To Vista or Not to Vista

Ever since I received my bright and shiny new laptop at the end of November, the question of whether or not to upgrade to Windows Vista has been lurking in the back of my mind . . . not the least of which because every time I look down at the bottom-right corner of my open laptop I see the "Windows Vista Capable" sticker.


I’ve evaluated my Vista readiness by running Microsoft’s Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor (a fairly basic utility that tells me very little about which of my hardware components might be a processing bottleneck), ATI’s Vista Readiness Advisor (a far more detailed program, with three levels of "readiness" – Good, Better, and Best – although you should be aware that it’s just as much a marketing tool for the company as it is a useful utility, so take its "Recommendations" with a hefty grain of salt), and a few other utilities, and they all say I’m "Premium Ready," which means I’ve got the hardware to run Windows Aero and the Flip 3D features without running into problems. To top it all off, I found a very nice deal on laptop RAM on NewEgg.com the other day, so I’ll have 2 GB of it come January 29.

As for the cost . . . well, I’ve got that licked, too. You see, my campus department (Information Systems) has a subscription to MSDN-AA, which is Microsoft’s Academic Alliance site for distributing its software to students and faculty at no charge. It’s great! (Although it does serve a secondary purpose of getting young people hooked on certain apps while in college so Microsoft can reap significant windfalls from them after they graduate. As for me, I’ll be a student or faculty member for the rest of my life, so my "educational discount" will be permanent! Nyah-nyah.) Anyway, that means that the Business edition of Vista is free and available for download, well ahead of the January 30 public release. In fact, I’ve already got it sitting here on my laptop in a 2.5GB lump, just waiting to be burned to DVD. I could be running Vista right now if I wanted to. But here’s what’s holding me back:

  1. No Windows Media Center. I must admit that Windows Media Center has become rather indispensable for me, at least for recording and watching live TV (I do far more of the former than the latter, as it allows me to watch the few shows and movies I’m interested in on my schedule, and without being tethered to a VCR). Media Center is exclusive to its own XP version, but it comes integrated with Vista . . . but only in the Home Premium and Ultimate versions, which are most decidedly not free. But the Ultimate version is the only one that comes with all the security and networking features of Business, plus the BitLocker encryption utility for user data. So it’s Ultimate for me.
  2. No Educational Discount for the Ultimate Edition. Microsoft allows students/faculty to upgrade to XP Home and Professional editions for fairly easy-to-swallow prices ($69.99 and $89.99, respectively, when purchased at a campus bookstore), so you can be sure that a similar option will be available for Vista (though probably not until April or May). However, there appears to be no indication that such a path will be available for Vista Ultimate, since Microsoft doesn’t think all of its added features are necessary for students to complete their studies. And it also doesn’t appear that the Vista Anytime Upgrade program (which allows users of lesser versions of Vista to purchase a license key for a better version at a reduced cost, which unlocks the added features already included on the install disk) will work for upgrading a volume-license version of Vista (the MSDN-AA Business edition) to a non-volume licensed version (since Ultimate is being marketed to consumers, not businesses). So it appears the only legal way to obtain Vista Ultimate is through a retail outlet, and that’s far more money than I currently think the added capabilities of the OS are worth.

Given those two reasons, I will hold off on upgrading to Vista until a cheaper method of getting the Ultimate edition becomes available. Of course, XP is "good enough" for my computing needs . . . so why upgrade, especially so soon?

  1. Faster boot up and less "code bloat." Vista was designed from the ground-up, unlike previous versions of Windows where additional functionality was written on top of the Windows 95 shell. So it boots up faster and is a more streamlined program overall, which from a programmer’s perspective is excellent news.
  2. Cleaner UI. Vista’s pretty graphics have earned it plenty of praise and complaints from critics, but lab tests indicate that all the translucency and 3D stuff actually makes working at a computer easier on the eyes than previous versions of Windows. For someone who spends several hours a day working at a computer, the prospect of less eye strain and fewer headaches is a tempting proposition indeed.
  3. User Access Controls. The Windows Firewall has been upgraded to protect the computer from both inbound and outbound threats, which means Vista users will have to deal with substantially more pop-ups to approve significant changes, like software installations and global settings updates. This is both good and bad: bad because Microsoft has carried the concept a little overboard, requiring explicit approval for changing even the default font for the desktop; good because most computer users are stupid (if they weren’t, we’d never have to deal with viruses, spyware, or trojans ever again) and UAC prevents malicious code from destroying your computer ("What? I didn’t try to change my network settings. Shut it down!"). Thankfully, Vista allows non-stupid users to disable UAC, but most people won’t figure out how to do it or even bother with it, even though it’s easy to do. So we’ll all be better off.
  4. Parental Controls. I saved the best for last. Vista has taken the concept of parental controls and amped it up to 11. Parents can control program access, download/install privileges, what time of day a child is allowed to access the computer(!), and even what games are allowed on it. For instance, if you’re okay with your teenage son playing games rated ‘T’ (for ‘Teen’) but not ‘M’ (for ‘Mature’), Vista will stop him from installing those. But it goes even further than that. If you’re okay with him blowing away Stormtroopers in the latest Star Wars game (rated ‘T’) but not so eager for him to hone his card skills on Hoyle Casino 3D (also rated ‘T’), you can block that, too. As a parent, this could be the single best tool Microsoft has given parents to control the type of content allowed into the home. It’s almost enough to make me recommend an upgrade to everyone. For most people, though, waiting until Vista SP1 will save a lot of upgrade frustration (many hardware manfacturers haven’t even issued Vista-compatible drivers yet, and a few software bugs are sure to be found).

So, while I have a few reservations about Vista, I have practically none about the other new software release coming next week, Office 2007. I’ve been beta testing it since May 2006, and I love it. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve mastering the new Ribbon (see this to know what I’m talking about) but overall I think it’s a fantastic program suite. Best of all, I’m getting the public release version for FREE next week for attending a Microsoft Across America Launch Event in Sandy, with MSDN-AA providing the rest (Access, OneNote, InfoPath, Project Professional, and Visio Professional).

See? Being a poor college student does have some advantages . . .

One Response to “To Vista or Not to Vista”

  1. I like Vista. I’ve used it a bit at work and the only complaint I have is that it’s more awkward to navigate through network servers. But I guess that’ll just take some getting used to. Office is great, too. Especially the new PowerPoint. You can do some amazing things in there :) I like the Ribbon, too, once I figured out where everything was. I’m excited to get into everything deeper when I start the tutorials we’re making at work :)

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