Windows Vista Beta notes…

What follows are some notes that I’ve taken on the Vista beta that I installed into a VM. I’ve got a lot of toying around yet to do with it (and at least one Internet Explorer bug I want to mention.) But… I’ll go ahead and post this. [warning - rambling and long text...]

A few days back I undertook an effort of self torture. After finally getting the Vista Beta 2 downloaded and having Vmware server up and running I thought I’d give a go at installing and see what things looked like. I did NO pre-googling for tips and so this is a pure “discover as you go” process.

Windows Vista install notes in a VMware virtual machine on Virtual server…. First try, it booted up and to my amazement took 450MB-500MB memory to run the installer. Note that Windows 2k Pro at desktop in the background was running ~20MB active memory use and a DSL linux was around ~12MB active memory use (both backgrounded). I tried backgrounding Vista to see if that memory use dropped – instead the VM powered off (in mid install).

Second install attempt, seems to start off quite well. Unfortunately when VMware server asks you if you want a 16GB disk, it doesn’t always check to see if you’ve got 16GB to spare. I chose not to allocate the space on disc creation and found out that only about 7-8 GB is what I had, so…. disk full I had to kill of the VM and remove it’s virtual disk and start on a fresh partition with dozens of GB of free space….

Take 3… install seems to go well until the reboot bootldr not found. (Maybe it’s the emulated scsi drive?) I delete that one and create an IDE drive and restart

Take 4 – finally success, the reboot takes me in to a configuration wizard.

Some thoughts on the installer. I like that we are now seeing a full GUI installer (as opposed to the old blue screen NT/Win2k style or the clunky Win9x era installer.) It looks quite pretty, however I’m frustrated with the lack of details. NOT that it should spew details automatically, but I’d like a CHOICE so I can troubleshoot problems.

We have basically… two clicks before typing in the license key (which I’ve now done 4 times…) then a choice of disks to use (there are some advanced partitioning options available which might be promising, I’ll have to revisit those and investigate further.) For these installs I just ate the entire (virtual) hard drive though. After that choice it says…

copying files
expanding files
installing features (??!?)
installing updates
and I forget the last item. I really think 3 of those are fairly self-evident although the installing features is kind of odd. I’d like an advanced or “show detail” button that would show what files are getting copied, expanded or what features are being setup, but at this point they don’t. (Even the ability to save a log to a storage device would be nice.)

Anyway, desktop impressions are that it’s very pretty, but quickly I find the new interface somewhat frustrating. Welcome to Windows (12) is in a box in the middle of the screen and after seeing it several times and wondering I FINALLY notice the bit of text a paragraphs space down that says “click to show all items in this category.” (Four were showing) The menu is structured differently, now you click to go “deeper” in the start menu and the next level down loads in the same “box” as the original start menu, scrolling is required to find items. Weird…. I don’t think that helps the usage of the menu. In fact, I know many that NEVER use the start menu (some longtime users.) I see people making more desktop links and forgetting the menu.

Highlighting running programs in the task bar highlights them. OK – visually that’s nice, but is this worth the upgrade? The interface for programs is a bit hard to get used to. Instead of the traditional file menu followed by an icon bar, we have a ribbon that has several icons and a few menu items at the far right in Internet Explorer. For existing windows users this will take some getting used to.

You can, revert windows to the “classic” theme and start menu style, which is a bit of a relief. (However, that makes it a bit harder to do phone walkthroughs.) I don’t see anything that really jumps out and stands as a selling feature though.

With the user interface, I wonder if the deck has been shuffled JUST for the sake of shuffling the deck, trying to make things look a bit more like OS X and giving flash just for the sake of flash. I don’t know that many of these changes strike me as SIMPLER. I still have many users that have a hard time finding the same menu choices twice in XP due to the context-changing of options. I’m afraid this release is heading further in that direction.

There is a new approach to rating your system. The virtual machine got a 1 on this scale. The idea is that your computer will be rated with a whole number and you use that rating to decide if software will work on your PC. Funny, I thought we had something like that – memory and free hard drive space requirements. That plus 3d hardware requirements seemed to be fairly sufficient and although many are still a bit fuzzy on it, I think most people are at least vaguely aware what these numbers mean. My first reaction on seeing the VM with a 1 was … wow – that’s ranked pretty well. Uhm… no. Actually, I got a 3.something for memory (512 to the VM), 3.9 for disk space (about 9GB free after install) another 3.x for the processor and 1 for lacking “gaming graphics”. Again here, I don’t know if this isn’t just a change that doesn’t need to be made. SURE – make it easy to report the specs of a system. I DON’T recall windows giving a GOOD BRIEF summary of memory/cpu/hard drive/graphics capability. (Instead they give you that + the kitchen sink in msinfo…)

These are just a few of the things that I’ve noticed right off. Fortunately after the system is installed and to a desktop the active memory consumption dropped off to a more reasonable level (only using about 250MB of active memory from the host OS.)

Yes, I know, it’s a beta, it still has debugging enabled and after that’s disabled it will be lighter on the hardware and some of the more “beta”-ish bugs things should be much better is the theme of what I’ve seen online…. I haven’t even mentioned some of the “beta-ish” bugs of the ilk of … “when the property tab on the right is chosen in a group the tab doesn’t line up properly”, or “wrong screenshot (xp) given in the configure taskbar properties..” or other OBVIOUS, SUPERFICIAL problems. For me the big problem is the whole direction of the UI. I don’t think it’s a better UI, I think it’s change for change’s sake and an attempt to out-MAC the MAC -OS.

I had previously thought that the default user setup would be as a limited user and at least at this stage, that is not the case (my user had full admin rights.) Although, in spite of being administrator I had confirmation prompts at EVERYTHING. Open the control panel (prompt – is this ok) open network applet FROM the same control panel… “is THIS what I want to do.” I can see WHY there are complaints about this. At this point in the process they’ve gone too far in trying to protect you from yourself. On a side note, I could do without the whole desktop greying before the popup window asking if it’s ok to do whatever I’ve just clicked on. It REALLY seems to slow down the process.

Yes. I can say that much of what I saw is visually pretty and striking, but I question if pretty=functional. And beyond that I REALLY wonder if it’s worth the hardware requirements. I was talking to my brother on this not too long ago. He’s trying to figure out what THE key upgrade “got to have” feature is and we’re struggling to see it. Yes, it appears Vista will be more secure, but most folks don’t upgrade their OS for that reason. Win98 brought better large partition support and USB support (if you had an early Win95 and NOT win95b), but additional stability fixes. Windows ME flopped for many reasons, but one was that it was an upgrade looking for a reason. Windows XP (or 2000) brought many improvements over the win9x line – the BIGGEST was the stability of better memory handling. Of course the NT filesystem gives some incentive as well (as does Pro’s support for encrypted filesystems, built in remote desktop, etc. (Wireless support in XP) The main point of this is that the upgrades caught on and were successes because they brought something new and needed in hardware support or a core stability improvement.

So what with Vista? A redesigned User Interface? I know in recent months features have flown off of Vista as the deadlines approach, with several ambitious attempts falling off right and left. What will remain? More importantly will it be worth it for people to care.

I’ve said before that I’m not looking forward to Vista. I haven’t heard anything that really jumps out as “oh that’s neat”. From a security standpoint it sounds like they’re doing MANY things better. That’s great. Why don’t we see some of these kinds of changes work their way into a service pack for XP. (Instead of the usual – “well for better security you ought to buy the latest version.”) I know, – but they’d break things. Yeah – well, so will Vista. Make it a highly recommended service pack – give vendors time to adapt and start pushing it to OEM’s as the default – that’s exactly what they’ll do with Vista and no one is too upset over that – why not just do that with a “security enhanced xp”. I guess they won’t because they won’t recoup their development costs on it if they go that route.

Of course, Vista WILL have one big new feature that I saw, there are some more prominent links to find ways to buy things…. through the computer rating area you can look for software that will run on your pc in Microsoft’s online store you can upgrade to ultimate edition from within the os (with $$$ I’m sure) and I’m sure I’ll run across others. Of course, I do see little things, but most of those can be had today on XP with add on applications – tabbed browsing, desktop search, backup…. (most of the add-ons for vista can be had for a free download… Firefox for tabbed browsing and google or msn desktop search)

I’ll close this entry by a little observation I made on the system requirements for Vista…. One of the reasons I like linux is, if I have an old 486/early pentium I can FIND a linux to run on it. Even if it’s going to sit without a GUI and be a fileserver or a firewall or print server. I don’t have to go out and find a new state of the art system and shell out three digits of $$$ more for a license only to find that it didn’t come with enough memory to load the core OS. A lot of businesses are on a 3-5 year upgrade cycle and have the budget to do that. But the reality is that a lot of places CAN’T do that and an 8-10 year upgrade cycle is what they can afford with hand-me-down machines getting recommisioned with slight upgrades and “as new as possible” versions of the Desktop OS to keep them as close to current as possible. To put it in real terms. There is one business that I do computer work for that has 19 computers. One of those is a linux server, another linux firewall. In the last year, 4 of those have been replaced (1 was from a donated system – which still required a new OS license and if I recall a memory upgrade. A SECOND of those was a hand-me down from one of the other users with more memory and new OS license.) We’re really trying to get most everyone with the same software set, but at this point there are still 5 desktops that are on Windows 98. 2 of those brand new XP systems are spec’ed enough to run vista. There are an additional 2 that had been bought new last year which might, with a memory upgrade, meet Vista’s minimum requirements. The year before that there were a handful of donated systems which would likely meet the 800mhz minimum, but likely fall short on memory and video (integrated if I recall DirectX 9??? – I doubt it.). Of course Vista will be on brand new systems and they’ll get it THAT way, we likely won’t be upgrading current systems.

By contrast, if they were to decide to make a move to linux, every single system could be migrated. There are a few that would need a memory upgrade (If I’m correct, the 5 that have Windows 98.) Of course, recently I did see someone explain – THAT is exactly why linux hasn’t broken through on the desktop – because it DOESN’T require massive hardware upgrades. The industry WANTS you to do a hardware upgrade…. They’re saying that “hope is on the way” with xgl (3d gui rendering) which significantly pushes up a desktops hardware requirements under linux. I’d be willing to bet that even in a couple years when “EVERYBODY” is shipping XGL that you can still get a plain old 2d GUI instead for an older system though.

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