Got my first laptop with Microsoft Windows Vista loaded on it the other day. Our extract lab manager needed a work laptop, and I was looking forward to loading up a new Dell Inspiron 6400 for her, when I got to the part of my order where I choose the operating system. Despite XP Pro being at least a year away from being taken off the shelves, Windows Vista Business was the only available choice.
I am not an early adopter. I did not move from Mac OS 9 to X until they had reached version 10.2. I don’t believe in “Wow”; I believe in “works”. However, I really had my heart set on that Inspiron, so I figured I could work around Vista’s anticipated weirdnesses while they worked them out.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
This is not an in-depth review of the new OS. I’m not an IT professional, I just play one in a small office. I’m not qualified to perform a hardcore analysis of the ins and outs of an operating system. I’m just a more-than-typically-skilled end user. So please don’t misinterpret the following as anything but an initial user’s impression of the product.
After booting up the laptop and building an administrator account for myself, I took Vista for my first test spin. The new interface is….well, it’s creepy. It’s over-the-top 3D sci-fi creepy. Like looking at one of those plasma TVs playing an HD movie of an aquarium, the color scheme, clarity and “poppiness” of the graphics are, to my mind, kinda disturbing. It seems to me that, once again, Microsoft has created the look of their flagship OS simply to try to outdo Apple. “Oh, so Apple has translucency and drop shadows and animated window minimize and restore, huh? Well, fine! We’re gonna have translucency and drop shadows and embossing and specular lighting effects and 3D window zooms! And when you open a window in front of another window or the desktop or anything else, the stuff underneath the translucent parts of the window in front will look all blurry and bubbly and wierd, like you’re looking at the thing behind through some kind of antique window glass, just ’cause we could! How about them apples, Apple?”
Much of the style seems to have been derived from the school of, “first-time Photoshop user goes apeshit with the Drop Shadow and Bevel and Emboss tools, and maybe the Glass buttons in the Styles palette”. It’s actually strenuous to work with in my opinion, and I imagine that the hardware in your average new PC is going to find itself in total agreement. When Dell’s middle-of-the-road business machine comes standard with two gigabytes of RAM, you know they’re expecting the OS to suck up a lot of horsepower. It must be noted, however, that in Vista you can turn all of this horrid, florid eye candy (more like eye glycerin; too sweet to even be enjoyable) off and revert to the old-fashioned Windows-style desktop. Frankly, I wish Apple had chosen to include such functionality in OS X. Apple’s OS does some of this kind of thing on the fly, turning off visual effects on systems that it knows can’t handle ’em, but in my opinion they don’t go far enough.
Okay, so eye candy aside, how does it perform? Well, the very first thing that happened after I created my user and arrived at the Welcome Center was….nothing. The Welcome Center had frozen. After I got that sorted out by rebooting (accidentally hibernated the thing instead of shutting it down because the little “Power Button” icon under the “Pearl” does not actually mean “Shut Down”, it means “Go To Sleep”. To make the laptop actually shut down requires selecting from the extended menu that bleeds off to the right of the little power button icon) I was greeted at the desktop by a notice saying that one or more of the drivers from “Sonic DLA” (they make CD/DVD software of various types) was not stable under Vista and had been disabled. The little “Click Here For More Information” yielded no usable information, and the OS politely suggested that I contact Sonic for more information. There was little reason to do so in my estimation, as Vista had provided not one scintilla of data about the unstable drivers in question, save that detailed above. No file name, no path, no indication as to what piece of hardware these drivers were attempting to drive. A cursory examination of the Inspiron 6400 Support section of Dell’s Web site yielded no information regarding the Sonic driver(s) in question.
So my brand-new laptop with its brand-new OS was shipped from the factory with drivers that render it unstable, so those drivers have been disabled. Disabling as well, it must be assumed, whatever device or function those drivers were meant to handle. So far, not so good.
Overall responsiveness seems fine. There are times when there will be a brief pause between the pressing of a key/radio button/whatever and the appearance of a new application/window/dialog box, but my guess is that eliminating these lags is all but impossible. Certainly my dual 2.5GHz Power Mac G5 is no better in this department, much less my PowerBook G4.
And then there’s the much-vaunted Security with a capital “S” that has been receiving so much attention. It really is just about as annoying as this recent Apple ad would suggest; it seemed as though every single time I opened a Control Panel, accessed an Options screen, changed a default–in short, every single time I did anything remotely like the things one would do to set up or manage a computer–the OS would bring my progress to a screeching halt, charcoal-graying out the entire screen save for a dialog box confirming that I really wanted to do what I was attempting to do. I really have to feel sorry for the folks at Microsoft: so many baddies are out there trying to reduce their products (and their dreams) to so much ash that, in order to protect the user, they have to hinder our free access to just about everything on our own computers. It’s sad, really. 🙁
I was willing….barely….to let this stuff slide. After all, this is a brand-new operating system, and you can’t expect everything to go right the first time, no matter what the ad campaigns say. As long as the basic programs worked–no matter how weird they’re looking these days–the bells and whistles would fall in line over time. About the only thing that absolutely needed to work besides the Office suite was VPN.
Would I have even brought it up if it had worked?
Our SSL VPN appliance uses ActiveX to create a secure VPN tunnel between a PC running Internet Explorer and the office network (on the Mac platform it uses a Java applet). Something about Vista’s implementation of ActiveX does not work and play well with our VPN. Tww-eeet! Okay, everyone out of the pool.
To be perfectly honest, I think a neophyte home user would probably find Vista to be perfectly adequate for their needs. And the hardcore PC gamer is going to pretty much be forced to adopt this OS because it is the only way they will ever see the pants-wetting new 3D features of DirectX 10. I think it is the business customer who is going to have the hardest time adapting to the change. In my all-too-brief experience, the interface gets in the way more than it helps, the security layer is oppressive, and the functionality to the business user positively screams, “Service Pack 1, please!”
And that, my friends, is about where my mini-review of Windows Vista Business comes to an end. I mentioned near the top of this that this posting would consist of initial impressions. Very initial, I’m afraid; I’ve secured an RMA and am returning the unit to Dell for a refund. Kudos to Dell for having a fast, responsive, helpful and domestic returns department. Meanwhile, I’ve contacted my favorite local hole-in-the-wall computer joint about picking up a nice ASUS A8JS for our extract lab manager. A hair more expensive but a serious workhorse, with lots of great features….and Windows XP Pro. 😉