My move from Windows XP to Windows Vista Ultimate – Part One

I have decided last week that it was time to move one from Windows XP + SP2 to the new Windows Vista Ultimate build now that I knew the programs I often used don’t have as many issues. Originally when trying out Vista Ultimate, there were many programs that I used that were not 100% compatible – MSN refused to connect, FireFox crashed and would never load up (even more so when set to the default browser), Sound drivers were damaged and I couldn’t find compatible local server software.

Now though all that has changed. Firefox has been updated rapidly, MSN is now behaving, the sound Driver in Vista is actually pretty sweet and all the other smaller programs I need to work just do. The time to make the jump much like from Windows 2000 to XP needs to be made. Will things go smoothly and will Vista perform?

Preparation
As per usual a full backup of my important files was done and double checked before a full format of my Sony VAIO’s hard drive. My practise is that I usually split my hard drive into three working NTFS partitions – OS, Backup and Spare. Why do I use this practise? Basically if one partition fails there is at least some data redundancy where the other partitions will live. I know its not fool proof nor does it replace regular backups but it does the trick and keeps things organised. My “Backup” partition is often 2gig large so there is enough space to hold the important drivers for the system, printer, scanner, etc if need be. Also it will hold certain programs to make life of restoring that much easier as well as any important files all encrypted. The “OS” and “Spare” partitions are self explanatory.

The Vista Ultimate installation
Installation was a breeze and pretty streamlined, especially when compared to the prompt heavy Windows XP. Just the serial number and some settings were needed while Vista did its job and the whole installation was faster than Windows XP. In all it was a good start.

Once installed I went to get the OS updated and headed to Windows Update… There waiting for me was over 800MB worth of updates! Granted I did pick some language packs too but it sure took some time! One thing that makes me and various Vista users laugh is that the “Vista Extras” in the Ultimate version are pretty damn poor considering the extra cost. BitLocker, Hold em Up Poker and Dreamscene were the ones available to me and only one, Bitlocker, is actually worth installing.

For those who don’t know, Bitlocker is Microsoft’s own encryption tool which you can use to encrypt important OS files, personal files, partitions and full hard drives. Very handy actually as it prevents people from physically taking out the hard drive from your computer or laptop and reading its contents elsewhere. Trouble is I had already restored all my files prior to using Bitlocker… To use it, the partition needs to be formatted by the tool first. Another requirement is that it relies on the TPM chip (Trusted Platform Module) which is basically a chip that hold the encryption keys to be checked against for security. How many computers out there have a TPM chip? I don’t see many… There is however a work-around so you use a USB Pen drive to act as a physical key to your laptop/computer that replaces the TPM but I won’t cover the process here.

Using Windows Vista and the new features
Many of the features have been covered by larger sites in much detail already so I will only give my overview about it all.

– I do like the new Vista Start Menu. Its a lot more organised, easier to use and well designed. I like how just pressing the Windows Key and typing anything automatically goes into Vista’s hugely improved integrated Search. Launching programs, shortcuts and finding files on your computer could not be any easier.

– The default Username Folder is a nice addition. When creating usernames on your system, Vista automatically creates a central folder for it. For example I am NeoBlade and Vista has setup My documents, pictures, music, downloads etc automatically. Now yes I know Windows XP had a My Documents” folder too with the same thing, however Vista goes up another level. When saving files Vista automatically recognises the filetype and points it all to the relevant folder saving an awful lot of clicking. Handy for people who don’t have their own data structure setup.

Breadcrumb interface. I am a massive fan of this. Much like websites Vista’s default navigation bar in folders are now replaced with a Breadcrumb making navigation much smoother and efficient without having to click Back or Forward so many times. Also in the Breadcrumb interface are drop down menu’s to make navigation even quicker when you have many folders.

Breadcrumb
Breadcrumb Interface in action

Aero Glass. Many people have knocked this new look but please people think about it. Windows XP was released in 2001 and the whole interface was 2D driven by bitmaps. Microsoft re-wrote and designed new APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to drag the Windows guts from the 16-bit era to the current generation. Windows XP was 32 and 64 bit, however the technology driving it was still based on old code in terms of interface. I’ll save the history lesson but it now uses Direct3D for many of the rendering along with Vector and Bitmaps. The result? A much more flexible graphical user interface that looks modern (by windows standards) and serves some purpose.

Flip3D Flip3D – totally pointless

Security. Microsoft has learnt a lot of lessons and have not made Explorer so integral to the actual system resources. Indeed Windows Explorer now runs in its own “Sandbox” so if anything happens then only the resources and memory inside that sandbox will get affected and not the whole system. Of course that is theory and many OS’s now employ several Sandboxes to increase security and stability. Also Vista uses a technique that randomly arranges the positions of key data areas to prevent malicious hackers from predicting target addresses. This technique is called ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomisation). Some say its overkill however prevention should always be the first port of call.

Vista sound driver. How many times have you used a headset with the volume on loud to hear the other person, but MSN IM alerts, system sounds and that are equally as loud? With the new sound driver Vista handles each application separately with its own volume control giving you much more flexibility. Handy for me being a Skype user.

File management. Ever selected loads of files to move only to be told by Windows that a file is in use? Then to see the whole operation cancelled… It has happened to me many times and thankfully Vista sorts this out by skipping files that cannot be altered and gives an Error Report at the end. Also (thankfully) there are more options instead of “Say Yes to all” like in Windows XP… You can now say No to all! Such a simple thing like that really does make a difference when handling massive amounts of files.

There are some other good points too which I probably cannot remember right now but there are also some negatives. Network speeds are unusually slow with large file transfers however after a bit of research this was due to Vista controlling bandwidth to reduce overheads on the systems connected. A simple command prompt though can turn it off and make it act like Windows XP. Flip3D, a feature Microsoft were proud to boast is totally useless. Since Microsoft spent all that effort re-writing the graphics engine I’m sure they could have come up with something better to display all active windows at once. Exposé on the Apple Mac for example is a beautiful example of how it should be done. Hell I’ve even installed software called TopDesk (Exposé like feature) and DeskSpace (mimics Beryl’s Virtual Desktop Cube) to improve things further with great effect.

TopDesk
TopDesk adds Exposé features to Vista

DeskSpace
Very cool Beryl like feature added to Vista thanks to DeskSpace, adding 4 virtual desktops

In the next part I will talk about drivers, program compatibility, performance and will wrap up my thoughts. In all though if your system is capable (modern) then Vista is not as bloated as people might think. However you would need Business or Ultimate to get the most out of it I feel. I have grown to like Vista Ultimate but will provide more user experiences and thoughts for the next chapter.

  • I know I’ve talked alot about the fact that I hate microsoft and everything they stand for but I’m in a bad position. My laptop is dying and my badly build custom job is as difficult to use everyday as a supercar. Apple is too expensive for me and Ubuntu is starting to irritate me because of the “elitists” and their obsession with “libre” instead of Functionality.

    Dell and Microsoft, “the enemies” are the only choice…

    Very nice article by the way.

  • Hi Janus ^_^ Yeah part two will contain more info about what I really think of it as I wanted to give Vista a fair crack at everyday situations and not just 2 days worth. I was thinking about following up on an article someone wrote about users attitudes too towards OS’s like Linux and MacOSX as it is pretty true I find.

    Yes Dell and Microsoft do churn them out, but to be fair the more I use Vista (needs to be a decent system at least) the more I like it… You can of course tweak the living hell out of it to suit your needs though. I’ll be documenting Ubuntu too on my sister’s 5 year old Laptop to see if it really does handle resources as well as it claims…

  • I’ve been looking at the Vostro 1000 as a decent upgrade. AMD Turion X2 processor, 2GB Ram, Integrated graphics, DVD writer, Vista business. All for €570 ex VAT. It’s as cheap as I can get it without going too low on the specs.

    Ubuntu is good on the older machines but it’s too unstable with newer hardware for my liking, took and age for them to get wide scale support for Core 2 duo machines. All because their not in control of the kernel, the elitists are in control of that. It’s like asking a crack addict if they now how to produce the goods from scratch.

  • Haha yeah, if you know how to compile the kernel or indeed start with specific builds of it then you’re okay. Doesn’t sound too bad though to be fair and at least its Vista Business. You won’t get the Media Centre but will get pretty much everything else. Vista Home/Basic is evil >_

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