A Year with Vista

I’ve had a computer with the Vista Premium operating system on it for nearly a year. Before this I had XP for nearly five years. Where are all the bugs that come with Vista -the errors, the crashes? I like Vista. It’s fast and powerful. I’ll explain some of the features I like about it, as well as some of the areas I think people balk at.

Everyone has heard of Instant Search. This is a search feature that dynamically searches the hard drive, showing your results *as you type. *Vista Search seems to work faster and use less RAM than the Google Desktop program. Results are classed in groups -programs, files, and emails. My experience has been that with my 80GB hard drive 60% full, the search is instant. When the drive is 95% full -as mine is now, the search lags just a little, enabling me to type the full search word before any results show up. Another benefit is being able to start stuff like the Notepad, Command Prompt, and Device Manager by using this search. This feature is a clear winner in my mind. XP now offers a similar feature free of charge to users of SP2 or later.

The UAC (User Access Control) screens that pop up whenever you attempt system modifications in the way of installing new programs or changing settings in the Control Panel are alerts that are meant to inform the user every time critical settings are accessed. 99.99% of the time these alerts come up, they are really unnecessary in the sense that they are providing the user with more steps than he/she needs to accomplish the task, i.e. when installing a new program, the user does not need to know that he just opened up an executable file and give the computer permission to install a program since that step was performed by clicking the icon. I have learned to anticipate these warnings by watching for a telltale shield in the corner of the icon that alerts me to the UAC screen that will follow. Thanks to the guys at Redmond for putting this shield on icons, thereby saving the surprise and frustration of having the computer screen dim and a high-level warning jump out for seemingly no reason at all. The UAC pop-ups add confusion and complexity for inexperienced users.

Aero Glass is a feature that makes the edges of windows transparent and displays a preview of content on folders and open-program tabs. The transparent edges are mainly for aesthetic purposes -and I admit that I rather like the clean look of glass windows, but I think that the transparent edges seem to increase screen size just a little because the user can have larger windows and still see what’s behind the window. The downside to this is a slightly bigger appetite for RAM. I have 2gb on my computer, and that’s plenty to run Aero Glass with four or five large programs like Photoshop, AutoCAD, Illustrator, and QuickBooks, etc. all open at the same time.

The Sidebar is another Vista thing. The Sidebar can be displayed as a bar attached to any edge of the screen that is always visible, or it is possible to drag the gadgets off of the sidebar and drop them anywhere on the screen. It’s nice to arrange them on the Desktop if you don’t have a large monitor, and then hide the Sidebar. If you do this, gadgets are not visible on top of open windows, unless you set them to be always on top. I like using the sidebar as a permanent area of my screen along the right edge. I have gadgets that replicate the Taskbar, such as clock and battery life meter, along with a calendar, cpu/ram usage meter, wireless signal meter, and notepad. Vista gadgets seem to run cleaner and faster than Google Desktop. There are free gadgets available online to monitor your email, news, weather, EBay auctions, as well as stuff like alarm clocks, dictionary, word of the day, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Vista Start menu has been redesigned to improve on XP’s demands of tediously dragging the mouse pointer over multiple expansion arrows until finding the program you’re looking for. The Vista Windows button opens up the start menu which has a column of shortcuts to common folders and features on the right side, recently used programs on the left, and a large Programs button on the bottom. Clicking the Programs button opens up a list of programs with some shortcuts to prominent programs right at the top of the list. I don’t know why some programs get shortcuts on the top of the list, but it seems that Abode and Microsoft programs all have a shortcut here. The complete list of programs is lower down on this list, contained in folders similar to XP, without the teeny expansion arrows. Click on a folder to expand it and display all the sub-folders/files. It’s fast and easy to find the program you are looking for, even if you are hand-mousepointer challenged.

Ready Boost is a feature that allows you to use your USB flash drive as system memory to speed up the system in the form of adding RAM. None of my flash drives have the fast transfer speed required for this feature, but most of the flash drives that are for sale today are compatible with this feature and will usually have the Ready Boost logo on the package somewhere. I have never tried this out, in part because I am not dissatisfied with the speed and performance of my computer, and also because this process seems a bit cumbersome.

Network issues are something every XP user is familiar with. I hear and read that Vista has its own set of issues when it comes to networking, but have yet to experience a hitch. My experience has seen a lot of the XP issues entirely eliminated. Some of the XP issues I’ve had were about network printers and file sharing. Vista has completely resolved these glitches. The few bugs I dealt with on Vista, I attributed to user inexperience, and I was able to completely resolve them with a little research. File sharing both ways between XP and Vista is a little tricky because of the different file sharing properties involved.

Vista introduces the term ‘Discovery’ into wireless network terminology. When a computer is discoverable it allows other computers on the same network to ‘see’ it and have access to shared files. XP does not have this capability. To my knowledge, all XP computers on a network are discoverable by a Vista computer, and the Vista can access any shared files on XP computers simply by connecting to an unsecured wireless network. By default, when connecting to a wireless network, Vista is set to not be discoverable; changing this feature requires UAC permission. The ‘Discovery’ feature greatly simplifies and replaces the workgroup settings in XP; where -in order to connect, both XPs had to have identical workgroup and network name settings. I have never had a network connection bug that Vista has not been able to fix. There is a nifty little option called ‘Diagnose and Repair’ that you can start from the Taskbar (XP has a similar feature that doesn’t work.) when the network won’t connect. A dialogue box comes up with a green progress bar indicating mysterious ‘wizards at work’. This often fixes the problem -and if it doesn’t, a restart will. It would be interesting to know what goes wrong, but that information is generally kept a secret. Overall, I think Vista did an acceptable job with networking. It’s not perfect, but it is much improved from previous versions.

Many people rant about Vista’s program compatibility. I have installed many programs on Vista -some of them new and some from the 20th century, and they all run flawlessly. I’m not sure what more to say about this, except that if you are having problems, I am sorry.

Processor information was a mystery with XP, but Vista displays this information –along with the amount of RAM, on the ‘Computer’ screen. The Device Manager has its own icon in the Control Panel allowing access without going through the System folder and its tabs. Another feature I like is the ability to not only sort files in a Folder by headings such as Type, Date, and Name, but to filter them by stacking. Stacking arranges files into temporary search folders called stacks, giving the effect of sorting the files into folders using the criteria you specify such as type, date, program, etc. This quickly hides many files in the folder, allowing you to easier spot the one you’re looking for.

I like the large, informative buttons on conflict boxes. When copying files from one folder to another, Vista allows you to decide whether to overwrite, append a number to the name of, or not move a duplicate folder. The action can be done on a per-conflict basis, or applied to all conflicts at once.