Windows Vista came here in the country with little fanfare, or that is, a bit less enthusiasm from the consumer public. Perhaps Microsoft’s consecutive blunders in keeping their most popular operating system stable, efficient and virus-free have made people wary on whether they should upgrade their systems to “the best operating system ever since Windows 95”. I myself, being always up-to-date with the latest operating system around, have opted to make an exception with this one, since my computer would need a major overhaul before even meeting up with Vista’s minimum requirements.
I use an Apple E-Mac G4 unit at work, a relatively-old model running on an 800mHz PowerPC processor with a gig of RAM. With OS X Tiger installed, it is used as a workstation, where due to the nature of our office, is used by different users in different times. That means windows just pile up opened, tabs in the internet browser keep adding, and people leave their files scattered everywhere (most of it in the desktop). It runs the whole day, and is only shut down in the evening when the office closes.
At home, I use a Pentium 4 (Prescott) unit (512mb RAM, 128mb Video) running Windows XP Service Pack 2, dual-booted with SUSE Linux 10.2. I primarily use my Windows partition for general tasks and work related things such as video editing, web and graphic design; though that is slowly changing as I continue to configure my Linux partition to play multimedia files and do simple video editing.
So, with the advent of Windows Vista, is it worth buying Microsoft’s most revolutionary operating system ever? Let’s weigh it out:
First off, if you are planning on buying a new unit, Windows Vista may be the next best thing. Either you wouldn’t really have a choice since it came with the desktop/laptop; or the unit you will be buying would more or less be able to meet Vista’s minimum system requirements, so why not take the opportunity to buy Vista instead of XP (except if you have an XP CD that isn’t used on another unit, or you don’t have plans of using your old XP unit anymore, I won’t discuss piracy issues here anymore). There are still other exceptions, like if you know that a peripheral of yours won’t be compatible with Vista, but other than that, Vista is the way to go (Vista Basic looks – and is priced – like XP anyway, and I do admit that Vista is better than XP in a lot of little ways).
A special note to laptops and notebooks: Vista is known for its increased requirement on video card memory. Most laptops that were released about half a year ago had the sticker “Windows Vista Capable” on them, but since most of these laptops had shared video memory, they may need a RAM upgrade before being able to run Windows Vista. Also, since these are only shared memory, chances are the owner may only be able to upgrade to Vista Basic since its Aero interface requires a separate graphics card to run smoothly. Watch out for Vista stickers on laptops. Windows Vista comes in a variety of flavors, so ask the salesperson what Vista edition is in the laptop (Basic, Ultimate, etc.)
Upgrading to Vista may be a bit of a challenge, depending on your unit’s specifications. Microsoft actually has the Vista Upgrade Advisor in their site that can determine if your unit is ready for Vista. Just download the program and run it. The file size may be pretty big, so people running dial-up may have to wait a bit longer before they will know. Also, the Upgrade Advisor runs Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage, so if you are running on a pirated copy (which most of the people in the country do), you will have that pesky message telling you that your copy isn’t genuine every time you start up your machine.
The optimal system requirements for running Vista Ultimate edition is a dual-core processor, 2GB of onboard system memory, a dedicated video card with at least 128MB RAM, and a 100GB hard drive. A gig of RAM would work with the Aero Glass interface, but of course, you really don’t intend to type on a word processor your entire life. You listen to music, watch videos, and browse the internet on your computer, too. Your 1GB RAM is good enough for a few tabs on Internet Explorer, with Yahoo Messenger open and ITunes or Media Player 11 running on the background, but when the memory-hungry applications like Adobe Photoshop or the latest PC game come into view, 1 GB RAM is just good enough for Vista’s base system. If you are a gamer, you may need a bigger video card memory, too. Vista consumes about 15GB of hard disk space, but if you are running on a 40GB drive with an average of fifteen gigs worth of personal data (files, music, videos), that leaves you with 10GB free. Of course you’ll need to install a bunch of programs, which would leave your computer with five gigs of free space, if you are lucky. Add up all the temporary and hidden files Windows makes to keep your computer running smooth, and you are left with a full hard drive. I think we all get the picture here.
My test unit: MSI laptop on a Core 2 Duo (1.66 gHz), 512 MB RAM with 95 MB shared memory running on Vista basic.
(thanks to Rivelle for lending her unit for me to scrutinize)
So, given you have a processor that can do the job and you have the resources to buy additional RAM and a larger hard drive, there’s the high probability that Vista will experience some hardware conflicts/incompatibilities on your computer. This includes video cards, PCI cards (the card readers, or expansion slots like PCMCIA or Firewire ports), USB modems, webcams, etc. Before upgrading to Vista, make sure that every device in your computer is either compatible with Vista or has an update on their websites. This includes software as well (especially antivirus and partition software, as well as other applications such as ITunes or AOL).
So what’s the real deal, should you get Vista? The answer depends on what you expect (or want) to get from it.
First is eye-candy. One of Vista’s major features is a look that is indeed more pleasing to the eyes. Their Aero Glass interface features translucent windows, smooth animation, and clearer lines and gradients that make Windows XP look so plain. The main drawback of this, as said earlier, is that the Aero interface requires a lot of memory, in both onboard and video memory. If eye-candy is what you are looking for, Apple Mac units running on OS X (via their Aqua/Carbon Interface) have been enjoying it for years, and they have systems running it smoothly in 256MB system memory. If you are not convinced with Apple’s job, then there’s another alternative: Linux has XGL and/or Beryl as a component that does more than what Apple and Windows do in their units. Here you can rotate workspaces and have different customizable effects on interface actions and reactions (like a burning effect on a minimizing window). The great deal is you can get these eye-candy features for free (since it is open source) and run it on a unit with only 128MB RAM! For a specific Linux distribution, try out Sabayon.
Next, stability. Microsoft boasts its Vista to be the most stable Windows ever. Well, after waiting for five years, we sure hope they fixed up what made Windows both famous and infamous. Though I have yet to see the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) in Vista, I have heard already of a few users experiencing some bugs with the system, especially on third-party programs crashing (check software updates as said earlier). There were also problems regarding Vista’s capability of reading USB 1.1 devices. Of course, other operating systems have these problems, too. I have seen both Linux and Apple systems crash programs, but with less frequency than that of XP’s. Let’s just hope Vista follows suit.
User friendliness: of course, it has always been a running joke that Bill Gate’s mom uses an Apple. That is because Apple units are actually really easy to use, and people whom I know switched from Windows to Apple didn’t have much difficulty adjusting to the system environment. Linux is becoming more user-friendly, but it still has a long way to go to get the non-geek consumers’ eye. Windows Vista decided to go with Apple’s flow of searching things and integrated a search bar in their Start menu, ala-Spotlight. I think it was a pretty neat way to overhaul Window’s Start menu, since I use Apple’s spotlight a lot. In terms of file viewing, Vista still has the upper hand with the ease of use on switching between views, may that be on thumbnails (that you can now resize), icons, tiles, etc. I haven’t really used a lot of Vista’s integrated features that will make your computer experience easier, maybe I’ll leave that open for other people to review.
Bundled stuff: All three systems come with a lot of bundled stuff that sometimes it draws the line whether we do get more out of these added programs or should we get an operating system that is just that: an operating system. More often than not, the additional software that comes with each operating system is either below par that you’d rather shell a few thousand pesos for third-party software that does them well; so additional software is actually just additional hard disk space wasted. Aside from the usual stuff (an improved MS Paint), Vista has a (they say) much improved firewall, Internet Explorer 7, and Windows Media Player, which got more than just a facelift than the previous version. Their Windows Movie Maker now handles HD, but export options are still tight (other than WMV formats, the only other format is uncompressed DV). Apple has an enticing software lineup, aside from the usual ITunes, Quicktime, Safari, TextEdit and Preview (which also reads PDF files) default programs, there’s the ILife bundle, which includes pretty useful software like IMovie HD, IDVD, and GarageBand. There are also trial versions of programs like Microsoft Office for Mac, and their very own Writer and Keynote. Among the three, Linux has the most bundled software (depending on distribution), which includes an office suite (OpenOffice), Firefox, an IM client (GAIM), media players (Mplayer, Amarok, etc.), PDF viewers, and graphics editing software (GIMP). Though it takes a while to get used to them, it gets the job done.
Security: Insert your USB thumb drive on any Windows system, and it’s a miracle these days not to get anything more than you wanted to get. Viruses, malware, spyware and Trojans are becoming too common in computers that people have given up on even trying to get rid of them (going through the hassle of updating virus definitions, scanning drives everyday). We have to admit that it has become a way of life for us to constantly fear when our files turn one by one into screensaver files, or when that virus renders our computer into a vegetable. Apple users never had this fear; in our office, we even use our Apple unit to delete those pesky virus files from our flash drives. Though there are certain viruses that target Linux users, chances are slim that you’ll get them. Though I did test a Vista unit with those autorun viruses on my Ipod, the code didn’t seem to affect Vista. And I haven’t seen a Vista unit with TAGA LIPA ARE on their Internet Explorer title pages, so I guess Vista is safe, for now.
Bottom Line: Vista is the way to go when buying a new unit, but for upgrading your current computers, I suggest we wait for things to stabilize on Vista’s part.
Watch out for Part 2 where I shall be testing Vista for some daunting tasks, like opening programs simultaneously, editing video using Adobe Premiere and so much more.