So far I’ve held back on commenting on Windows Vista, but as I type this from within the clammy confines of Vista Beta 2, I feel it’s my solemn duty to break my silence and lay it all on the line.
We’ve waited five years for this beast. Five long years. It took Microsoft only a little longer to go all the way from Windows 95 to Windows XP. And what do we have?
A monster new OS that is in more ways than one Windows XP SP3 with a lick of paint and a few new bells and whistles. In fact, I’ve never been so underwhelmed when trying some new highly anticipated software than I was when I first installed and rummaged through Vista Beta 2.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. The ‘SP3’ aspect of Vista – i.e. the security improvements – are very welcome additions to Windows, although they really should have been a part of Windows XP from the start. The other bells and whistles, like deeply integrated search and the Gadgets in the sidebar, are also nice, but they’re hardly the revolutions we were promised. Anyone remember WinFS?
And then there’s the lick of paint: the Aero interface. The question remains as to how useful transparency is when it’s applied to overlapping windows. Even though the effect of transparency and blurring of the background looks quite funky, the fact of the matter is it interferes with the primary function of a GUI, which is to be an intuitive graphical user interface. Transparency makes text harder to read, makes window borders less distinct, not to mention the resources it hogs – my poor GeForce 7800GT’s fan is frantically twirling away every second I spend in Vista. I can picture many home, business and mobile users switching it off pretty quickly.
Then there’s the annoyances. One of the pivotal new security features is User Account Control (UAC), and it’s supposed to compensate for Windows’ inherently nutty way of managing administrator accounts. In Windows XP, the default account had rampant administrator privileges, and so too did every piece of malware that account inadvertently ran. There was the possibility of creating a standard user account and using the ‘run as...’ feature to run programs with administrator privileges, but anyone who’s tried that approach will tell you it’s a messy and relatively ineffectual way of improving security.
Thus, in Vista, the default account is only ‘administrator-like’. This means any time you try and mess with something saucy, like Device Manager or installing software, Windows goes through a little stuttering conniption and spews up a dialogue asking you to deeply reflect on your intentions and only continue if they’re virtuous. As Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
However, UAC rapidly becomes a monumental pain in the proverbial as you’re continually stopped in your tracks by yet another confirmation dialogue box. If history has taught us anything, besides that it’s hubris to whip the Hellespont, is that too many dialogue boxes cause ‘confirmation fatigue’. This can lead to people either not reading dialogue boxes, or even worse, turning the feature off all together.
Now I know Vista is only in beta at the moment so things could change. However, according to Microsoft, Vista is virtually feature complete. So all we can look forward to is some streamlining and bug fixing. Thus, I don’t think we can expect there to be a lot different from the current Beta 2 at launch.
At the end of the day, I’m sure I’ll be upgrading to Vista when it’s finally released, but it’ll be more out of necessity than passion.
This Feature appeared in the September 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine