Vista shows window of improvement

When Kevin Francis received notification that the first beta of the next generation of Microsoft Windows, Windows Vista, was available for download, he took the plunge and installed it as his production system.

Four weeks later, the principal architect for development services company Infosys, said the experience has been "a good introduction to how it works."

Francis started using Vista on his main laptop, and despite "some BIOS issue" that didn't allow booting directly from the CD Hardware support is working with every device.

"My iPaq with a USB cable is working fine, and so does a USB printer and scanner - those drivers are binary-compatible," Francis said. "I haven't seen any drivers that didn't work."

Francis has the operating system -formerly codenamed Longhorn - running on his tablet PC with 2GB of memory, and says there are no issues with speed, but is not sure what will happened when Glass, the new graphics layer, is installed in the final version.

"There is a lot of new stuff in the network layer [and] it behaves pretty much like XP in terms of stability," he said, adding that certain network software may not be compatible.

"For example, Virtual PC runs fine but can't see the network, but the machine is on the network and I have Outlook running which is all good. And VMWare doesn't support it yet."

Francis said software that is trying to do "tricky stuff" with the network may cause problems but Vista works with Proxies and Exchange, and network printing seems fine.

He has been running Vista for three weeks with an average of 14 hours a day and in that time he has only experienced one blue screen of death when he tried to install the company VPN client.

"It crashed and burned horribly but nothing else has happened, no other blue screens," he said.

"The interface is still XP-ish so it's not all see-through," Francis said. "It looks like XP except black is the new blue. Instead of a Fisher-Price look, the interface is much more refined. I'm guessing the version you can download will be the Pro version which is aimed at the business market."

Generally, Francis sees a lot more flair to the user interface, and the toolbar buttons are smaller and the familiar Start button turns green when you place the mouse pointer over it.

"I had an interesting time getting a handle on Windows Explorer which is completely new," he said. "My Documents has moved again and it takes a little getting used to finding where stuff is [but] Explorer is an awful lot better. For example, there is a 'breadcrumb' trail across the top for returning to previous screens which is quite useful." Francis said Windows Explorer now displays files and folders in a far more useful way and metadata is attached to every file.

"This includes a star rating for every file, keywords, and author. It's part of the new search thing," he said. "There is a new explorer pane and documents inside folders are shown before you open it."

Regarding the much-anticipated IE7, Francis said it works fine and he hasn't found any sites where it hasn't worked properly.

"It's backwards-compatible for HTML, faster than IE6, and displays pages quickly," he said. "There is still a bit of work to do with tweaking the way it works, but it is reliable and hasn't crashed."

Tabbed browsing finally makes an appearance some years after Microsoft "dropped the ball" with browser innovation.

Francis said there were a lot of sites where IE7 didn't work because it is more "locked-down" than its predecessor.

"You need to up the security rating by adding trusted sites or tweaking the security levels - it's quite locked down," he said.

When it came to installing software, many times Francis had to say "no, pretend I'm XP" to dialogue boxes, but when installed the software worked fine.

"Vista appears to be binary compatible with Microsoft, and other applications," he said, adding that Vista is missing a bit of control XP had which could stop a processor from using too much CPU power.

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