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    Microsoft has ironed out most of Vista’s wrinkles

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver September 16-22, 2008; issue 986

    High Tech Office column;

    Every few days somebody contacts me wanting my opinion: they’re getting a new computer but have heard that Windows Vista isn’t any good. News such as the June report that CPU-maker Intel planned to continue installing XP on new corporate systems adds to the poor word on the street about Vista.

    While it’s fun (and sometimes too easy) to take shots at Microsoft, Vista isn’t as bad as all that.

    Intel and other large organizations have been slow to warm to the now 18-month-old Vista. But large organizations are always slow to make these sorts of changes. Back in January 2002, for instance, Intel reported that it wouldn’t be moving to Windows XP anytime soon. It was still busy rolling out Windows 2000. At the end of 2002, large businesses were predominantly running old-style Windows 95, 98 and NT4. It took four years for XP to account for half of Windows installations.

    I’ve been using Vista for about two years now, having started out with a series of pre-release versions. Some things still annoy me: Vista’s user account control slows me down when I’m trying to move, rename or delete unwanted desktop icons. (But leave UAC enabled; it helps prevent stealth software installations.)

    And I remain puzzled by Vista’s renaming of long-time standard features and hiding the option to shut down the system. But then, I’ve found things to complain about in every version of Windows. (If only they’d asked my opinion. …)
    There’s a lot I like, though.

    For instance, I prefer Vista’s combo of Windows Movie and DVD Maker to Apple’s iMovie and iDVD.

    When it was first released, Vista gained a reputation for being slow. Some of it came from UAC demanding permission too often. Some came from users installing Vista onto previous generation computers that weren’t really ready for the upgrade. Much of it, though, came from hardware drivers. Despite Vista’s long gestation, manufacturers were slow to develop the drivers needed to allow Vista to work well with their printers, scanners, video, sound or network cards.

    Microsoft included generic drivers that usually worked, but were not optimized for performance or to make use of the hardware’s special features.

    Now, a year and a half after Vista’s release, things are much better. While it’s a gamble to install Vista onto older hardware, pretty much any new system is really Vista-capable, and pretty much any current-generation computer add-on comes with Vista drivers. Recently, I spent time with a couple of ultra-light PCs. Both came with Vista pre-installed. I was pleasantly surprised with Vista’s performance on both low-powered systems.

    If you have Vista installed, check in at your manufacturer’s website to ensure that you have the latest drivers installed. They can make a big difference.

    Some applications – antivirus and other security software, Intuit’s financial programs and Roxio’s CD/DVD burning software among others – required updating to work with Vista. Most of the standard set of Windows software runs fine, however. While Microsoft really would like you to get its latest version of Office, older versions work with it just fine.

    The custom-made applications used by many businesses can be more of an issue, however. Some of these may not run properly on Vista without reworking. This is part of the reason large enterprises do extensive testing before starting the move to any new operating system. Many organizations routinely wait for the first service pack before installing any new version. Microsoft released Vista SP1 this spring.

    Microsoft is already at work on a Vista successor. Though few details have been released on the so-called Windows 7, the company is reportedly hoping to release it in late 2009. But don’t avoid Vista hoping for this next version; apparently it’s being based on Vista.

    Microsoft is touting Vista more assertively with a new online Vista Compatibility Center and a Vista Small Business Assurance program. It may even start to respond to Apple’s Mac versus PC TV ads. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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