error. So I plugged the MP3 player into my XP machine and all the files copied just great. Maybe it’s because the Symantec Antivirus for Vista is also still new and it was interfering. Maybe not. I’m now glad to know that Vista won’t let me copy files to a removable drive.

 Don’t get me started on configuring Networking. They have useless charts and graphs and things to tell you about the networking on your computer but finding the path to get to where I can edit the settings like my IP address is far more adventurous than it should be.

I had to set up my Vista workstation to serve FTP to upgrade a networking appliance at work. I went in to add FTP, checked the box for FTP (and IIS while I was at it) and clicked OK. Vista whirled and sputtered and a minute later it says my changes had been made. I tried to ftp to my workstation (ftp 127.0.0.1) and it failed. I went to Administrative ToolsIIS  Manager and saw no reference for FTP. I looked around some more and found no way to manage the FTP server. I hit F1 for help and typed in FTP Server as my search term. I chose the most likely help link and it sent me to a support page at Microsoft detailing how to install it. I did as it said…well, kind of. I certainly clicked the check box for FTP in the install area and it went from blank to blue. I figured that was good enough to get the “default” FTP install. Apparently not. Changing check box colors from blank to blue doesn’t mean anything other than the check box is now blue.

I had to go back to the install, and specifically check the two FTP items in the submenu. Nice work Microsoft. Feel free to provide user feedback without it actually meaning anything and wasting 10 minutes of my life. Oh, two more swell things:

1. Windows Firewall didn’t update itself that I had installed FTP, so I had to manually tell Windows Update to permit FTP. You’d figure the install would have taken care of that right? It’s probably a lame attempt by Microsoft to show that security is king and even if I install something, they are not going to permit access to my machine unless I specifically do it myself. Yawn.

2. You have to manage FTP with “IIS6 Manager” but the IIS Web components are IIS 7. In other words, they just took the old FTP that came with XP/2003 and threw it into Vista – literally. They didn’t even write an interface for the IIS7 manager to manage the FTP that they shipped with Vista. How very Linux of you, Microsoft.

So how does Vista fit into an enterprise network like where I work? Will it make my job as a network admin that much better? No. It will make our lives that much more expensive as we need to upgrade computers so Vista will even install. It will require a lot of training, especially for our non-technical employees (Remember all that usability testing Microsoft did? Shouldn’t we have to do *less* training?).

The only possible, tangible benefit to Vista is that if it is vastly more secure than XP, then we as a corporation are less prone to risks such as wide spread viruses and spyware outbreaks. Now we’ve never had one of those, but security isn’t about mitigating what did or didn’t happen in the past, it’s about mitigating what will happen in the future. I haven’t read a ton of articles regarding this and really only the test of time will tell us if viruses and spyware on Vista are drastically decreased or not. At that point (say in a year) will we know if Vista is more secure. And at that point, we *may* start upgrading our computers at work. If not, we may just skip Vista entirely, like people did with Windows Millennium.

I’m an early adopter of technology and I am keeping Vista on my laptop. But I am absolutely not recommending to anyone that they upgrade when Vista comes out sometime next week. Save your money and wait for it to provide some kind of tangible value, probably after the first service pack when my blue screens and stuck file-delete dialog boxes are fixed.

(Quick tip regarding the lack of Telnet: IT’s actually in Vista, it’s just not installed by default. GO to Control Panel/Programs and Features/”Turn Windows features on or off” and from there you can install the telnet client.)

2007/01/15

2007/08/ 08 Update: Microsoft just released 2 patches to improve performance and reliability, some of which are (supposedly) to fix many of the problems I reported above. It took them almost 7 months to make them available, but I am currently downloading and installing them. Here’s hoping most of my Vista-related pain goes away.

http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=938979

http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=938194

On a different note, Media Center in Vista Ultimate is a nice improvement over the Windows XP version. The Vista version does a much, much better job handling huge MP3 libraries.

10 comments

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  1. Dave P

    Hell yeah, I completely agree with everything said here.. back to xp for me…

  2. Dave P

    Hell yeah, I completely agree with everything said here.. back to xp for me…

  3. FlavaDave

    Same shit, different bun.

  4. FlavaDave

    Same shit, different bun.

  5. Mac

    Do you know how I can edit the Windows XP move/copy dialog to put a string so that it shows the “transfer speed” & “size of file” when copying or moving any file just like it does in Vista?

    Can you please email me?

  6. Mac

    Do you know how I can edit the Windows XP move/copy dialog to put a string so that it shows the “transfer speed” & “size of file” when copying or moving any file just like it does in Vista?

    Can you please email me?

  7. plexmen

    Any body know how to fix problem with standby mode on HP NC6320 with Vista preinstalled OS?
    I think is problem with some driver of HP, but i cannot find any solutions from HP.

  8. plexmen

    Any body know how to fix problem with standby mode on HP NC6320 with Vista preinstalled OS?
    I think is problem with some driver of HP, but i cannot find any solutions from HP.

  9. flinchbot

    I just looked yesterday for an updated video driver or something from HP and I found nothing. SO at this point, consider it broken.

    However, I did come across a Microsoft HotFix for vista that puports to fix the problem with Vista’s inability to reliably copy. Check Microsoft’s knoweldge base for article 931770. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/931770

  10. flinchbot

    I just looked yesterday for an updated video driver or something from HP and I found nothing. SO at this point, consider it broken.

    However, I did come across a Microsoft HotFix for vista that puports to fix the problem with Vista’s inability to reliably copy. Check Microsoft’s knoweldge base for article 931770. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/931770

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