Too long – Vista review part 1 – The good

Too long – Vista review part 1 – The good

Yes, yes, yes.
It has been far too long since an update. I’ve been fiddling with getting a WordPress replacement for my homebrewed blogging tool; but it’s time to admit I need to just keep doing this until I get the new one up.  At any rate, I’ve been making updates in text files with the hope of putting them on the new blog framework, so I’ll just slowly start releasing them here.

First up – VISTA!  I’ve been using Vista for a month or so and thought I’d chime in on my impressions as other have. Since all things are mixes of good and bad, I divided my review up after the spirit of one of Clint Eastwoods classics: “Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo” (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). One coming each day this week.

Day 1. Il Buono (The good)

Memory requirements/system requirements:
Remember the horrified forum doomsayers that said you need at least 2 gigs (if not 4) of memory just to get Vista up and a latest shader-based DX10 compliant video card? I’m here to say that’s completely not true. I was running Vista with 1 gig on a core solo laptop with an ATI 200m and on another system with an Intel integrated graphics card. After a week, I can attest the performance was just as zippy (if not more so) than when it was on XP. That’s with Aeroglass running too. Even if your graphics card doesn’t have vista drivers, the non-aeroglass interface is perfectly fine. More memory does help, but 1 gig was more than enough to get full performance and full functionality. 512meg will get you swapping though…

Aeroglass and new interfaces:
If you’re like me, you are NOT impressed by WindowsBlinds and the myriad of other unbelievably sub-standard attempts to snazzy-up windows interfaces.  Don’t get me wrong, the ability to customize your interfaces is a good idea in itself. The problem is these ‘customizations’ or themes are usually done by a teenager who had a 3-day online course on Photoshop and now thinks he is Leonardo Divinci.  With no knowledge or concern of color theory, he slaps together some near-pornographic images of hot girls he stole off the internet after a 5 day drinking bender.

Up until now, users were given the ability to control sizes and colors for all the UI items independently. Unfortunately, it makes it terribly difficult to maintain uniform look and feel between the UI elements. Raw magenta, cyan, yellow, pure reds/blues/greens were NEVER meant to appear on screen together. Yet that’s what is on the default windows color picker palette aren’t they?  Why in the world would you want to change the title bar size and not the text size with it so that it adheres to rules of proportionality?  It’s completely wrong to give users control knobs of an interface’s look/feel all independent of each other when basic design principles dictate they should be linked/proportioned together.

Unfortunatley, this means we are now awash in Geiger/Aliens-esk interfaces with win95 hot-dog stand color schemes on top of semi-nude model wallpapers and button shapes/sizes/icons that rivals the utter ugliness of the original X-windows Motif interface elements.  Microsoft’s ‘give them all the knobs and let them figure it out’ approach is why 50 year old teachers and car salesmen’s computers have window sizes/colors that look like a paint factory exploded on randomly sized pieces of lumber.  For heaven’s sake, the default windows color chooser still had you enter 0-255 RGB values instead of something as basic as a color wheel that shows you the current selection’s complementary color pairings and triads so you automatically get harmonic colors. It’s like telling a musician to compose by entering the frequencies to make a chord. So instead of saying “play a C chord here with feeling” which encapsulates the knowledge of what is harmonic and pleasing, they’d be forced to enter: play 16.35hz (C), 20.60hz(E) and 24.50hz (G) with vibrato of .5hz/sec. Argh!

Even with the good enhancements and expansion to the user interface experience that came in XP, I’m even happier with Vista’s Aeroglass. Yes, Aeroglass is pretty much a rip-off/re-interpretation of Mac interfaces – but that’s ok. Microsoft learned a lesson that interfaces are important, and that wow-factor and flow is key to the experience of using (and selling) the operating system. Apple has this in spades. Why do you think they can charge 2x for equipment that’s about 1/2 as technologically capable than other things out there?

That’s just one thing Linux zealots don’t yet get. Yes you’re technically, and arguably, morally superior. But it isn’t sexy, and in case you didn’t learn this in high-school – you are a lot more popular with sexiness than actually being morally, intellectually, or technically superior (though Apple does get these departments mostly right too – they’re just not bleeding edge). Sexiness also sell more software. Microsoft gets my seal of approval for not going the WindowsBlinds route that just polishes the turd one more time. Instead, they made the conceptual leap in 100% the right direction by rendering windows contents to textures then manipulating the underlying 3D geometry it’s pasted to in order to achieve cool blending, fading, and bending effects. This allows them to utilize the power of modern graphics hardware and finally opening our desktops to the amazing voodoo that shaders do so well.

For desktop themes, you get to pick a little colored, shinny, square gems with harmonic colors already baked in. Too bad that flowing feel of working with the windowing system gets a brick thrown through its aeroglass each time you get one of the unending security warnings (more on that later).  Still, I’ve been using the windows interface and media center app for a month and I’m very impressed with its look and feel. After a few days, I knew I wouldn’t re-install XP. Microsoft’s Media Player, on the other hand, is still the stupidest and most UN-intuitive way to manage and find your music and videos but at least it has gotten a face-lift. It’s technically solid, but I’m always left saying: Geez, kill that thing or build something that actually has a decent, usable interface where I can actually find the songs I want fast and play them easily.

Program compatibility knowledge:
You will get dialogs about ‘known issues’ when running some older programs. This was a good idea – to notify you when things might go wrong and give you a link to an online knowledge base to help resolve them. I haven’t played with it much, but it seems as if the articles are getting updated all the time. Every week I find some new info on a compatibility page. Now, if they could hook it up to a real user-modifiable forum style knowledge-base, that would be excellent. People can post what they’ve tried, what works, partially works, etc. Then Microsoft could come along and certify the ‘best’ answer if it comes along. Hmmm, listening yet Microsoft? Anyway, they do have compatibility running modes that support running things as old as 95. If stuff didn’t just work anyway (which most stuff did), you could set the compatibility mode and I got all my apps to run. The only one I couldn’t get running was Quake 4 (not that that’s any big loss); but I did just hear a new patch that came out will work. Overall, I found compatibility to not be any issue and a touch better than the previous compatibility mode execution.

A real bane to existence is waking up computers from sleep and hibernation modes. Simple a concept as it is, Windows-based PC’s do not reliably sleep/hibernate.  Everybody I know at some time has had some issue with waking from a sleep/hibernate mode – especially with notebooks. Sometimes it never comes back from sleeping, sometimes devices acted weird/don’t function afterwards, etc. I’m happy to say this has vastly improved. I ran my desktop computer for 2 weeks waking and sleeping at least once or twice a day without reboot and had no stability issues. I also did it on a vista compatible laptop I was evaluating and it felt a lot more stable than XP in the one week I tried it.

I can play all my favorite games on Vista without a single hitch – mainly Half-Life 2/Counter-strike source. Performance and frame rates were at least the same, if not a touch better, on Vista. Surround sound in Half-life 2 works flawlessly. It certainly seemed a bit more stable by subtle responses I got. I think gaming will be very compelling, if you don’t have one of the above compatibility problems.

That’s it for THE GOOD so far. Tomorrow: The BAD

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