Windows Vista Beta 2 Review

As always, I resort to Paul Thurrott’s site for any Windows Vista news because he explains things fairly for both Microsoft’s and the readers site. He doesn’t bash the OS needlessly, instead, he merely explains what is good, not so good and bad about it. This article will basically be a short version of his review mixed with my opinions about it and what I found most relevant.

Everyone has already talked and whined over the promised features that never came. I sort of understand Microsoft, they tried to build a new platform from scratch but still had to hold on to their old code. So it’s understandable that things such as a new File System were taken out. But for me, that’s not the worse thing about the upcoming OS. The worst thing is that Windows Vista will ship broken, even after all of it’s delays. According to Paul Thurrott:

Microsoft has under-delivered on Vista in two ways: First, it made promises it will not keep. And second, there are specific problems in the beta versions of Windows Vista that need to be fixed before the product is finalized in late 2006. There’s little Microsoft can do about the former at this point, but I expect the company to spend a lot of time on the latter over the next several months.

But don’t give up on Microsoft just yet, if you continue reading you might find out that Windows Vista will surprise you in positive ways. Just don’t expect the Holy Grail from it.

From here onwards I will use the order in which Paul Thurrott explained what was new to Windows Vista.

New User Interface

There’s little more I can say about Vista’s new glass interface that hasn’t already been said. The idea behind the much debated Aero theme is to give a better sense of depth when you have multiple Windows open. And to heighten that sense even more, a new feature called Flip3D allows you to switch your windows from a 3D perspective.

The worse part about Aero for Thurrott is that it is much harder to tell which Windows has focus due to the transparency.

By default I always click on the window I’m using before using it so I don’t really notice much, or care, about the focus, though I think Microsoft could have done a better job about it.

New Windows Explorer

I used to use Windows Explorer a lot in Windows 2k or older. However, due to the options available on the left toolbar I stopped using it in XP due to the convenience of the options the former has. In Vista, the biggest difference is that the usual address bar (which many didn’t even bother understanding) has been replaced by a bread crumb. You will also notice that many buttons are now missing and some menus have been hidden or moved. So the transition from older version’s of Windows to Vista won’t be as smooth as you might expect.

Improved Start Menu

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujaaa! Hallelujaaaaaa! Halleeeeeeeelujaaaaaaaaaa!

I think that all Windows users, at one point or another on their Windows usage, has already cursed at the Start Menu due to the easiness with which it closes even though you don’t want it to. On Windows Vista that won’t happen, because instead of your (increasingly long) programs list will open where the actual “Most Used Programs” list appears. It might seem a little weird at first, but trust me and Thurrott on this, this is a good change.

Instant Search

This allows you create “Virtual Folders”, similar to SQL queries that will automatically update each time the folder is open. It doesn’t seem to be as complete as the Spotlight feature in Tiger, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and according to Thurroth, it’s much faster than the awful Windows XP search.

Performance Improvements

I know we’ve all heard from Microsoft that every new Windows version is faster and more secure (but require better hardware), but, let’s be honest. XP’s memory management isn’t that bad. Even if you can’t tell much of a difference from 2k to XP, try running Windows 98 and XP with the same applications and after a while you’ll notice a difference in performance. Vista, thankfully continues this evolution and has new features which improve performance even more (no horse dung):

SuperFetch, which automatically preloads frequently-accessed applications in RAM so they’ll start up more quickly, and ReadyBoost, which uses external flash memory in USB devices to improve overall system performance.

I’m a bit sceptical about the later, due to the slow speeds of flash disks (compared to RAM), but I’ll give them the benefit of doubt until Vista comes out.

New versions of bundled applications

Not much to say here, new versions of WMP and IE, however they will also be available for XP (but don’t count much on the next versions also being backwards compatible).

New versions of bundled applications

I don’t know if Microsoft felt “threatened” by Apple’s new add campaign, but in one of them one of the things listed as better than Windows was the software package that comes with Mac OS. You’re not just getting an OS, you’re getting a whole set of applications which make your life easier or funner.

While Vista won’t have an “iLife” clone, Thurrott says that the new applications (or improved versions) are pleasant and have great quality. So your parents might actually start using their computers for something other than Solitaire.

Vastly improved networking

I found this paragraph of the review a bit confusing. Basically, all the currently known networking menus have been re-written. I agree that they could have gotten a slight make-over, however it might be difficult now to solve particular networking problems in Vista that had work-arounds in XP, or perhaps it’s just a matter of getting used to the menus.

Pervasive security features

Microsoft has added interesting features which are completely transparent to the user, however will make their operative system more secure. For example, different programs are isolated from each other and run on the lowest-privilege settings by default. You can encrypt your entire hard-drive to prevent theft of data and the Firewall has also been slightly improved. This together with an anti-spyware tool will hopefully contribute in making Vista more secure. Personally, if you have SP2 installed and you manage to catch a virus, either you were badly tricked, or you actually executed a bad file.

Improved home user features

You will now be able to use a 2-10 feet long interface for media files, the media applications have all been slightly updated, and you can now use an application called Windows Photo Gallery to manage all your pictures easily. (I must admit that my pictures folder is not very well organized, so that is certainly a welcome program)

Improved mobility features and Improved business features

With Vista you’ll be able to Synch your PC and laptop so one won’t be more outdated than the other (but I hope I don’t have to duplicate all my files). Also, there will be new Power Management modes, though I feel, with Vista’s prerequisites, our present laptops battery life won’t be any longer than it currently is with Vista, I think it will be more of the opposite.

The Hardware prerequisites

… are much lower than I (and everyone) expected. A while ago, we were told that we’d need 1 or 2GB of RAM to run Vista efficiently, however, the numbers of those specs have been greatly reduced:

The minimum system requirements for Windows Vista Beta 2 are an 800 MHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) microprocessor, 512 MB of RAM, a 20 GB hard drive with 15 GB of free space, and a CD-ROM drive. For Vista Home Basic, Microsoft recommends a 3D video card and a DVD-compatible optical drive, along with audio and Internet capabilities. For Vista Home Premium, Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions, the company ups the ante with 1 GHz microprocessor, 1 GB of RAM, an “Aero capable” video card, and a 40 GB hard drive. That’s it, nothing complicated, and certainly nothing particularly daunting. Forget all that noise about your PC not being able to run Vista.

So those are all the Vista features for now. The new features aren’t as impressive as Tiger’s were a year ago, but they’re certainly a step in the right direction. And I don’t think Apple users should be aggressive towards Vista’s blatant copying ability, they should feel honored that Microsoft is following a competitor’s footsteps and are leading the way in home Operative Systems.

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