Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

    Windows Vista: worth waiting a little longer for

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Columbia Journal September 2007

    Software supergiant Microsoft wants you... on January 30th they released new versions of both Windows Vista replacing Windows XP (and earlier versions) and Office 2007 replacing earlier versions of the widely-used office suite.

    Buy-in can be expensive; while a variety of versions of both Vista and Office 2007 are on the market, top of the line Office Professional 2007 lists for CDN$759,  while Vista Ultimate is listed at CDN$499. Lower upgrade pricing is available for users moving up from older Windows or Office versions, and some users may find the so-called Home and Student version of Office 2007 offers good value for $199 (and no real checks that you have a student or are using it at home... wink, wink). (Large businesses, of course, will pay much less if they bulk-order licenses).

    No matter which version you get, be aware of Product Activation- a technology Microsoft is using the ensure that you can't buy a single copy of the software and install it on multiple computers. Your Windows license limits you to using it on one computer; most versions of Office allow you to install it onto two computers- typically one at home and the other at work, or a laptop and a desktop, as long as both copies aren't in use at the same time. (The Home and Student license allows up to three installations). While legal, these multiple Office installations may involve making a toll-free phone call, and explaining your situation in order to get a 50-digit (!) key to type into the computer. Failure to activate your copy will cause it to shut down within a short time.

    I've been working with both of these products since last summer, installing and using both pre-release and final versions. Each represents thousands of hours of work by a veritable army of programmers along with input from usability studies and thousands of beta testers. Each sports a number of features that are improvements over previous versions. But each should carry a warning sticker reading something like: “Are you really sure you're ready for this?” We'll look at Windows Vista now and Office 2007 next issue.

    While Windows XP Home and Professional version is used by untold millions of users, despite umpteen patches it has some fundamental security weaknesses. It lacks built-in support for the latest Internet standards and new hardware (for instance, Windows XP  can't even play a DVD without the purchase of additional software). And new computer hardware is simply capable of looking much better than XP, which was designed for the hardware of 5 years ago.

    Vista packs a lot more into the package- Microsoft is including a slew of new applications for managing photos, playing and creating DVDs, and more. Special effects using transparency and 3D make Vista a very pleasant and attractive on-screen working environment. Security is improved: Windows Firewall is (finally) adequate, and anti-spyware (but not anti-virus) is built-in.

    But this assumes you've got adequate computer horsepower. The computer you bought just a couple of years ago that's running XP just fine may cough and sputter if you install Vista. A clean Vista installation requires over 10 GB of hard drive space, for instance- before you add any applications or data. Plan on having at least 1 GB of memory on your computer. And the video hardware in many recent (and even current) computer models may only run Vista with those eye-catching special effects turned off. Check to test whether your computer is 'Vista ready'.

    And despite all the usability testing, Microsoft has, in my opinion, messed up one key area of making Vista more secure. A feature known as User Account Control requires user to approve potentially dangerous actions; this is designed to help prevent viruses or spyware from automatically installing themselves without the user's knowledge, as they too often can on XP. The Mac and Linux have something similar, asking for passwords before most programs can install.

    UAC doesn't ask for passwords however, making it more easy for malware to get around it. But its requests for authorization pop up in all sorts of other – mostly benign- situations like renaming or deleting a desktop icon. As a result, UAC will annoy users without dramatically increasing security.

    A decade or so ago, eager customers lined up at midnight to be the first to get Windows 95. I'd be surprised if anyone lines up to get a copy of Vista. It will probably come pre-installed on the next computer you buy; You probably should wait until then.

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