Windows Vista RC1 on a MacBook Pro

For the last 24 hours, I have been using Windows Vista RC1 on my MacBook Pro. The last version of Vista I tried out was Beta 2 on an iMac and it was ridiculous. Most things didn't work, it was slow and entirely unusable. RC1 is like a revelation!

The installation took about 45 minutes on the MacBook Pro (1.83GHz Intel Core Duo, 1.5GB RAM) and Vista takes about 40-50 seconds to boot. Compare this to the over 2 hours Beta 2 took to install with its interminable "Finalizing installation" stage. The Vista installation was somewhat contrasted to the Mac OS X installation in the fact that there were lots of inconsistent "stages" during the process. When I booted from the DVD, there was first a DOS-like screen that required me to press a key to boot from the disc, then there was a DOS-like "Windows is loading files" screen with a DOS-like progress bar in white and grey. Then a new, XP-like 'undeterminable' progress bar that usually comes when Windows is starting up. Finally, I was thrown into the blue-and-green world that is Vista, and the installation was all graphical from that point on.

The installation was also pretty straightforward. If you have an existing XP installation, you can choose to upgrade it (if and only if the XP installation was on an NTFS volume), otherwise you can choose to use any NTFS volume to install it on or format a volume as NTFS. You can also upgrade from Beta 2. Vista seems to be compatible with Boot Camp and I did not need to delete the 200MB Boot Camp partition as I had to do in the case of Beta 2. So, I can safely get rid of Vista using Boot Camp if something goes wrong. After that, you enter the License Key, agree to Microsoft's Terms and Conditions, choose a security plan for your computer (I just chose "Use Recommended Settings"), and Vista begins installing without fanfare. Installation occurs over five stages and two reboots. The stages are: Copying files, Expanding files, Installing features, Installing updates and Completing installation.

Now, I must say this: Vista is impressive. And this is coming from a Mac user. All the graphics and animation problems I had noticed in Beta 2 are all gone. The system is stable and on par with XP in terms of performance. The "Welcome Center" is enabled in Vista by default and it points you to some useful places in the system such as Control Panels, etc. I turned it off after a while when I didn't need it anymore.

The most impressive features

It's sad to read what some Mac enthusiasts say some times. I have been hearing the same old nonsense for the past six months that Leopard will make Vista's UI look childish. I'm sorry to say that I do not agree. If you want to see over-the-top animation effects, check out Xgl but don't look for them in Vista. Windows XP had a usable default theme but it definitely wasn't something you could call "elegant". Vista will bring that to the Windows-using world after 6 long years. Aero is smooth, elegant and refreshing. I do not mind using it in the least. It is also much more customizable than Mac OS X's Aqua (which basically has two options - Aqua or Graphite). In fact, I think Microsoft and Apple should swap names, because Aero is a lot more "Aqua-ish" in look and feel (i.e., liquidy) than Aqua and Aqua might just as well be called Aero because I don't ever see any liquidness in Mac OS X… unless you're counting the pulsating buttons and scroll thumbs which honestly remind me more of "gels" than "liquids". However, as good and as unobtrusive as Vista's animations are, I can see myself turning them off after, say, a month of usage just as I turned off the animations in XP, because, useless as they are, they begin to feel excessive after a while. Still, kudos to Microsoft for finally making a good-looking and usable UI for Windows that is also customizable even if they have taken a lot of hints from Mac OS X.

Windows Update
Windows Update is one of the first things anyone installing a fresh copy of Windows has to do and I'm very glad to announce that, finally, I don't need to access it through a web browser. It's built-in (seemingly) as a Control Panel. I really can't tell if something is a Control Panel or not anymore because most things look like Explorer windows. I experienced a bug with the Windows Update tool after messing around with some drivers and trying to reinstall them through WU but I was unable to reinstall the driver and just ended up reinstalling Vista.

Windows Defender
It's just your basic antispyware, so now there's one less software to download and install on a fresh copy of Windows and also your system is more secure than a default XP installation on first boot. You still need to get your own antivirus though. As of now, PC-Cillin is the only one that works and you can get a copy off Demonoid. I hope AVG Antivirus is updated for Vista soon because it's the best I've used apart from the fact that it's free.

OK, so Windows Search is actually faster than Spotlight right now and I don't know if it's because it's simply better or there are too few files on my system right now. I'm guessing it's the former. Windows Search is simply instantaneous, and it's pervasive. The easiest way to access it is to just hit the Windows button and type your query. It's true that this does remove the Start menu keyboard shortcut functionality (I can't type Windows button, then U for Shutdown options any more), however Search is going to be more important for Vista users. Anyone who's used Windows XP knows the myriad of Control Panels one has to look at to change a system setting or user preference. Vista has got nearly two times the number of Control Panels, having split up a lot of existing Panels into two or more separate entities. And for the first couple of hours, I tortured myself by having to hunt through links and options to get to stuff that was mere clicks away in XP. Then I discovered Search. It's instantaneous, relevant and is basically my hero.

Stable and Usable
The fact that I can consider using Windows Vista RC1 as my primary Windows speaks tons about the kind of work Microsoft has poured into Vista since Beta 2. It's stable (not a single crash until now), usable (all the features I have tried out till now have worked well, if not flawlessly) and pretty (hey, I'm impressed by Aero).

Uh, the ugly side of Vista

If you ever had to navigate Windows Vista by hand instead of using Windows Search, you'd just start crying. On Mac OS X, I don't use Spotlight much as a launcher but for Windows, I need to use it. The Start menu has not become any easier for choosing which program to open and the Control Panels are almost impossible to navigate quickly and efficiently.

User Account Control is supposed to be the Windows-equivalent of when Mac OS X asks you for your administrative password. On Mac OS X, this basically happens only when you install new software or if you're trying to access a really critical preference pane like Accounts. On Windows, there is a buggy little window which comes up and dims the rest of your screen (like Dashboard) anytime you click a button with a shield icon on it and requires you to press a button. However, it does not ask you for your password (at least, not by default). It's so annoying! And, in its default state (there is an option in Vista that'll let you set the UAC thing to ask for an administrative password) it's completely useless. This feature needs to be presented to a firing squad. Thankfully, it can be disabled. But, if you disable it, you're going to see a red shield icon in your taskbar constantly telling you that your system is insecure and occasionally pop up a little message bubble that slowly fades away. If you set it to ask for a password, it's going to be even more annoying. Seriously, do I really need to be an administrator to change the DPI on my screen?

Honestly, after seeing Windows Sidebar I just wish Microsoft had ripped off Apple's Dashboard (or Yahoo's Konfabulator) without doing some thinking on their own. Sidebar is awful. It slows down login because it takes an age to startup, if you have too many widgets and can't fit them on the side of the screen, there's some scroll functionality that is just impossible to use efficiently. All in all - and considering all the bugs it has - Sidebar is a big waste of time and I've disabled it. Disabling Sidebar has led to a considerable decrease in login time and decreased RAM wastage.

Internet Explorer
IE7 is just so much like IE6 that the release is boring. Tabs are badly implemented and don't feel good. Control+L still opens a box to type a URL in instead of just taking you to the address bar. Basically, IE6+Tabs+SomeSecurityFeatures. Booooring.

Flip 3D
Completely useless. Not even nearly any kind of competiton to Exposé. It's more for show. Looks cool but is completely ineffective at finding the window you're looking for. You know what's good though? Alt+Tab now has live previews of windows and that's actually useful. But yeah, Flip 3D? Sucks.

There's a lot more that isn't striking my mind right now. If you want to read a bit more commentary on how Vista works, I recommend visiting the following stories from Paul Thurrott's WinSuperSite, which usually gives a very good overview of any new Vista releases:
I've read both these articles myself and have to say that they're interesting reads. WinSuperSite also has detailed reviews of all the Vistas including RC1 and has a million screenshots. Hence, I did not feel the need to put some up on ImHi.

It's still Windows
Now, there's not much else to hate specifically in Vista but it's still Windows and not a revolutionary change from XP. If you hated XP because of some big and broad reasons, you will continue to hate Vista. The Search functionality is awesome, it looks slick, Microsoft has promised that it will not suffer from WinRot (where Windows starts slowing down after it's been in use for a couple of months) and it's got some whizbang to make you happy. However, it still has a Start button, the Registry isn't gone, the menus are still plastered to the tops of Windows instead of being at the top of the screen (in all the new Microsoft software, the menus are gone altogether but can be temporarily summoned by pressing Alt), you still have to use wizards to install and uninstall software, drivers are still a headache (I had to reinstall Vista because of one), &c. However, if you have an open mind, give Vista a fair chance. It might just impress you. 

Comments (7) Posted on at  

  • » I have to say I thought Paul's commentary on the new "Wizard" interface was brilliant. It is one of the most brilliantly stupid pieces of design I've ever seen.

  • » vista is heavy as hell.
  • » but we have not seen Leopards UI-changes yet. perhaps they will be so refined that they indeed make vista look really dated.
  • » OK, so Windows Search is actually faster than Spotlight right now and I don't know if it's because it's simply better or there are too few files on my system right now.

    It may be vaster than OS X Tiger's Spotlight, but not Leopard's. :)

    Leopard must use some form of pre-caching.  It's instant as you type, like in iTunes.
  • » Although I agree that the interface is a dramatic improvement over XP and is generally good, I still think that OS X currently looks more professional than Vista. Although I haven't used Vista yet...
  • » Vista is good. And it is really sweet on this Core 2 Duo i'm working on. The only flaw is that I have to keep searching for what I used to find so easily in XP. Changing settings of vista is a big pain.

    As long as Microsoft continues to sell OEM versions of Windows, we wont see Windows die. Very few people would buy it to upgrade their PCs.
  • » The cirular start button is not completely visible. Quite irritating.