Working with Vista, revisited

So after spending a week tied to an HP Compaq 2710p tablet running Vista Business Edition, I can say that it's actually quite usable and that overall, I've enjoyed the experience. Vista on this laptop has been relatively stable, able to handle my workload well, and though it's not as polished as Mac OS X, it's not terrible. There are more than a few things that irritate me about the OS, but it's not dog slo

So after spending a week tied to an HP Compaq 2710p tablet running Vista Business Edition, I can say that it's actually quite usable and that overall, I've enjoyed the experience. Vista on this laptop has been relatively stable, able to handle my workload well, and though it's not as polished as Mac OS X, it's not terrible. There are more than a few things that irritate me about the OS, but it's not dog slow on this system, the sleep/wake cycles do work (most of the time) and hibernation works fairly well too. The lack of a native shell is really quite annoying to me, since I generally have a dozen xterms running at any given moment, and I really like to call them from the local system, rather than run an X server on the laptop and ship them from a Linux box, or use putty (or similar) to SSH into other systems just to get to a shell. I am running Cygwin, which mitigates this issue somewhat, but it's still not the same.

I like the gadgets, though on a laptop screen, they get covered quickly. I like the visual effects, which are smooth and attractive on this system. I like the tablet features, including the handwriting recognition which is surprisingly accurate. I was pleased to find that Firefox 3 on Vista is very fast and very stable, even when pushed very hard. If given no other choice, I could run Vista and get my work done.

However, I'm not going to be staying in Vista-land. Since I do have other choices, I still prefer Mac OS X and Linux.

The Start menu in Vista (and all other iterations) has become far too ornery for me. Navigating to new apps, or to find apps is annoying and too clumsy. The quick-launch menu in the taskbar is far too small, and even gadgets that supply a larger quick-launch facility don't really work so well since on a 1280x800 screen, it's behind all other windows most of the time. The ever-changing list of frequently-used applications in the Start menu has always been a source of wonderment to me. Occasionally, I find an app in there that I've actually used recently. The rest are just thoroughly bizarre. I've never used Windows Fax and Scan or Backup Status and Configuration, yet there they are.

While the sleep/suspend cycles do work well (better than anything I've ever experienced in Windows XP), they're still not on par with Mac OS X. Time to wake is quick, but several times the system seemed groggy, and took quite some awhile to present me with a usable interface. That said, I have yet to lose any work or have a spontaneous reboot when coming out of sleep. That's definitely a plus.

I did have some application incompatibilities to overcome, and discovered that HP's Protect Tools identity management tools conflicted significantly with Firefox. The only solution to that was to turn off those tools, since even exempting the application from the protected list didn't fix the problem. I did note that this problem did not occur with Firefox 2, so the problem may actually lie with Firefox.

I was quite annoyed that when common devices such as mice, USB flash drives, and so on were inserted into the system, it takes Vista quite a long time to locate and install the drivers. In Linux and Mac OS X, these devices are usable nearly instantly.

Running anti-virus and anti-malware code on the system bothered me, especially when they cut into battery life. I don't like the idea of these tools requiring so many system resources to protect me from the big, bad Internet. I figure that just running those tools takes about 5% performance away from the system, maybe more depending on use.

Overall, I found Vista to be a suitable OS for me, just not my preferred OS. Where Mac OS X and Linux feel stable and confident, Vista feels shaky in places, leaving me wondering if the next application installation will cause problems with something else -- I'd rather not feel like I was taking the system's life into my hands when an installation progress bar doesn't move for two solid minutes, like when I installed Microsoft Office. I like the idea of restore points, but frankly, I'd rather they weren't necessary. An OS should be able to keep itself together in the face of just about anything, but I've seen Windows go all pear-shaped after a few app installations that did naughty things to the registry for one reason or another. At one time, the Windows Registry might have been a good idea, but it sure seems like a ball and chain now.

I also loathe the number of required reboots, and the default setting to reboot the system after updates are downloaded. This is a deal-breaker for me. Don't ever interrupt my workflow telling me that I need to reboot in the next five minutes. I'm busy. The only time I should have to reboot a laptop, workstation, or server is when the kernel is updated. Generally speaking, this is still the rule for Linux, FreeBSD and Mac OS X, but not for Windows -- not for any flavor.

As a side note, over the past few weeks, I've found this laptop to be extremely usable. It's light, and compact, but the keyboard is just right, I found that I don't miss the trackpad nearly as much as I thought I would, the screen is bright, and not too grainy (a common problem on tablets), the battery life is quite sufficient, and the extras (like an additional battery, docking station with optical drive, USB hub, etc) were well received. I was quite impressed with the performance of this system given the 1.20Ghz Core 2 Duo ULV CPU and 2GB of RAM. It's very well equipped to handle Vista Business Edition. That said, I do think that Microsoft's minimum requirements for Vista are way too low.

I think the major problem with Vista is that it's not a big enough step away from Windows XP in terms of functionality, stability, and security, but it's definitely a major change in terms of UI elements and design. Microsoft draws strength from the ubiquity of their OS -- everyone knows enough of Windows to be able to use it -- but it's also an Achilles' Heel. They've tried shaking things up in Vista (and Office) to upset that particular applecart, without providing enough of substance to make the IT world follow along. It's one thing for a home user to get a new system with Vista and figure it out, but when you're looking at rolling out a few thousand workstations with Vista, the retraining, hardware upgrade, and time investments simply aren't worth it. This is why most companies aren't falling all over themselves to migrate to Vista -- there's a very limited business case to do so.

But that's not to say that Vista is a terrible OS, along the lines of Windows ME. It's not. It's usable, not too slow on decent hardware, and it seems to be a bit more stable than XP. So there you have it. All told, I like Vista.

In true Internet tradition, please commence with the "(Microsoft|Apple|Linux) fanboy" accusations.

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