Ten Cool Things about Vista you may not have heard of

Features that make Vista a better experience that aren't marketed much

Monday, October 29, 2007 by Frogboy | Discussion: Windows Vista

Windows Vista has a lot going for it that most people don't really hear about. It's understandable because marketing some of these new features would essentially be tantamount to saying "Oops, XP had some problems". 

What makes Windows Vista a much better experience aren't due mainly to the  major new features. Instead,  it's the hundreds of barely documented improvements to the OS that users notice but quickly take for granted -- at least until they have to go back to using Windows XP for awhile.  The big features like a new security layer, integrated search, game & DVD exploring, DirectX 10, backup, Aero, kernel overhaul, better audio handling, Windows Event logging, WDDM, SuperFetch, ReadyBoost, ReadyDrive support, WPF, WCF, and on and on (thousands of new features).

But what about the end-user experience that people may not have heard of? Below are 10 improvements in Windows Vista you probably haven't heard about.

#1 A truly multithreaded explorer.  In Windows XP, if you opened a file dialog or a window that had to connect to the CD/DVD drive or to the network the whole shell would hang while it did its thing.  Not so in Windows Vista.  In Windows Vista, that all is done in a background thread.  Getting around the OS is always a very fluid experience.
#2 Wireless networking is much improved. The built in wireless networking in XP was pretty awful. Most users ended up having to a user a kludgy or bloated third-part wireless network manager instead.  The one in Windows Vista is not only better looking, it "just works".
#3 Incredibly good plug & play. While it is true that video driver support for Vista at launch was spotty (and not to say "I told you so!" but...read this article from over a year ago). The reality is that most things do work and work extremely well. If I buy a brand new device today and plug it in, odds are it'll work without me having to do anything. And Vista has a nice little progress dialog that you can check to see how your new device is working. On XP, you just got little pop up messages during every stage.  And how many times on XP did you run into something just not working when you plugged it in with no real explanation? That won't happen on Vista. At the very worst case, you'll be able to see where things went wrong in the progress dialog that you can look at.
#4 More polish. Polish matters. If it didn't, we wouldn't be talking about the iPhone all the time. A good user experience matters.  Look at the screenshot to the right here.  Don't be afraid.  This is one of the reasons why Jenny Lam is my hero (her team at Microsoft really did a great job on this).  This kind of improved experience throughout the OS makes Windows Vista much more pleasurable. While there are plenty of people who use our software to make XP look a lot like Vista, there's no substitute for the real thing.
#5 More information about your system. A lot of us have big giant cases under our desk. In fact, in the age of the monitor having the USB ports, the case is getting farther and farther away from us. So the days of being able to simply listen to the hard drive crunching are long over.  On Windows XP, if my system was slow, I'd bring up the task manager and check CPU. And if the CPU meter wasn't pegged then I'd go and look at the case to see if I could hear the hard drive crunching.  On Vista, the task manager will tell you how much of your hard drive bandwidth you're using up and tell you what process is accessing the disk.
#6 Much higher tolerance for handles.  On Windows XP, if your system runs out of handles, programs won't launch and weird things start to happen. There's no warning message about it. Almost nobody knows what a user handle is. On Windows XP, users would just reboot their machine.  People who know what handles know how to kill them off. I wrote an article "How to keep Windows XP stable" that goes into this. On Windows Vista, the system seems to do just fine with high handles so far. This means a much more stable experience.
#7 Assessments. If you're reading this, you're probably the person who people call with computer questions. On Windows XP, you might ask them "What kind of computer do you have?" and the likely response was "It's a Dell." or HP or Gateway or Toshiba or whatever. On Windows Vista, you instead ask them what their performance index is which they can get to very easily. This instantly lets people see how fast their computers really are.
#8 Better thumbnails. Windows Vista has "Windows Photo Gallery". But 99% of the time I'm going through photos in Explorer.  In Windows XP, my choice was "thumbnails" which topped out at 128x128 thumbnails.  In Windows Vista, I can have them as large or small as I'd like which can make for very handy viewing of lots of pictures at once.
#9 Better Laptop experience. In Windows XP, I didn't ever know for sure if my laptop was really going to come back from sleep or hibernation. Some of my laptops still run XP and it's a difference between XP and Vista I am constantly reminded of. In Windows Vista, my PC is definitely coming back from sleep. I know there are still people who complain, I'm not saying it's perfect but it's a lot more reliable for me than XP was (or OS X Tiger was) in this regard.
#10 Usability improvements. There are so many tiny touches in Windows Vista that you won't see mentioned anywhere. For instance, in Windows Vista, if you click on the system tray clock, you get a nice calendar dialog. By contrast, in Windows XP, I would double-click to get the date and time properties and it was slow (the Vista calendar pops up instantly).  It's just a nice small but useful touch. The home folder is a really nice touch that wasn't in XP in a meaningful way.


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Reply #1 Monday, October 29, 2007 4:03 PM
I am totally happy with the way Vista is working. The wireless has been a breeze setting up and the overall performance is better than XP.
Reply #2 Monday, October 29, 2007 4:08 PM
i got vista earlier and after two weeks on it i had to agree with all of that
it's a really nice experience i like this Os now that i have set it like i want
I still think a bit of improvement is need but it's still a new OS so i'm waiting
I keep XP pro too on secondary and i'm really happy like that.
Leo the Lion
Reply #3 Monday, October 29, 2007 4:43 PM
  Still not convinced. A few hundred dollars for a disc, more ram plus some software and hardware headaches....Nahhhhhh!!! Forget it until middle of next year   
Reply #4 Monday, October 29, 2007 5:03 PM

I have Vista Home Premium 64-bit edition working beautifully on my home-built Media Center box (doing Media Center tasks).  It has worked well since the day it was installed, and continues to work well for that task and other minor tasks I do on the machine (very infrequent web browsing, occassionally burning my own DVDs, other little tasks).

I also have a laptop I bought recently that came with Vista Home Premium on it, 32-bit edition (I wish the vendor provided a path to get 64-bit edition).  Again, working beautifully and nary a problem with it.  Used for much more standard PC usage, web browsing, blogging, forum surfing, etc.  Outside of confusion on where some things moved within the system, Vista has been great for me, though I will say up front that both of my boxes have *plenty of RAM* (the laptop started out at 1GB but I upgraded it to 2GB, and I made sure that the home built PC had at least 1GB before putting on Vista on it, and later upgraded to 2GB just to make sure it had plenty of RAM available.  Both are also using PNY Attache USB flash drives that support ReadyBoost with ReadyBoost working on both.)

Reply #5 Monday, October 29, 2007 5:19 PM
Jafo will get into Vista....soon...
Reply #6 Monday, October 29, 2007 5:33 PM

Another nice thing about Vista:

In XP, if you tell it to reboot you might get endless lame dialogs telling you how some app isn't responding. Now, you get the above screen that lets you just terminate everything at once and reboot. Much better.

Reply #7 Monday, October 29, 2007 6:07 PM
I love my Ultimate experience!!!
Reply #8 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:23 AM
Interesting stuff there. I didn't know about the hard-drive bandwidth and I so far have never seen that dialogue during shut-down.

When I installed Vista64 on my system I had planned on running XP from the second hard-drive in anticipation of teething problems and program/hardware incompatibilities. I never needed XP and never missed it. Instead I installed Ubuntu on my second drive, just to mess around with it.

I agree that Vista is a better experience, it might not be as obvious an improvement as XP was over Win98SE, but it is enough not to miss XP and even not wanting to got back to XP.
Reply #9 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:24 AM
Reply #10 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 5:40 AM
I agree that Vista is a better experience, it might not be as obvious an improvement as XP was over Win98SE, but it is enough not to miss XP and even not wanting to got back to XP.

I am strting to see more and more comments like this these days. I might have to break down and get me a Vista system soon.
Dr Guy
Reply #11 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:25 AM

I worked on a friends Vista, and the wireless is better - although it does take come getting use to.

But my favorite in your top 10 is the Multithreaded explorer!  YEA!!!!!

Reply #12 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 11:45 AM
I have Vista Ultimate 32 and I must agree with Leo the Lion. We paid £400 for it when it first came out here in the UK, which a lot more expensive than what the Americans pay for it! I still don't think that Vista is 100% in a workable build as yet and as such, still needs quite a bit doing to it. However, saying that, I like it a lot as its a totally fresh, new interface with loads of different, new stuff going on! But I think it still needs a lot doing to it yet before it is 100%.
Leo the Lion
Reply #13 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 11:56 AM
And if you think Vista has 'headaches' Apple are starting to get quite a few issues with their new 'Leopard' system which was released a few days ago. Some very unpleasant experiences are coming out in articles and forums around the net from the Mac community. Apple were even deleting some of the posts off their support site on some of the issues being raised by their unhappy customers   
Reply #14 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 12:57 PM
Vista improved a great many things in the systray (clock/calendar, network status, sound, driver install), so WHY did they make the USB device 'safe to remove' a dialogue box you have to click OK to? XP balloon just goes away once you remove the device.
Reply #15 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 1:42 PM
One really useful feature that I think deserves a mention is the fact that in Vista ctrl-alt-del works even if you have an app that is locking up the system.

I have both XP and Vista system that I use, and having to sit there and wait on the locked up application to relinquish some CPU time so I can pull task manager up in WinXP is just so painful now that I have seen what I can do in Vista...

Reply #16 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 2:05 PM
I have been using Vista since beta
I have Vista Ultimate.
While I love my Vista, there are some complaints.
This thing about Wireless being better is crap. It always "Just Worked" for me in XP
In vista, I have had several experiances with Vista on Laptops that would connect but sit in "Local Only" mode. Even if we lowered the security mode to Private Network, it would stay in Local Only and the internet would not be available. Even after applying a MS Hotfix for this.
Also, on my friends system, he got a wireless usb adapter to connect to the router in the front room. It connected and worked great..UNTIL
When I pluged in a network cable between his network card and router, so he could connect to his XBOX for XBMC,his wireless conection went into LOCAL ONLY mode and would not budge out of that untill I unpluged the network cable going to the router.
So he still has to decided what he wants to do. Go online and start his downloads OR stream videos from his computer to his XBOX. But he can't do both.

As for CTRL-ALT-DEl, that works fine BUT I can't use that throught a remote connection because you can't see the dialog remotly.
So I use Ctrl-Alt-Esc instead (Becuase im usualy just trying to get to task manager anyways)

Also, the indexer SUCKS
It is soo freakin retarded that if I add 1 new video clip to a folder, that the next time I open that folder I have to wait up to 5 minutes for the stupid progress bar at the top of the screen to reindex everything, and I can not do ANYTHING during that time.
That is one of the worst features of Vista yet.

And I have this stupid problem where all of my folders want to show up as MUSIC folders.
I have reset defaults and countless other things, but all of my folders continue wanting to display Artist,Album, Track..... for my PICTURE folders and every other folder I have.

Reply #17 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 7:57 PM
If MS wanted to see the "Wow" of Vista, they should have read the article linked to in #3 above! It's as accurate on all points as if it had been written yesterday. Spot on, Frogboy!
Reply #18 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:31 PM
I have Vista Home Premium on a Toshiba Laptop 1Gb Ram, Centrino Duo 1.8Mhz (yes i know, by yesteryear standards set on Poweruser.tv... it is not Elite), but that used to be more than enough to work with.

Let's see: The multithreaded explorer makes the My Computer and Control Panel kinda slow (yes, it seeks all elements inside of them EVERY TIME).

Wireless Networking... When i come from Hibernation it takes the computer a considerable amount of time to just show the connection craplet that hovers when you pass over the wireless icon. And then it takes even more time to load the "connect to this or that network" screen. And by the way, (and this could be my WiFi card, and not Vista) Why don't i get more strength than 60% signal? Is it 60 the new 100?

Granted, Plug and Play works better in Vista (in terms of knowing what it is doing).

Visuals check in alright, and i know I'm kinda missing half the fun of minimizing windows since i don't get to see the smooth transitions in between but that is a matter of which videocard my laptop has. Now we all remember about (was it Cairo's) yesterdays wizards for everything... I do not like any of that, it just takes more time for me to get to where i want to.

More info about my system checks in ok too, but do i have to watch that dreadful page every time i press Ctrl+Alt+Del? (HEY, turns out MarvinMar had the answer "So I use Ctrl-Alt-Esc instead (Because I'm usually just trying to get to task manager anyways)".

Even though i have had my share of BSoD and sudden unexplainable system hangs on Vista, i would have to admit that maybe they are headed in the right direction (we'll see what happens when they release SP1, because those Reliability etc pack 1 did more damage than any good to me).

Those performance indexes. Make sure software vendors use this to describe system requirements and then you have a cool resource (minimum 3.1 on Video Card, Recommended 4.5). But I still haven't seen something like that yet (maybe on games?).

Well thumbnails is the feature that i think "just works", but once people understand how to deal with them. I would have liked (this is just my two cents) a slider on the lower right corner a la Microsoft Office for making them bigger or smaller.

With sleep... I do not like it, nor do i like that they tried to take away Hibernation from me... but there's a command line that you can input to bring it back, so there is no need to complain about it.

So what's next? Aero and Indexing... They suck the crap out of your battery life (even if they say they don't), so i stay away from them (Your application is less of a drainage isn't it?).

Brad... Do you know what happened to the lovely clock that Longhorn featured? I really dug it's looks! I know, there's LClock for XP (haven't tried it on Vista yet) but it would have been nice to get it with Vista.

But you seem to have forgotten the single most appealing aspect about the whole thing that is Vista... The ability to add new places to the favorite links bar just by drag-n-dropping the folder to Explorer's left sidebar. This makes YOUR common folders ... well, commonly available for you.

All in all I would advise (as if it matters) that if you are looking to buy a PC, get ready to spend $1000 on it (yes, $200 more that what Mossy said), or wait 'til next year, around July... Why? Newer tech will come, Vista will have it's SP1 (hopefully) and this year's high tech will be cheaper...

Ta Tah! (I miss the podcasts)
Reply #19 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:33 PM
(oh oh... i forgot... I wish they had included the means to translate the UI, if you wanted to, without having to pay for Ultimate or an upgrade to it).
Fourth Letter
Reply #20 Tuesday, October 30, 2007 9:57 PM
I totally agree Vista is a big step forward, it just "feels" more stable compared to XP.
Strangley i have never seen the running applications shut down message ever! I've been running it since the 1st beta go figure !
However it is quite buggy still and even with the reliability and performance updates my explorer crawls and crashes maybe 40% of the time. If service pack 1 is done properly i really think Vista can be great. Fingers crossed cause I've been using leopard since launch day and its really very good.

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