As a student studying a course that involves programming I am entitled to MSDNAA access, this allows me to download selected pieces of Microsoft software for free. One of those pieces of software was Microsoft Windows Vista Business. I downloaded it on Sunday night and got around to installing on Monday. I was planning a rebuild of my Windows PC as there was a lot of stuff on there I wasn't using and the install needed a tidy up, so I decided I would try Vista and see how it worked. Installing was a relatively pleasant experience, for the first time Microsoft have provided an installer that is approaching the same user-friendly modern appearance as many Linux distributions I've used. There's no DOS nonsense any more, and the partitioning tool included uses full mouse control with a decent GUI making it easy to organise your hard disk. I would like to see the ability to make FAT32 partitions as well as NTFS here as I still use FAT32 for my documents partition, making it easy to share with other OSes and easier to retrieve data from say a live Linux distro.
The look and feel of Vista is very smooth. I was running it on a fairly high-spec machine, I got 4.2 out of 5 on the rating tool included however, this was with a graphics card that cost more than £100 only a couple of months ago, and AMD 64 3500+ processor. The graphical effects all appeared smooth, but memory usage was high and processor usage was around 5% even when idling it seemed. I felt quite at home using the search tool in the Start menu, the "gadgets" in the side bar, and the smooth high resolution icon sets and design, however this may be because these are all features that people have been used to using in Mac OS X and KDE for the last few years. One of the most annoying things about the new interface is the lack of a menu bar, the menus and options windows are still the same, however they are now hidden in ambiguous links from the right of the dialogues. Microsoft in their wisdom have also removed the "Up one level" button from explorer, one of my most frequently used buttons when browsing around, instead you must click the previous item in the chain of buttons that have taken over the address bar.
The general file-structure on the disc is more or less the same as XP giving people who need to look a bit deeper than the "Documents" folder a feeling of familiarity. However in previous versions I have found it fairly easy to redirect the "My Documents" folder to a different hard disk partition, this time it didn't work quite as easily as it used to, since Microsoft have already littered the home directory with other sub-folders. Security is noticeably tighter this time, after the Windows XP release fiasco this is to be expected really, and desired, however above and beyond making you feel safer, the restrictions on this version of Windows are annoying in their persistence. When installing anything from an anti-virus program (and no, Microsoft still aren't providing an anti-virus service as part of the OS price) or a document reader, you will find yourself having to click at least one "Yes I want to run this program". I also had to click a record number of times (3) to confirm that I really didn't want a short-cut to that in my start menu.
When installing my Audigy 2 sound card, I found that I was forced to use beta drivers as the Vista drivers were still new out. Also whilst installing these things I found that the install wizard with its many steps jiggles on the screen, the animations provided by Aero cause the installer window to shrink as it goes to disappear and then grow as it re-appears with the next stage of the install, leaving the user looking at some mad in-out, in-out shake it all about window dancing in the middle of the screen. A subtle but hugely annoying change from previous versions of Windows is that the menu option in the Start menu to turn off the computer is not a shut down button, but a hibernate button, meaning the computer doesn't actually power off but goes into a standby mode from which it can be awoken by the tap of the space bar. To actually shut down you need to go through two more button clicks opening an extra mini-menu with all the various power-down and log-off options.
The final straw in my little Vista escapade was that I managed to crash Explorer twice in half an hour browsing my local network. It seems Microsoft have maintained their ability to write software that will crash as soon as tell you that "The operation failed, the program will now continue". So with some reluctance to leave the smooth graphics and sleek look behind, I have moved back to XP for the time being, maybe next time I wipe my PC there will be more reliable drivers and a more mature set of Vista compatible devices and software available.