Touring Windows Vista
Touring Windows Vista
By Mike Crassweller
Written for WinCustomize.com
This article was written as weekly series for WinCustomize.com starting the last week of December 2006 and concluding on January
23rd, 2007. To see the commentary associated with each segment, click on the links below.
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - UI Changes & Additions
Part 3 - Controls, Apps & Games
Part 4 - Tools for the Power User
Part 5 - Wrap-Up
There’s been a lot of commotion over Vista. It’s all over the press, people are writing about it extensively, and we’ve covered it in-depth
here at WinCustomize through news postings and feature evaluations by some of our developers. Through the forums and our associated
blog site, JoeUser, many of you have talked about your personal experiences with the beta and then release candidates made publicly
available by Microsoft. Well, Vista has been released to manufacturing, and is available for purchase to business customers. Vista is
now "in the wild" so to speak and people are starting to play with what is essentially Vista 1.0. What is out now is likely to be what’s
available at consumer launch in January of 2007 and likely won’t change much until Service Pack 1 comes along in a year or more.
We here at Stardock have access to the RTM build of Vista. Today, I’m going to take some time to write up my experience with the
"finished" version of Vista and talk about it from a user perspective. I’m not a developer, and I’m not a guru on the inner workings of the
Operating System or computer itself. I’m a power user who spends a lot of time working and playing on my computer. If you’re looking
for a critique of WPF, the new driver model, or even much in-depth coverage of the new security model to Vista, look elsewhere. This
article is about Vista from the viewpoint of a power user.
The entire article spans nearly 20 pages, which is far too long to post all at once. Instead, the larger article has been broken up into five
sections, starting with this introduction, and finishing with a general wrap-up and my personal thoughts on Vista after spending a week
writing this series. The articles will be posted every Tuesday starting this week and going until Vista hits consumer release at the end of
We don’t have any DVDs burned at the moment, so I’ve put the RTM build from MSDN on an external hard drive and
connected it to my secondary test machine. This is the box I’ll be evaluating Windows Vista on:
Intel Pentium 4HT 3.0GHz
X600 Video Card
It has a "Score" of 3.6 according to the Vista Ratings tool built into the OS. My averages were actually closer to 4, but the
score isn’t an average. Instead it’s the lowest overall score your computer achieves. My lowest was a 3.6 on the Gaming
graphics area. Not a surprise considering I’m running with an X600 ATI card. This means I can run glass without any
trouble. Not sure how it will work with games though.
The Installation process itself was pretty painless, all I had to do was set my installation type (upgrade versus custom/new)
and let it go. I told it a few things like what time of day it was, and what wallpaper I wanted, and I was off and running.
The new image-based install system speeds things up substantially.
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2. Booting the New OS
Starting up a PC with Windows Vista seems like it’s considerably faster. I was to the logon screen only a few seconds after
my monitor had warmed up enough to display an image. This blinding speed however is instantly lost when you actually
go to login. It launches into a "Preparing Your Desktop" window that churns for a while as the rest of the OS is loaded.
Once I made it to the desktop I was greeted by the now familiar Windows Welcome Center.
First things first, I wanted to see what exactly came in Windows Vista Ultimate, and
why I might possibly want to buy this for home use later on. So I go and click on it
and I’m presented with an immediate Windows Update. Turns out it wants me to get
the latest Windows Defender definitions and apply sound drivers (the only hardware
install didn’t auto-detect). And I’m greeted with the first of what I assume are many
UAC (User Access Control) pop-ups asking me if I’m REALLY sure I want to apply
At this point I received some error. I’m curious as to what this error is about, since
I’m doing what the OS told me to do, so I click on the "details" button to get more information. The message I received
was complete gobbledygook, so it’s nice to see Microsoft is keeping the long-standing tradition of useless error codes and
dialog messages alive and kicking.
3. Exploring the features of Vista Ultimate!
Patches applied, I dig again into the advantages of Vista Ultimate. It talks about cutting-edge programs, innovative
services and unique publications that I won’t be able to live without. Well, maybe I can’t live without it… lets download
Whoops, nothing new for Vista Ultimate just yet. I kind of expected this since the consumer release, what Ultimate is
targeted at, isn’t for another month. But I’m still a little disappointed as I was hoping to have a more complete evaluation
of Ultimate. Even the link to learn more about the services and publications doesn’t go anywhere aside from the currently
unhelpful Windows Vista website.
So what else do I get for using Ultimate? Well, there’s Windows Media Center. Now,
I don’t have a tuner card on this machine, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be able to
do with this just yet. Immediately on opening Media Center it asked me if I wanted to
run setup, I just let it do its express setup thing, since I don’t have any media on the
box I could control with it. Funny thing is several coworkers who are running
Windows Media Player 11 were treated with a message asking if they wanted to share
their media with my Vista machine. What’s odd is my XP box running WMP11
received no such message. Seems kind of arbitrary.
Windows Media Player is another area where it looks like there are placeholders for services that just aren’t available yet.
Specifically in the "Online Media" tab which looks like it’s set to become a storefront and distribution channel for
purchased TV shows, movies, music and games through the Live Marketplace. It’s all empty at the moment though. This
is where you’ll hook up an Xbox or Xbox 360 to use your PC as a digital broadcast box for your home entertainment
center. If I had a 360 in the office, I would test this feature out, but alas I don’t.
Overall, Media Center doesn’t have much for me to play with until I load it on a PC with my media collection.
Vista overall is all about the integration between the Operating System and the Windows Live offerings, an attempt to
retake the online services market by Microsoft. From Windows I can get Windows Live Search, OneCare, Live
Marketplace, as well as Live Messenger, Windows Meeting Space etc.
Funny thing though, components as basic as Live Messenger (the heir to MSN Messenger) are not included with the OS
and you’re provided with a link in the start menu to download the application.
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4. Adjusting to a Vista World
There are a lot of changes to Windows Vista that will throw off most casual users.
Lets start with the new and improved desktop UI. As you can see, things look a lot different with the new start menu, the
sidebar and the Windows Explorer interface.
The New Start Menu
The new Start Menu is likely to cause a lot of headaches to users in how
it has completely turned around how everything works. Gone is the
expanding menus like we've grown accustomed to in every version of
windows since Windows 95. Now the Start Menu acts more like the
classic Windows Explorer in tree mode, only you're limited to items in
your start menu, and you can't stretch the window to see more. The
screenshot to the left shows you the default view and an expanded view
taking you a layer or two down the programs list.
The programs list aside, there are a few other changes to the basic Start Menu UI that doesn't make a whole
heck of a lot of sense at first glance. For starters, I challenge you to find the "Run" option, a staple to power
users who often need to quickly fire up a command prompt, or an application they have setup to call by
name. If you look hard enough, you will find it. Here:
All Programs > Accessories > Run
So quick and simple to get to, huh? You can actually have it added back to the Start Menu by right clicking
on the start button, selecting properties, click on customize, then scroll down and check the box next to Run
Command. This will add it right below "Help and Support"
But you know the funny thing? You don't actually need it anymore. Turns out the "Run" functionality is
built into the new Start Menu, it's just not really labeled anywhere. See that text field at the bottom with the
little magnifying glass in it? The one that says "Start Search"? Type in whatever command you'd normally
put into the Run window, and the result is the same! It will also do a real-time search across files in your
start menu, recent documents, as well as your IE history to find similarly named items.
Despite the lack of intuitiveness and the about-face versus how previous versions of Windows handle things,
I actually like this. The search bar also reminds me a little bit of Spotlight from Apple. Not quite the same,
but has that feel.
Now for a Start Menu change I'm less than thrilled about; shutting down. In previous versions of Windows
you at most have a Logoff, Shutdown and Switch User button. The shutdown button gives you the option of
Standby (Sleep), Shutdown and Restart. Pretty straight-forward. The shutdown button is usually the
universal power symbol.
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But in Vista, everything changes! Now the
shutdown/sleep/restart options are very confusing
and don't actually make any sense regardless of
what operating system you've used in the past.
This is a totally new, and completely horrible way
to do it and I know I'm going to spend years
explaining to family members how to turn their
PCs off once they move to Vista.
To the right you'll see the new shutdown UI. You
see that power symbol? The one pretty much
universally understood to mean "Off/On"? Guess what happens when you press that button. Your PC goes
to sleep. That's right, it doesn't shut down, it doesn't restart, it goes to sleep. The Lock is reasonable enough,
it locks the screen so you have to enter your user password to continue using the machine. But it's that little
side arrow that gets me. To me, a little arrow like that means "More Options" but it also means "Secondary
and less important functions". Unfortunately, that's where all of the useful options are hidden. It's in that
little secondary menu that you can actually shutdown or restart your PC, not to mention log off so others can
use the system. Oh, and you get the Sleep and Lock options AGAIN. To me, it would make the most sense
to place the most used functions on the icon buttons and place the less used options in the secondary menu.
But that's just me... and did you hear how many people were on the team that designed the new Start Menu?
24! It took 24 people to redesign something that didn't need redesigning.
Beyond the changes to the way the Programs Menu is browsed, the power options and the new run/search bar
functionality, the rest of the differences in the Start Menu are just different ways to paint the new system. It's
all Aero-ified and such. The rest of your standard options are there and pretty easy to spot.
The crazy part here is that Microsoft is suddenly getting on-board with the whole "Gadget"
thing, and like when Apple entered the arena, doing a fairly half-assed job of it.
Regardless of technical implementation, this is going to be the first exposure to gadgets
that most users will ever have. How well does MS do it though?
Well, despite any issues developers have with it from a technical standpoint, it does
LOOK nice if you have the screen real estate to use. On a 17" LCD running at
1280x1024, it actually doesn't take up a whole lot of space, and if I'm not running apps in
full-window mode, it looks like it can provide me with some valuable information without
getting in the way. My current sidebar has a clock, a rotating picture viewer, an RSS news
reader (all placed by default), a weather gadget, and a calendar. Nothing really out of the
ordinary, and the default ones all look nice and polished.
For most of us though, we've seen this before with Konfabulator, DesktopX and
Dashboard. By comparison, the gadgets that Microsoft is supporting are pretty basic, no-
frills data readers. You won't be seeing anything complex like many DesktopX gadgets
you get here at WinCustomize. (We are working on making gadgets that work with the
sidebar, so never fear, feature-rich gadgets are coming!)
So they look nice, and some basic ones are packaged by default. The one thing MS does
here is in how easy it is to add them, move them around, detach from the sidebar and place
on the desktop. It's smooth and "feels" good. The emphasis here is to make it a friendly
experience for end-users, which they accomplished even if they didn't actually make a good gadget engine,
and even if the rest of us have been doing this stuff for years.
If you want to add gadgets, there is a plus symbol near the top of the sidebar, that will launch a window
containing all of the gadgets you have on your system. To place them on the sidebar, just grab and drag.
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You'll see the gadget come to life when you drop it. Like I said, very intuitive. You can also place gadgets
directly on the desktop, either drag them from the gadgets window, or from your sidebar. Most of the default
gadgets have a secondary (larger) display mode when placed on the desktop.
Now, if the default gadgets aren't enough for you, you can always take a stroll over to the Microsoft Gadget
Gallery to see what users have created and uploaded for your enjoyment. The gallery is a pretty big mess,
and the preview icons are washed out so it's not very easy to browse through the gadgets trying to find one
you may like. It's a good idea poorly implemented. Unless Microsoft drastically improves their gallery,
users will start looking elsewhere for gadget content.
Aero/Glass & The New Windows Explorer
Aero, the shiny new GUI for Vista has received a great deal of public attention and scrutiny, so I'm not going
to spend a great deal of time here chatting about it. You've seen it, you know it all by heart. Some claim it's
just useless eye candy, others say it's the first sign of visual creativity Microsoft has exhibited in the more
than 20 years it has been building and selling operating systems. At the very least it's an attempt by
Microsoft to establish a visual brand for Windows that it failed to accomplish with Luna under Windows
XP. What is my personal take? I think it's just a GUI that I'll replace soon anyway with a new
WindowBlinds skin. It does manage to at least make Vista feel "next generation", which is a big part of their
However, one thing worth mentioning about the new Windows user environment in general is the file
The new Windows Explorer is for the most part the
Old Windows Explorer with a nice new coat of paint,
and a few extra options tossed in to sweeten the pot.
First off, the way Vista handles the tree view is ever so
slightly tweaked. As you dig deeper and deeper into
your system, you maintain focus on the currently
selected folder. This means as you go down, you also
shift further and further to the right. However, the
catch here is that there's no sideways scroll bar if you
want to scan to the left. You have to expand the
column holding the tree view to get a wider look at the
folder structure. This "feels" nice, but can be
annoying to anyone who spends much time digging
around in their systems much. It's an attempt to reduce scrolling ala the panel browse view found in OS X,
but it isn't done nearly as well.
Next, we have the information panel at the bottom of the screen that gives you the same sort of information
you'd expect from "Details" on the side panel in the old explorer. It is presented well and nicely integrates
into the window. Overall, information held in the Vista interface is better integrated and has a better feel to it.
Across the top of the window, you'll notice items like "Organize", "Views", "Explore" and "Burn" These
menus contain a lot of the functionality that you previously had to hunt around for in XP. Organize, for
example, contains much of what we're used to seeing in the right-click menu. Create folders, copy, paste,
select all, delete, rename, properties etc. The other options are a little more interesting.
View gives you a slider that allows you to switch the way the explorer displays items. More or less, you'll
find the options you're used to from XP, but there's a slider bar on the left of the menu that lets you see in
real-time the differences in view modes. As you move from "Large Icons" to "Extra Large Icons" you'll see
the icons scale seamlessly. It's a nice touch that shows off the improved graphics engine behind Vista.
Burn is the other persistent menu item. It does just what you think it would do, takes all items selected and
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sends them off through the CD burning wizard.
Beyond that, the options start to switch up a bit, since this bar is largely context-driven. If you select a
folder, you'll see "Explore", "E-mail" and "Share" appear. Explore just opens up the folder, same as double-
clicking. E-mail will attempt to attach the item to a new mail message. Share will walk you through the file
sharing wizard to open that folder up to network users. I'm not sure how I feel about the context menu, since
it makes for an inconsistent bit of navigation. It will likely be very confusing for new users when they try to
find features that aren't displaying, only because they selected a file instead of a folder.
Explorer got a fair bit of UI love, as is evidenced by the context menus. However I'm not sure it needed to be
fixed over what was in XP. It feels like they're trying to make the basic shell of the OS look and act more
like an application, which is fine I suppose, but it will be confusing to many.
The Control Panel
The command center of any version of Windows has been the Control
Panel. It's here that any misc setting you typically could want is to be
found and tweaked. This is one of the few cases where Vista is
consistent with previous versions. However, this time around you'll find
a lot more crammed into the window.
First things first, you have to switch to the Classic View, just like you
did in XP to actually see all the options available to you. In Vista
Ultimate, you're presented with a whopping 48 different control panels
to choose from, and this is ignoring items like Administrative Tools
which is really a folder leading to additional tools.
At first glance, I spotted several new Control Panels:
Where you can set exactly how what sorts of
CDs and other media autoplay when inserted.
Previously you'd have to dig around to find
where these settings were. Good addition to
the control panel
q Backup and Restore Center
A fairly basic and easy to use backup utility.
It will allow you to either back up specific
files (with some common presets for your My
Documents folder) or the entire PC. You can
back things up to another drive, a DVD, or
even the network.
q BitLocker Drive Encryption
Welcome to the world of whole-disk
encryption. This is mainly targeted at laptop
users in business environments who require
every bit of data on their system to be
encrypted. It requires specially setup
partitions and some TPM tech enabled on your
BIOS. This will not be relevant to most
people who get Vista. This is the next step up
from Windows Encrypting File System.
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q Color Management
This feature is beyond me. From what I can tell is it allows you to set your system to display color
sets based on the type of content you're trying to display. This is far more important to graphic
designers and others who find themselves needing perfect color reproduction.
q Indexing Options
You know how the new search built into Windows seems so fast and responsive? It's because
Windows is starting to index the content of your drive to make searches go faster. This panel lets
you specify what sorts of files to index, lets you manually rebuild the index if you want etc.
q Offline Files
Like in Windows XP, offline files are temporary copies of any items you pulled from the Internet or
a network drive. Here you set how much space you want to allow them to take up, whether to
encrypt them, as well as other management options
q Parental Controls
This new feature squarely places Vista on the "worth considering" list of any parent with a household
PC. You can set content restrictions, usage time limits, enforce game ratings, and section off certain
applications as being unusable. Additionally, parent users can view account activity logs covering
websites visited, files downloaded etc.
q Pen and Input Devices
Since Vista comes bundled with all the Tablet PC features, this is where you mess with pen behavior
q People Near Me
This is an interesting little feature for users on a LAN. It will allow you to spot other Vista users
nearby so you can initiate Windows Meeting Space sessions with them. One of the many online
collaboration tools MS is working on
q Performance Information
This is where the power user will spend a LOT of time while tweaking Vista, or trying to track down
problems. This single control panel deserves its own section to describe.
This is what used to be "Display Properties" Now, instead of getting a single window with a number
of tabs full of settings, you get a window with a number of links that open their own windows. Each
tab from XP is essentially a link on this new window. This is the interface you get when you right
click on the desktop and look for Properties.... which is now called Personalize. Yes, that's right,
another UI inconsistency.
q Programs & Features
Gone is Add/Remove Programs. Now it's Programs and Features.
q Speech Recognition Options
Turns out Vista has the beginnings of speech recognition built into it. You can train your PC to your
voice, and dictate documents provided you talk slowly and enunciate enough. Whether or not this
works well remains to be seen. I'll test it some other day and give you a report.
q Sync Center
Allows you to setup file synchronization between network locations, portable devices etc.
q Tablet PC Settings
Like the Pen input panel, this is more config options for Tablet PC users.
q Windows CardSpace
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This is a very strange one, it looks like it's an information service where you create an identity card
of sorts for yourself and you use those cards when you need to provide sites with personal
information. You can select what cards of yours a site can see. So some sites, like your bank, you
may want to let them have a little more info than some Cheese of the Month Club page. This one
deserves a separate article later on.
q Windows Sidebar
Basic options for the Sidebar. Load on startup? Which side of the screen? Which monitor should it
q Windows SideShow
Use your PDA or cell phone as a secondary monitor... sort of. Plug your PDA in and it could just
display email, or a news feed, or play a video or something. This will work even while your PC is
off provided the device maintains an Internet connection (or so MS says).
There are actually several other new icons in this window, but they were present in XP as well, just located in
It just wouldn't be Windows without some cheesy built-in games packaged along with the OS. Vista in this
way doesn't disappoint. Sure you've got the standards like Solitaire, FreeCell, Minesweeper and Spider
Solitaire (an addition from XP), but you also have a new 3D Chess game, InkBall and a kids game called
It's chess, in 3D. Computer has several difficulty levels. It's a nice
addition to the standard windows games, which are often less than
mentally challenging. Can also be played against a human in hot-seat
mode. Game also tracks various play statistics.
Basic concept: Two (or more) colored balls, with corresponding colored
holes on a grid with blocks placed to act as obstacles as the balls bounce
around. Your cursor is a "Pen" and you draw links (ink) on the board.
These act as temporary walls which the balls bounce off of. You draw
them at various angles to attempt to guide the right colored ball into the
proper hole. Points awarded for speed.
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A kids game made up of three basic matching sorts of games. Very
cartoony, should keep young tykes amused for at least a little while.
Updated Bundled Applications
On top of the expected bundling of Internet Explorer 7, Vista comes with a number of other utility
applications that seems to aim at competing with Mac OS X with its suite of pretty useful, default
applications such as iDVD, Mail.app and iCal. Microsoft answers point-for-point with its rival applications:
q Windows Mail
This is just Outlook Express all Vista-ified. Mail comes with some much needed improvements such
as junk filters, better search and integration of newsgroups and other community sites. I can't help but
think of Mail.app though when I look at the program, just because it seems Microsoft actually tried to
mimic the UI element layout. It's a solid free mail application that will do the trick for most users
q Windows Calendar
It's iCal... but for Windows. It basically feels like the calendar element of Microsoft Outlook was
stripped and made into its own application. It has some loose integration with Windows Mail, but it
feels klunky and half-baked. If you need a calendaring tool that integrates with your email, just go
out and get Outlook.
q Windows Contacts
Umm... Address Book? It is starting to seem to me that Microsoft just took Outlook and broke apart
each major feature area and spun it as its own application to make themselves look competitive to the
Apple application offerings.
q Windows DVD Maker
Do you have a bunch of photographs or home videos on your PC that you would love to hand to
friends and relatives to play on their TVs at home? Then Windows DVD Maker may be the tool for
you. It is a pretty straight-forward tool that most people should be able to figure out. Seems to be just
about as feature-rich as iMovie is for the Mac. Not a very powerful app though, but what can you
expect for free?
q Windows Meeting Space
This is one of the new collaboration tools Microsoft is trying to
deploy, working to take market share from companies like
WebEx who do online shared desktop tools. Meeting Space is
more designed around users on a local network as opposed to
over the Internet, so in reality this is more like the successor to
the ancient and feeble Net Meeting application. You can share
individual applications, your entire desktop, distribute virtual
handouts, and invite individuals near you to the meeting. This is
perhaps the most polished and potentially useful (in a business
environment at least) tool that comes bundled in Vista.
q Windows Movie Maker
Ok, this one isn't new, but it has been updated and it looks like it's considerably easier now for home
users to make basic video compilations from their favorite media clips. Basic effects, transitions,
titles and credits features are available to spice things up.
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There are a few other bundled apps such as Photo Gallery and Defender, but nothing exceptionally special to
write home about. It's been covered before.
5. Tools for the Power User
Perhaps what is most overlooked when people talk about Vista are the tools it provides the power user looking to get that
last ounce of performance out of their system, or to the sysadmin with OCD who simply must know where every bit of his
system resources are going. Vista comes packed with some of the best information tools I've seen on a system without
having to fork over a lot of cash. The generally outstanding quality of the tools though makes it extremely difficult to
understand why Microsoft crippled one of the most used system tools... the Disk Defragmenter.
In Windows 2000 and XP, the Defragmenter was a wonderful utility. It was informative, useful and very effective. It
would give you a little chart showing you how badly your drive was fragmented and a very detailed report of the analysis
so you had some idea of whether or not you really needed to defragment. What do you have in Windows Vista?
That's right... you get NOTHING. There is no information period available through this tool. No chart, no report, just
something where you can press a button and you're then treated to a "This may take from a few minutes to a few hours"
message while it churns away. No indication of progress. You just sit and wait... and wait and wait some more. Normally
your system will attempt to do this automatically based on a schedule. Good for maintaining system health, bad if you're
trying to track down a problem.
There is an advanced defrag tool available via the admin command prompt, but it's text only. You can get your analysis
information from this tool however, so I get the feeling I'll rely more heavily on this method.
That brings me to my second annoyance about the power user aspects of Vista. If you want to run anything from the
command line that is even remotely administratively related, you have to do it from the Administrative Command Prompt.
Do you know how to do that? No? Well I had to dig in the help files to find out. To access the Admin Command Prompt,
you have to type "command prompt" into the search bar on the Start Menu, and when it shows in the search box, right click
on it and select "Run As Administrator". This combined with the UAC system enabled by default will frustrate power
users to no end (UAC is disabled through the User control panel, not the Security Center). This is one place where I wish
Microsoft had borrowed more heavily from Apple and would let users enter administrative mode from any command
But annoyances aside, there is a LOT of great stuff hidden under the covers that I wish Microsoft had pushed more. These
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are features I never would have found had Brad and GreenReaper not shown them to me.
So travel along with me, as we explore (at a high level) the Performance Information & Tools built into Windows Vista.
First off, you see the now well-known Vista "Score". Little explanation is given as to why you achieved a certain score,
but there it is. I'm not even sure even what the scale is. So a 3.6 doesn't tell me a whole lot unless applications start
coming out with stickers saying "Runs best on Windows Vista machines with a score of 3 or higher" But it's still nice
having a little bit of benchmarking built-in, and you can compare numbers with your friends for bragging rights.
The meat of the Performance & Information Tools panel is on the left where you'll see
a number of "Tasks"
q Manage startup programs
Remember msconfig from 9x/2k/XP? Windows Defender has taken on a bit of
that role. This is where you'll turn on and off programs and scripts that kick
off when Windows starts up. This is the first place to look if booting up your
box takes too long. The msconfig tool still exists for people looking for greater
q Adjust visual effects
This is mislabeled really, since only the first tab is about the visual effects.
The Visual Effects tab lets you enable and disable a bunch of little visual bits
such as drop shadows, animations, the glass effect etc. This window also
offers the Advanced and Data Execution Prevention tabs. Advanced is where you determine general processor
prioritization and virtual memory. The Data Execution Prevention tab is where you can enable/disable/modify DEP
settings, which supposedly protects you from viruses that try and execute code from sections of memory normally
reserved for Windows or other common applications.
q Adjust indexing options
Opens the Indexing Options control panel. Nothing new to see here.
q Adjust power settings
Opens the power settings control panel where you set power behaviors. Pretty standard from XP. Nothing new.
q Open Disk Cleanup
Opens the Disk Cleanup utility... This utility looks the same as it did in XP
q Advanced Tools
This is where things start to get interesting. These are the tools that really let you dive in and see what's going on
with your PC at a level you might not have considered before. Some of these tools are redundant from the main
Control Panel view, or even the screen directly prior to this. Tools we've already discussed are:
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r Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows
This is just "Adjust visual effects
r Open Disk Defragmenter
r Generate a system health report
Uses some of the data collectors mentioned below in the Reliability & Performance Monitor to give you a
very detailed report of how your PC is doing.
Lets take a look at a few of the more interesting advanced tools for monitoring and improving system performance.
The New Event Viewer
Most power users remember the
Event Viewer from Win9x/2k/XP
and how it really didn't give you
much information at all, and what it
did give you wasn't always useful.
In Vista, the Event Viewer has been
pumped up with some serious
steroids! Now you don't just have
your standard list of Application,
Security System and Internet
Explorer. Now, you have at the top
q Custom Views
Build your own event filter
q Windows Logs
The event logs we all know
q Application and Services Logs
Event logs for dozens of individual components of Windows Vista. You can dig as far down as being
able to see events related to the system's Reliability Analysis Engine. Kernel events are here,
diagnostic events, logon service, remote desktop, UAC, you name it and it's probably recorded here.
As you can see by the screenshot above, we've moved into the realm of serious data gathering. The left
column holds all the potential event log filters you may be interested in. The center has the event list and
then the event details below. The details tab on the lower half of the center panel can give you a more
detailed break-down, either in a "friendly mode" or in straight XML, the format all of this information is
stored in normally.
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Having the data stored in XML will likely make it much easier for developers to extract and analyze event
log data in their own applications.
Beyond that you have the column on the right. This is a context-sensitive menu of options depending on
what current log you're looking at. Generally it will let you do the following:
q Open Saved Logs
q Create Custom Views
q Import Custom Views
q Add filters to your current log
q Find events in the current log
q Save events in the custom view
It will also let you inspect events and view properties, and even attach automated system actions to certain
events. Basic tasks are limited to sending an email, launching an application or displaying a message on
screen. This can be helpful if you're trying to track down what specific task may be kicking off an error. The
task created gets added to the Task Scheduler tool if you want to ever go back and edit it.
All-in-all, the new Event Viewer is a GREAT tool for troubleshooting and finally does a good job of giving
you access to the information you need.
Reliability and Performance Monitor
This is the real meat-and-potatoes of
the advanced system tools in
Windows Vista. This tool gives you
diagnostic information on your CPU,
Disk, Network and Memory
hardware. It will track what
processes are currently causing a
read/write to your hard drive, what
applications are reaching out to the
network and what they're trying to
do, as well as a detailed break-down
of memory and CPU usage far above
and beyond what you've seen in the
Task Manager under 2k/XP.
The main view shows you four
graphs and four sub-sections on the
right main section of the screen.
Each graph and each sub-section correspond to one of your four main system resources: CPU, Disk, Network
and Memory. The subsections expand by clicking on them to give you an even more detailed break-down of
what's happening on the chart above. This is where you'll see which processes are touching your disk, or
using your network connection. The graphs will automatically scale to adapt to your usage levels. When I
took the above screenshot, I wasn't doing anything network intensive.
Digging in deeper, there is the Performance Monitor which will continually graph your overall system
performance. By default it does a line chart of your CPU usage. You can easily add additional "Counters"
for the monitor to track. I added Disk Write and Disk Read times to mine. Now I can see how well my disk
is doing overall. You can track just about any parameter of system performance in this view. Very helpful in
seeing if your system being slow is just your imagination, and if it's not, where the slowdown may be
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After the Performance Monitor is the Reliability
Monitor. This will give you a high-level view of a
few key metrics that may impact your overall system
stability. It tracks Software Install/Uninstalls,
Application Failures, Hardware Failures, Windows
Failures and Misc Failures. It will pull the relevant
system event data and make it readily available. With
this information you can track down when your
system first started having stability issues, and maybe
even track down what is causing it.
Of particular interest to me in this view is the space for
hardware failures. Will Windows Vista be able to
detect and properly log major and minor hardware
failures? If so, this will be a huge help to people who find themselves trying to track down bad RAM, or
maybe a video card that's about to eat itself.
The rest of the tool is dedicated to all sorts of customizable "Data Collector Sets" where you can have the
system track any number of system characteristics. The amount of detail that can be trapped in these
collectors and thus presented in the reports, is staggering. It will tell you more about your hardware than you
were likely to ever want to know, you'll be able to trace exactly what is happening on your system at any
given time. Have an application consistently erroring out? Fire up a data collector, then open the bad app,
once it crashes out, stop the collector and take a look at the report. You'll get a very detailed look at the state
of your system when the crash occurs.
The long and short of the performance tool is that power users, technicians, and even developers will have a
lot more power and information at their fingertips when tracking down problems and trying to fix them. Just
knowing what processes are causing your hard drive to grind away will likely make many people very
happy. Gamers looking to eke out that last frame of performance from their games will want to pay VERY
close attention to the information this tool gives them.
There are many other little bits and pieces embedded in Windows Vista that will appeal to the power user, tools such as the
"Snipping Tool" for grabbing screenshots of only certain portions of the screen. To find and talk about all of the little bits
and pieces though hidden away in Vista though would result in a much longer article than this already is. For the time
being, be content with the immense power provided in the Reliability & Performance Monitor alone.
6. Conclusion & General Thoughts
This article series was not a "Is Vista Worth It?" sort of sales pitch. When I started writing this article series, I intended to
just write a "Day with Vista" sort of thing, a stream-of-consciousness narration of what it's like to use Vista over the course
of one work day. Nothing really pro or con, just the thoughts on average use. It quickly morphed into a more detailed
examination of what is in Vista and what it might mean for power users looking to get the most out of their purchase. So it
turned into a walkthrough of the OS for those who haven't used it yet, a glance at some of the bits and pieces of Windows
Vista they might not have heard about.
As I stated at the beginning, this wasn't an in-depth look at Vista, but more of a skimming of the top layers, looking at some
of the more obvious improvements. Others have spoken at length about the technical underpinnings and very specific
features. Considering how long just this high-level article series ended up running, if I had dug deeper and broken out into
more detail, you would have been reading the beginnings of a book rather than just a collection of tech articles.
So after a week solid writing (and a few weeks editing), digging around Vista, learning about the various nooks and
crannies hidden away, how do I personally feel about Vista? It's a step in the right direction. The operating system is
finally reaching a level of detail and sophistication that seems to match up with general level of technology we're seeing
rapidly develop around us. In Windows 98, 2000 and even XP, Windows was just a shell within which the user placed
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interesting items. Now, with Vista, many of those interesting bits are built into the OS. The diagnostic tools alone are
miles above and beyond what we've seen in previous versions of Windows, or even Mac OS X. The addition of Live
components gives me the sense that not only will my OS be a framework for other applications to connect into, but that it
will also become a channel of its own for services and content distribution. For the first time it's starting to feel like
Windows is an actual platform.
All of that said, if you're an XP user, you have little to gain immediately from upgrading to Vista. The new features are
great and everything, but there's nothing that screams "must have" just yet. Add to that the generally buggy and incomplete
state of device drivers at the moment and spotty application compatibility as developers race to certify their software on
Vista, there just isn't much advantage (and honestly, a few disadvantages currently) for most users. And, with the
rearranged interface and resorting of where tools are placed, troubleshooting those bugs could be extremely frustrating.
If you're a gamer, stay away from Vista until NVIDIA and AMD/ATI get their drivers sorted out. If a game even runs
under Vista, chances are you'll see decreased performance compared to the same system running the same game under XP.
At the moment, NVIDIA's drivers are in particularly poor shape. Driver support on video cards and the fact that no games
are using DirectX 10 yet make Vista a poor choice at the moment for gamers.
q Stability. My experience with the RTM build is that it's just as stable as XP is. This is a nice contrast to using
Windows several years ago where a restart at least once a week was required. I rarely restart my PC anymore and
see crashes even less frequently
q Search Bar in the Start Menu. Despite my gripes about the overly complicated new Start Menu, the search bar
acting as a hybrid search/run command has grown on me significantly. It's one of those things that seems dumb at
first, but quickly becomes essential to your day-to-day use
q Improved Diagnostic Tools. I can now see why my hard disk is thrashing, and the event logs give me something
that's actually useful. There's a lot of power hidden underneath the hood here.
q Integration of Live services. This mostly depends on how Microsoft handles this new distribution channel, but I
think if they do what they did with XBox Live, they'll have a huge success on their hands that provides a good
service to customers.
q New Start Menu. Outside the new search bar functionality, I don't like the Start Menu redesign at all. I especially
don't like the confusing way they handled shutdown/restart options. I anticipate many frantic phone calls from my
parents in the future asking me how they turn their PC off. I'm also not too keen on the new way you navigate the
programs list in the start menu. I liked the ever-expanding tree of menus to the right. Sure it looked ugly, but it was
q New Disk Defragmenter. This is just utter crap. It took a useful tool and dumbed it down to the point where it
gives me nothing useful. I used to be able to use the defrag tool to give me an idea of where potential performance
problems were coming from. Not anymore. Now I just have to press a button and let magic happen in the
background, hoping that it fixes what's wrong.
q UAC. I turned it off shortly into writing this series. I'm sorry, but I don't want to have to answer a dozen
confirmation messages to do simple system tasks. UAC could have been useful. It could have worked like the
MacOS method where you authenticate once as the administrative user on the first system-critical task you were
trying to perform, and for a certain amount of time, you remain authenticated and aren't prompted again. The way
UAC is right now, less confident users will be too terrified to delete even a shortcut from their desktop after all the
WARNINGS OF DOOM the OS tosses at them.
q Driver Support. It's still in poor shape, especially for gamers. This is partially the fault of both Microsoft and
hardware vendors. Microsoft failed to provide a stable OS to code against until very late in the game, and evidently
hardware manufacturers waited until the very last second even then to start putting serious effort into development.
Overall, it's a solid entry into the Windows family, it fixes issues seen in previous versions, it's stable, and
offers a lot of promise. It's just that at this moment, much of that promise is yet to be fulfilled. Unless you're
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getting a copy with a new PC early this year, I'd wait to consider Vista for as a primary OS until at least the
middle of 2007, by then drivers, applications and such should be sorted out.
On issues of price and value, I can't really say. I personally wouldn't shell out $400 for a copy of Ultimate no
matter how fantastic the OS turned out being. So until I purchase a new computer at the end of the year, I
won't be running Vista at home. Not necessarily because of technical issues, but because I can't afford it.
Personally, because I do find myself working from home, and I do use my PC as a multimedia hub, I need
the functionality of both Business and Home Premium (i.e. Ultimate).
Pick up Vista when you buy a new machine starting around 3rd Quarter 2007.
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