Touring Windows Vista - Part 1

Our adventure begins...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 by Zoomba | Discussion: Personal Computing

This is part 1 of a 5 part series offering a look into some of the new features of Windows Vista, slated for release to consumers on January 30th, 2007.  These articles will be posted once per week starting at the end of December and leading up to the commercial launch of Vista.

There’s been a lot of commotion over Vista.  It’s all over the press, people are writing about it extensively, and we’ve covered it in-depth here at WinCustomize through news postings and feature evaluations by some of our developers.  Through the forums and our associated blog site, JoeUser, many of you have talked about your personal experiences with the beta and then release candidates made publicly available by Microsoft.  Well, Vista has been released to manufacturing, and is available for purchase to business customers.  Vista is now "in the wild" so to speak and people are starting to play with what is essentially Vista 1.0.  What is out now is likely to be what’s available at consumer launch in January of 2007 and likely won’t change much until Service Pack 1 comes along in a year or more.

We here at Stardock have access to the RTM build of Vista.  Today, I’m going to take some time to write up my experience with the "finished" version of Vista and talk about it from a user perspective.  I’m not a developer, and I’m not a guru on the inner workings of the Operating System or computer itself.  I’m a power user who spends a lot of time working and playing on my computer.  If you’re looking for a critique of WPF, the new driver model, or even much in-depth coverage of the new security model to Vista, look elsewhere.  This article is about Vista from the viewpoint of a power user.

The entire article spans nearly 20 pages, which is far too long to post all at once.  Instead, the larger article has been broken up into five sections, starting with this introduction, and finishing with a general wrap-up and my personal thoughts on Vista after spending a week writing this series.  The articles will be posted every Tuesday starting this week and going until Vista hits consumer release at the end of January.

1.  Installation

We don’t have any DVDs burned at the moment, so I’ve put the RTM build from MSDN on an external hard drive and connected it to my secondary test machine.  This is the box I’ll be evaluating Windows Vista on:

Intel Pentium 4HT 3.0GHz
X600 Video Card
On-board sound

It has a "Score" of 3.6 according to the Vista Ratings tool built into the OS.  My averages were actually closer to 4, but the score isn’t an average.  Instead it’s the lowest overall score your computer achieves.  My lowest was a 3.6 on the Gaming graphics area.  Not a surprise considering I’m running with an X600 ATI card.  This means I can run glass without any trouble.  Not sure how it will work with games though.

The Installation process itself was pretty painless, all I had to do was set my installation type (upgrade versus custom/new) and let it go.  I told it a few things like what time of day it was, and what wallpaper I wanted, and I was off and running.    The new image-based install system speeds things up substantially.

2.  Booting the New OS

Starting up a PC with Windows Vista seems like it’s considerably faster.  I was to the logon screen only a few seconds after my monitor had warmed up enough to display an image.  This blinding speed however is instantly lost when you actually go to login.  It launches into a "Preparing Your Desktop" window that churns for a while as the rest of the OS is loaded.

Once I made it to the desktop I was greeted by the now familiar Windows Welcome Center.

First things first, I wanted to see what exactly came in Windows Vista Ultimate, and why I might possibly want to buy this for home use later on.  So I go and click on it and I’m presented with an immediate Windows Update.  Turns out it wants me to get the latest Windows Defender definitions and apply sound drivers (the only hardware install didn’t auto-detect).  And I’m greeted with the first of what I assume are many UAC (User Access Control)  pop-ups asking me if I’m REALLY sure I want to apply the updates.

At this point I received some error.  I’m curious as to what this error is about, since I’m doing what the OS told me to do, so I click on the "details" button to get more information.  The message I received was complete gobbledygook, so it’s nice to see Microsoft is keeping the long-standing tradition of useless error codes and dialog messages alive and kicking.

3.  Exploring the features of Vista Ultimate!

Patches applied, I dig again into the advantages of Vista Ultimate.  It talks about cutting-edge programs, innovative services and unique publications that I won’t be able to live without.  Well, maybe I can’t live without it… lets download some!

Whoops, nothing new for Vista Ultimate just yet.  I kind of expected this since the consumer release, what Ultimate is targeted at, isn’t for another month.  But I’m still a little disappointed as I was hoping to have a more complete evaluation of Ultimate.  Even the link to learn more about the services and publications doesn’t go anywhere aside from the currently unhelpful Windows Vista website.

So what else do I get for using Ultimate?  Well, there’s Windows Media Center.  Now, I don’t have a tuner card on this machine, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be able to do with this just yet.  Immediately on opening Media Center it asked me if I wanted to run setup, I just let it do its express setup thing, since I don’t have any media on the box I could control with it.  Funny thing is several coworkers who are running Windows Media Player 11 were treated with a message asking if they wanted to share their media with my Vista machine.  What’s odd is my XP box running WMP11 received no such message.  Seems kind of arbitrary.

Windows Media Player is another area where it looks like there are placeholders for services that just aren’t available yet.  Specifically in the "Online Media" tab which looks like it’s set to become a storefront and distribution channel for purchased TV shows, movies, music and games through the Live Marketplace.  It’s all empty at the moment though.  This is where you’ll hook up an Xbox or Xbox 360 to use your PC as a digital broadcast box for your home entertainment center.  If I had a 360 in the office, I would test this feature out, but alas I don’t.

Overall, Media Center doesn’t have much for me to play with until I load it on a PC with my media collection.

Vista overall is all about the integration between the Operating System and the Windows Live offerings, an attempt to retake the online services market by Microsoft.  From Windows I can get Windows Live Search, OneCare, Live Marketplace, as well as Live Messenger, Windows Meeting Space etc.

Funny thing though, components as basic as Live Messenger (the heir to MSN Messenger) are not included with the OS and you’re provided with a link in the start menu to download the application.

Come back next week as we begin our journey into the OS itself and begin using it, kicking the tires and peeking under the hood.  We'll talk about the new Start Menu, Aero and the Sidebar gadgets.

Reply #1 Tuesday, December 26, 2006 12:32 PM
I am curious to see the rest of your series and how it jives with what Peter Gutmann had to say about Vista's DRM implementations. His article is here and mine discussing it is here.
Reply #2 Tuesday, December 26, 2006 2:54 PM

I actually don't touch on the DRM issues at all in the series.  The focus was on more day-to-day things, and even some tools for power users.  Since I didn't buy any movies or music through Urge, I don't have any first-hand experience with the DRM limitations. 

Looking at the Gutmann article and your article however, I see a disconnect.  You talk about gaming and all content displayed on the screen going through this encrypt/decrypt stage to block ripping the content to a file or device while the Gutmann article focuses on premium video and audio.  There's a pretty big gap between the two.  I don't think the encrypting paged content is going to apply to everything that crosses the video output.

The biggest problem I see here is that if things work as Gutmann says, it renders the Media Center functionality completely unusable.  It's also not 100% clear to me if ALL HD content must conform to these DRM restrictions, or if it's an option for content providers to embed in their content.  If this is a hard-and-fast requirement for ALL HD content, it will kill the PC as a living room appliance goal MS has been going for for years.  How this one is actually implemented remains to be seen.  I know the MPAA and RIAA want it so you can't play anything on your PC, but there's too large of an industry surrounding that now (including parts of Microsoft's own business) for draconian measures like this to really go into force (or at least stick around long before being discarded). 

Reply #3 Tuesday, December 26, 2006 4:21 PM
There's a pretty big gap between the two
The thing is that if you are playing music or anything else inthe background that is classified as "premium" Vista will automagically throttle or eliminate the output on your non-drm capable outputs. Play music while gaming and you can't output through your HDMI connection unless every part of the chain is Vista DRM compliant.
Reply #4 Tuesday, December 26, 2006 8:55 PM

One thing I have noticed in testing the RC2 build 1544, is that it becomes more and more obvious that one will indeed want a dual core processor.

I say this because you may notice as I did that once you launch component functions such as 'media center' and 'tablet pc', the process count increases significantly (high 40's - lower 50's). The advantage of multiple cores should balance the increase in processes and allow machines to actually see improvement in responsiveness (compared to XP's general invoke commands) while being able to utilize the aero interface and other improvements in the OS presentation.

I found that both the media center and tablet pc features (the latter of which were invoked after connecting a Wacom tablet and installing the current Vista driver) added four processes while running, and left at least two processes after being closed and rebooting the machine.

I suspect that a user who has a single core, mid-range clock speed, will not be as impressed with the new OS as a user with a multi-core (or high end single core) processor based system.

Looking forward to your series with the RTM, Mike.

Reply #5 Wednesday, December 27, 2006 12:33 AM
Corky is spot on about the dual core. My 64bit single core is alright, but I got a score of 2. Even with an extra 256 of ram,(as compared to Zoomba). The boot time for me seemed slower than what Zoomba describes as well. It seems odd that this is being released, and most people don't have anything all that new to experience. I really thought there would be some kind of 3rd party program previews etc. I just haven't heard of many.

I look forward to more of this article too. I used Vista Ultimate for a while, and I went back to XP. It's not that I hated it, it's because I didn't love it. Maybe you have better insight.

I had the expectation that something with the title of "Ultimate" would "wow" me in some way. That just didn't happen.

Reply #6 Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:46 AM

You didn't mention whether you were running the 32 bit or 64 bit version. Could you let us know, as I think the P4 HT chips support 64 bit. Also do you know if the Stardock apps will support 64bit?

Reply #7 Wednesday, December 27, 2006 9:34 AM
I'm running in 32 bit. A P4 HT isn't necessarily 64-bit capable. You'd have to get a 64 bit P4 proc specifically. You're thinking of the Core 2 Duos which do both. As to Stardock apps that support 64 bit, that's a dev question. I know we have a few 64 bit boxes in our test lab, but I'm not sure what the status on any individual program is.
Reply #8 Wednesday, December 27, 2006 2:13 PM
Zoomba, I'm looking forward to this series and compare it to my own experience running Vista RC2 on my custom-built PC that scored a 5.2 on the Vista "PC Rating". I do not play games nor do I have any interest in "media" stuff in general, so I don't have any experience with those parts of the operating system. But for what I do use a computer for, I have been very impressed and look forward to the public release. Granted, the high price tag is something which is less than motivating to buy Vista. And, there is the expected "lag" of drivers from some company's hardware as well as Vista compatible software updates which may be a factor in deciding to either rush out and buy or wait.
Sean Conners aka SConn1
Reply #9 Friday, December 29, 2006 4:07 PM
all i want to see is if MS put the "Monaco" recording software in with Vista as people were saying last spring. if they did, i want to try it. if they didn't , i would be curious when it will be available. i can't seem to find any info on it after last may or june.

any info?
Reply #10 Saturday, January 13, 2007 9:45 AM
Great article! I especially agree with the authors comment on the "gobbly-gook" messages from Microsoft.

Will someone please tell them to stop this.

To those without a PhD in computer science such messages make your stomach sink. The first computer system to speak english for ordinary people will make a fortune.

I won't even get into the utter uselessness of Microsoft technical articles. These would scare Einstein away.

Keep up the good work.

Dr. William Wamboldt

Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada

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