Windows Vista Ultimate, 1 Week Before Release: Report Card
Windows Vista will be officially unveiled at Microsoft's big New York City rollout on Nov. 30, with retail sales beginning in late January. Here's a final, pre-release assessment of the operating system, with a companion image gallery.
The big surprise with the version of Vista that's going to be officially launched by Microsoft on November 30 is that there are no surprises. Windows Vista RTM is far more solid than both this summer's Beta 2 and the almost-but-not-quite-buttoned-down RC2 version released earlier this fall.
I put Build 6000, which has been released to Microsoft's developers and is expected to be identical to or closely track the initial shipping version of Vista, through its paces (and took screen captures to prove it). Here's a quick report card.
Vista's Flip 3D feature lets you stack up your open windows in a kind of flip-picture view in the middle of the screen, and scroll through them with the mouse to go back and forth among apps. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
Installation: C+ A mixed bag. The 64-bit version flummoxed my computer, which is unacceptable when you consider that I'm running a 3.2-GHz, 64-bit, dual-corePentium D. The install proceeded most of the way, but couldn't complete, so my inference is there are still some driver issues. Much as I enjoy working Sundays, I gave up after 90 minutes. (On the plus side, while I was waiting I found out I'm not bad at Sudoku.)
As I expected, the 32-bit version installed like a champ, loading from scratch in 42 minutes. I still had to muck around a little with my display settings. However, Vista recognized by my Nvidia GeForce 7300 graphics card, and loaded the correct WDM driver it needs to run the Aero user interface.
For consumers who will be upgrading machines purchased this Christmas to Vista next February, it's clear that the installation process isn't as user-friendly as was the case with Windows XP.
Perhaps Microsoft is planning to add some dialogues to its upgrade DVDs, which will alleviate this issue. However, upgrades will mainly apply to consumers buying XP-equipped PCs between now and the end of January. Because Vista requires a good graphics card to run its translucent Aero interface, few if any owners of older XP boxes will be upgrading. Most users will have fresh, factory installs. For businesses, none of this stuff concerns users anyway -- it's the IT department's problem.
Look and Feel: A+ Vista's Aero interface remains one of its strongest suits. In previous reviews, I looked askance at Aero because I felt it so clearly elevated form over functionality. Now, I'm more inclined to go with a McLuhan or McNealy-esque twist on that, and say that Aero's form is its functionality.
Add to Aero the Flip 3D feature, which lets you rapidly scroll through your open apps, and you've got one fun and friendly UI. (Though it must be pointed out that similar features are available on Mac OS X and on some Linux distros.)
Nothing unusual about Vista's first set up screen, which asks you to pick a user name, password, and background. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
Performance and Utility: A- Vista's definitely evincing performance that's significantly improved since my deep dive into the Beta 2 back in July. Vista now even appears faster and smoother than it did with the RC2 version, which I examined in October.
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