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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.

Vista RTM: Report Card

       Image Gallery

On the downside, saving large files remained slow. In terms of security, the User Account Controls are still idiotically intrusive. Here, Microsoft still seems to be reading from the Transportation Security Administration's playbook. Do I really need to go through an extra "permission" dialogue to view my monitor's device properties?

The only other big gripe I have is, for an OS chocked full of accessories, Microsoft has done a strangely passive job of highlighting all the features embedded within Vista. Even the Media Center and Photo Gallery are pinned to the Start menu rather than pushed onto the default desktop. I recommend a dialogue box at initial startup, which invites the users to get all these key features configured before passing "go."

After booting, Vista's second welcome screen shows the system configuration and several often-used functions.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Only the funky Sidebar gadgets are strongly emphasized -- and there are still only 10 of them bundled with Vista, though third-party gadgets are available. I really would have liked Microsoft to lock by default some kind of Office ultra-light group of accessories onto the desktop, so I could do light writing and financial planning from the get-go, without having to spring for separate apps (or having to download

Coaching (aka Management): B- Sure, Vista's been horribly late, from reasons too well known and boring to regurgitate here (short version: Microsoft's too darn big). Jim Allchin, co-president of the platform division at Microsoft, has paid the price for Vista's lag (he's retiring soon).

But would we really have wanted a new OS to hit the market in the middle of the post-9/11 technology slump? Now, when we're in the early to middle stages of the Web 2.0 bubble, is a much better time.

Overall: B+ My biggest Vista surprise was, struggle though I might, I couldn't find much significantly different from previous versions. Then it dawned on me: That's a good sign, because it indicates that Microsoft's focus is no longer on look and feel but rather on the software guts required to keep Vista from crashing.

With Beta 2 and even RC2, I had the sense that Vista required my constant attention and vigilance to keep it property tweaked. The nagging worry that it might crap out if I wasn't careful never left me. Now, I'm of a mindset where I'm pretty much ready to put Vista on my primary home-office machine (the one I use to write stories like this on Sunday, not the kids' computer, though I'll let them use it if they're nice). That's a level of comfort that, quite frankly, I didn't expect to have.

Vista's Gadgets are applets that post the time, track the temperature, and even allow you to play video poker or Sudoku while you're nominally working.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

For businesses, and for CIOs charged with the decision about migrating to Vista, the three burning questions are: just how much better is Vista at security than XP, what's the total cost of ownership, and how much more does Vista-capable hardware cost? Early word is that Vista's security is indeed a big step up, notwithstanding the surface annoyance of the user account controls. On the TCO front, Microsoft's broad embrace of an ecosystem extending beyond Vista to encompasses both Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 might go a long way toward blunting incursions onto the desktop from Linux. As for buy-in costs, I'm not the first reviewer to opine that, rather than rushing to Vista right out of the box, businesses will most likely migrate to Vista as part of their normal PC upgrade cycle.

The final verdict: Vista's official release on Nov. 30 won't hold any big surprises. To paraphrase what the folks in Redmond used to say ad nauseum prior to previous product releases (they've thankfully retired the cliche), Vista is finally here because we customers are telling Microsoft that it is indeed ready.

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