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Front Page » June 19, 2007 » Tech Tips » Windows Vista Reviewed, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly - ...
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Windows Vista Reviewed, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Part 2

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It took Microsoft more than 5 years to deliver Windows Vista to the world. Never before has Microsoft put so much time into an operating system. So the question is, was Vista worth the wait? Well, it depends on who you ask.

My personal experiences with Windows Vista thus far have been bitter-sweet - a story of extreme likes and dislikes.

Vista does have some pretty compelling features - Aero (the new visual interface), Windows Sidebar (where special gadgets reside), shadow copy (automatic file backup), improvements to system security (User Account Control) and so on.

But on the flip side, Vista has more than its share of drawbacks. Some of them are minor and simply require getting used to. Others, however, are are so irritating that they may make the user question Vista's overall value.

Additional actions are displayed alongside the "stand by" and "lock" icons on the Windows Vista start menu. Once an option is selected, the computer will take appropriate actions without any confirmation from the user.

For starters, Vista has unusually high system requirements, especially if the user wants Aero, the new graphical interface. Aero's strong visual appeal requires a very powerful graphics system which isn't typically present in business computers or in modestly priced home computers. Aero can be disabled, which will allow people without the fancy graphics hardware to run Vista, but without Aero, Vista loses virtually all of its visual appeal.

For me, however, system requirements aren't the problem. My notebook easily satisfies Microsoft's Vista hardware guidelines. My issues with Vista stem from unusual feature designs and other elements Microsoft either chose to throw in, or opted to take out.

One very perplexing oddity I discovered from the beginning was that clicking on the power icon on the start menu unnaturally puts the computer to sleep ("stand by") instead of shutting it down. The icon Microsoft chose is used universally in the technology industry for power. Most users will naturally assume that clicking the icon will shut the computer off. In fact, older versions of Windows (XP included) use this same icon for the shut down feature on the start menu. If this confused me, it will surely confuse less computer savvy users as well.

To actually power the PC off, the user must click an obscure arrow slightly to the right of the two "stand by" and "lock" icons at the bottom of the start menu and select "shut down" from the resulting pop-up menu. And to make things worse, Windows no longer confirms the selected action. So if the user clicks shut down by mistake, the computer will simply shut down without any confirmation.

Another subtle yet annoying change is that the file menu (textual menus along the top of the window - "file", "edit", "view", etc) has been removed from the Windows file explorer. I realize that it is largely unneeded now that most of the functions normally found therein can be accessed from other places, but I am so used to having it there that Vista is cumbersome to use without it. Thankfully it can be re-enabled from the Windows Control Panel.

The Windows Control Panel, as a matter of fact, is also a major problem area. Some icons have been added to accommodate new features, which is entirely understandable. Other changes, however, make no sense whatsoever, seem entirely unnecessary and only serve to confuse the computer user.

The Windows Vista start menu displays the "all programs" list. Unlike previous editions of WIndows, Vista confines the programs list to the left column in the start menu and won't allow the list to expand or tile across the screen. To satisy users who may not approve of the new start menu, Microsoft has included an option that makes the start menu look and operate like the start menu in classic versions of Windows (95, 98, Millenium Edition and so on).

One change that I'm struggling to get used to is the "all programs" list on the start menu, which no longer expands across the screen in multiple, layered windows like in past editions of Windows. It is now in a constrained area of the start menu and requires the user to scroll through a vertical list with indented sub groups. Whether this is an improvement remains to be seen.

But by far the most annoying element in Vista is the UAC, or User Account Control. The UAC feature is designed to protect the computer by requiring the user to allow or deny requests for administrative access. For example, when an administrator attempts to make configuration changes to the system, UAC will require them to approve ("allow") the operation before Windows will proceed with the changes.

Conceptually, UAC is good, and in theory UAC will protect users from malicious content like viruses and spyware which try to slip by unnoticed. Unfortunately it is far too chatty. Users will quickly get tired of frequently clicking "Continue" or "Allow" that they will begin clicking through the prompts without properly reading them, which will defeat the purpose of UAC entirely. It also remains to be seen how effective UAC will actually be in preventing malicious programs from doing harm in the first place.

Another conclusion I have made is that Vista is no friend to notebook computers. The new Aero interface, which demands a lot of the computer's graphics hardware to provide pleasing but entirely unnecessary visual effects, doesn't automatically shut off when the notebook is running on battery power. As a result, the additional processing needed to power the effects taxes the computer's batteries and largely decreases the time the computer can operate on battery power.

So after using Vista for several months, I've concluded that although it has some nice features, it is far from perfect. In fact, I quickly discovered that there's an even darker side to Vista.

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Editor's note: This article is the second part of a three part series regarding the author's personal review of Microsoft Windows Vista. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Sun Advocate or Emery County Progress.

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