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Vista - John C. Kirk

Dec. 26th, 2006

03:06 pm - Vista

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As I mentioned recently, I've been looking at Windows Vista. It won't be available as a retail product until January 27th, and Microsoft haven't sent out any DVDs to business customers yet, but companies with volume licencing deals can download it. I've been playing with it on my home machine, so that I can get a feel for it before I do any big deployments at work; here are my thoughts so far. (I should just clarify that I don't want this to turn into an advocacy debate; my previous comments on that subject still apply.)

My first impressions are that several things have changed. There are fewer questions during installation, and it is faster to shut the machine down. On the other hand, the new user interface will seem scary to some people because it's so different, and I've found that there are more mouse-clicks and/or key presses required for certain operations.

For instance, Windows XP introduced the idea of user switching: this means that you can have two people logged into the same machine at the same time, and so a new person can log in while the first person leaves their applications running in the background. However, this only works in workgroup mode, not in a domain. In Windows Vista, this option does work for a domain too (as long as you have the appropriate edition of Vista to join to a domain in the first place), which is good. However, switching user requires you to press Ctrl+Alt+Del twice rather than just once, which is a bit tiresome.

The biggest problem so far has been compatibility, e.g. drivers and applications. This isn't really Microsoft's fault, and I think that a lot of these problems will be resolved by the time Vista is released to home users, but it's something to be aware of.

One strange quirk is that I have a SATA hard drive (rather than IDE), and I ran the Vista setup program from inside Windows XP to install Vista onto a different partition of the same drive (for dual boot). The setup program couldn't use the existing XP drivers, but I couldn't find any Vista drivers on the motherboard manufacturer website. When I inserted the floppy that came with the motherboard, the setup program was able to use the XP drivers from there, so I don't know what the difference is between them and the ones that were already in use, but I'm glad it worked. When I installed XP, I had to press F6 at the appropriate point in the setup process to give it alternate drivers for the hard drive, so I think that SATA may just generally be more complicated than IDE.

Aside from that, some equipment worked better than others:



The CD burner and DVD-ROM drive seem to work ok, but there's a DVD (of Office 2007) which I burnt at work, and I can only access it through XP, not Vista. For now I'm sticking with Office 2003, to focus on the Windows changes.

I'm planning to get a laptop soon, but I want to wait until I can get one with an OEM copy of Vista pre-installed, partly to get around these issues. I've seen some laptops that offer free upgrades to Vista if you get one with XP now, such as Dell. However, there are a couple of potential catches here. Firstly, it may not be a completely free upgrade if they charge you for shipping/handling. Secondly, just because the machine is "Vista capable", i.e. it meets the relevant hardware requirements, that doesn't necessarily mean that all the drivers are available for it yet. If I bought a laptop with Vista pre-installed, and the sound didn't work, I think I'd be justified in saying "Oi! No!" (in the best tradition of Harry Enfield). By contrast, if I bought one with XP, then the manufacturer could probably weasel out of it by saying "Here's the Vista upgrade DVD, and there will be drivers for everything eventually."

There are also some issues with applications, which I think are related to the security improvements in Vista; specifically, UAC (User Access Control). For instance, Visual Studio 2005 is only supported with SP1 and the Vista update (beta version here, real version due in Q1 2007). Similarly, SQL 2005 is only supported with SP2; there's a CTP version out now, but the real version is again due in Q1 2007.

I haven't been able to install Adobe Reader v8 yet; I get an error saying that my temp folder may be out of space (which it isn't). I found some Usenet posts from other people with the same problem, so it may be related to the fact that I'm trying to install it onto my G drive (Vista) rather than my C drive (XP). There are a couple of potential workarounds, e.g. trying to copy all of the expanded files from the temp folder before I click OK on the error message box, but I haven't tried them out yet. For now, I think it's fair to say that Adobe need to do some more testing.

I've installed a couple of other applications (mIRC, Money) successfully, but I haven't tried them out yet. One issue for mIRC is that the help file is in the traditional format (.hlp file), which is no longer supported in Vista; applications need to use the new .chm format. (It may be possible to add support for old format help files via a separate download, but they're definitely not supported "out of the box".) The main mIRC help file is in the new format, but the FAQ is in the old format. As for Money, I'm currently using v2004. I didn't bother with the 2005 upgrade, and 2006/2007 are only available to US customers, apparently because there wasn't enough demand to justify producing a localised version (e.g. for different tax legislation), so I'm hoping that my current version will work ok.

Right now, the main issue I have is that my roaming profile doesn't work on Vista, so I get a temporary profile each time I log in as myself. I'm not quite sure why, so I'm investigating that at the moment. I think this is related to network protocols, since Vista uses dual IPv4 and IPv6 by default. I read something that suggested turning off IPv6, and that seemed reasonable since my server doesn't use that. However, when I did that I found that I could no longer see the shared folders on the server, so I had to turn it back on again. I've now enabled IPv6 on the server and on my XP partition, and I'll do some more reading up on the subject. On one level this is a nuisance, but on another level it's actually a good thing. When I encounter a problem like this, it means that by the time I've figured out how to fix it I'll have a much better understanding of how everything works; this will certainly be useful when I do the beta exam, as well as helping me to avoid embarrassing situations at work. (As a side note, Windows 2000 doesn't support IPv6, so a mixed 2000/XP/Vista/2003 environment could be tricky.)

Meanwhile, elvum mentioned that there are some issues related to the new content protection. I don't think they'll affect me personally, or any of the machines at work, but it's probably useful information for other people to be aware of.

All in all, my advice is not to do a big roll-out yet, and only put it on a spare machine or one with dual-boot. I'll be alternating between XP and Vista on my PC for now, but that does mean that I won't be on IRC for a while.

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Comments:

[User Picture]
From:stagknight
Date:December 26th, 2006 03:22 pm (UTC)
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and I'm using a beta version of the Vista driver from Creative, which will expire on Jan 8th (i.e. in a fortnight)

The idea of a driver that expires seems particularly bizarre to me.
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 26th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, it's the first time I've come across that; I guess they're trying to keep support costs down.
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From:stagknight
Date:December 26th, 2006 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I would have thought that if they're planning to release the driver before the consumer release of Vista, that most of the people (eg. corporate toe-dippers like yourself) using the beta version will understand that it's a beta and that they're unlikely to get a lot of support with it.

You're probably right, though.

On an unrelated note - does UAC actually seem useful? A lot of the reviews I saw of the beta version suggested it was just going to be another dialog box to blindly click OK to.
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:December 26th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)

UAC

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does UAC actually seem useful?

I think it has the potential to be useful, although it seems to be a bit haphazard about how well it works so far (from my limited testing). Generally speaking, I'm intending to keep most of my users on basic accounts, rather than giving them the option of elevating their privileges. However, there are some evil programs (e.g. Quicken/Quickbooks) which must have local admin privileges in order to run (I haven't found any elegant workaround), and so I may be able to educate the limited subset of users to say "if you see that dialog box, call me first!"
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From:bazzalisk
Date:December 26th, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
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Surely a better suggestion for people who insist upon using windows would be to stick with XP and not use Vista at all?
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 26th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
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That's certainly another option. What I'm basically saying is that Vista isn't quite "ready for prime time" yet, although that's due to other companies and/or other divisions within Microsoft, rather than being down to the team that actually developed the new OS.

In my case, it's useful to stay up to date so that I can decide if/when the company I work for should migrate to the new version. Similarly, IE7 has some slight differences between XP and Vista, so web developers might want to take a look at it. So, if someone does want to use Vista, I recommend that they keep their existing system up and running for now.
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From:bazzalisk
Date:December 26th, 2006 05:29 pm (UTC)
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No, web developers should write to the standards, and then their pages will work on any browser which implements them.
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 26th, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
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I'm certainly in favour of writing standards-compliant pages. However, I also think it's useful to gather data about which browsers do implement various standards. For example, no version of Internet Explorer will display pages that are written in XHTML 1.1, so it would make sense to do a cost-benefit analysis to decide whether or not to use that particular standard (assuming that you're creating web pages because you want someone else to read them).

However, web developers were just an example, so this is digressing from the main point; I'm not trying to tell people that they should or shouldn't use Vista, I'm just documenting some of the experiences that I've had with it so far.
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From:sulkyblue
Date:December 26th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
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Item the first - there's no such thing as comprehensive non-contradictory web standards. Those that do exist don't cover things like javascript, flash and all manner of flashy widgets. Maybe sites should be reduced down to the lowest common denominator of bold and heading tags, but that's not going to make the web very interesting.

Item the second - standards are open to interpretation it's possible to stay within the word of the 'law' but not the spirit, and vice versa.

Item the third - things which are not covered by any coding practices need to be checked in different browsers - small changes in security settings can play merry hell with anyone using cookies and sessions. Things like how much space a task bar takes up can throw off designs.

Item the fourth - "any browser which implements them" - show me a browser which follows all standards and doesn't deviate? The popularity of a piece of software has absolutely nothing to do with whether it follows standards or how good it is. I used IE7 for about 10 minutes and it made my brain itch, but about 15% (and rising) of the people browsing the website I manage currently use it.

Sorry - web 'standards' are a pet annoyance of mine.
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 26th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Yup, that all sounds sensible. I was thinking about this after I posted my previous comment: you could have browser X which disables Javascript by default and then lets people re-enable it on a site-by-site basis (like various pop-up blockers). This wouldn't be breaking any rules, but it would still be something that the website developers ought to know about, so that they can say "Please put this site in your trusted zone" or whatever.

More generally, I'd be wary of a strategy that says "if this program compiles then we don't need to bother testing it"; I've come across plenty of weird situations where something ought to work but doesn't. Similarly, just because a webpage validates ok, I still think it's good to do some testing. It's not going to be practical to check every possible combination of client software, but I think it makes sense to focus on the ones that visitors to your site often use, whether that's Lynx/IE/Safari/whatever.
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From:elvum
Date:December 27th, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)
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The Google Web Toolkit is an interesting approach to solving the problem of cross-browser compatibility.
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From:elvum
Date:December 27th, 2006 01:28 pm (UTC)
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FWIW the content protection issues are probably part of the reason why Vista is having more driver backwards-compatibility issues than XP did. A question for you: can you get Vista to hibernate? My copy (beta 2) crashes when trying to restore, and I've heard that the problem is widespread, and still hasn't been fixed in the RC (build 6000 I think).

I've been running the beta as the sole OS on my desktop machine since the autumn - I now have six months to decide whether I want to get a copy of the retail release or move away from Windows entirely...
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:December 27th, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)

Hibernation

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FWIW the content protection issues are probably part of the reason why Vista is having more driver backwards-compatibility issues than XP did.

Bruce Schneier discussed the article you linked to in his blog, although one of the commenters pointed to a discussion at SomethingAwful where they dispute it. That's not really my field of expertise, and I think both camps have some credibility problems, so I'll leave everyone else to fight it out for now.

A question for you: can you get Vista to hibernate?

Hibernation didn't work very well just now - it shut down the machine completely, then came up with a "do you want to boot in safe mode" question when I turned it back on.

I tried sleep mode before that, which sort of worked. I got a black screen, but I couldn't wake it up from the mouse or keyboard, and the power button on my base unit turned the machine off. However, when I turned the power button back on, it went straight to the "locked" screen, saying that I had applications running, which is correct. After the failed attempt at hibernation, sleep just seems to be doing the same as lock, although it may do something else if I leave it for a while.

Mind you, looking at the documentation, sleep and hibernate both seemed to be aimed at "mobile PCs" (e.g. laptops) rather than desktops, so it's possible that they're trying to do something with the battery I don't have, and that's why they're not working properly. I may also need to check my BIOS settings, since I never tried hibernating on XP; this blog entry talks about the ACPI settings S3 and S4.

For general interest (not specifically aimed at elvum), there seem to be three similar options in Vista:
a) Sleep - this puts all your current documents etc. into memory and then reduces power to a trickle. When you want to wake it up, it copies everything back from the temporary area of RAM. After a prolonged period of sleep, it will automatically go into hibernate mode.
b) Hibernate - this is similar to sleep, but it dumps everything to the hard drive rather than RAM. It's a bit slower to restore, but it is more resilient to a complete power failure.
c) Hybrid sleep - this dumps one copy of your documents into RAM and a second copy to the hard drive.
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[User Picture]
From:elvum
Date:December 27th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Hibernation

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I do have some reservations about the stuff that Peter Gutman wrote, but I'm not particularly impressed with the comments on the SomethingAwful forums. (Unsurprisingly, since people go there mostly to argue and insult.) It's likely to be a relevant issue for my next project at work (which I won't discuss here, because I try not to discuss my job on public bits of Livejournal), so perhaps I'll have the opportunity to spend some time looking into it - there's a load of links at the bottom which look informative. The author is a full-time academic researching security issues though, and the fact that Bruce Schneier has been drawing attention to it is a big point in its favour. Thanks for the links.

Given that you don't appear to be planning to watch HD-DVD or BluRay content on your Vista PC you're probably right in saying that the restrictions mentioned by the original article probably won't affect you, although stuff like the built-in capability to disable graphics cards worldwide (via Windows Update presumably) if bugs are found that could allow people to bypass the content protection should probably concern you a little.

Re hibernation, the options provided by Windows are two of the sleep states defined by ACPI (S1 and S4 IIRC, plus a combination of the two), so virtually every desktop and laptop computer made since 2000 or thereabouts should support them. I think that OS support for them first came in Windows 98 or so. FWIW I fully expect Microsoft to get them working in the final release. Thanks for adding a data point to my picture of the situation. :-)
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[User Picture]
From:elvum
Date:December 27th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Hibernation

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A few details of ACPI sleep states (scroll down).
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[User Picture]
From:elvum
Date:December 27th, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Hibernation

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Seems that the page I found and the one you found disagree - meh. :-) It's interesting that the Windows default behaviour (as described in the article you found) is the one that provides the best user experience rather than the greatest power saving; I'm not sure which I'd rather Microsoft concentrated on...
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