“VISTA: Bringing Clarity To Your World”…Somewhat

Although it wasn’t by choice, I took the plunge into the world of Microsoft VISTA yesterday and here are some initial impressions…

First off, if you’re not familiar with the new operating system from Microsoft, it comes if four flavors: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. I went with the latter option which is really just the business and Home Premium editions combined.

Overall, it took about seven hours to move everything from one computer to the next, install software, and make sure everything on the new machine was in working order (which it wasn’t, the 9/1 card reader was damaged so the manufacturer is sending a replacement). One definite improvement in VISTA is the ability to set up a network and recognize other computers.

I did run into a snag during the initial stages but it was due to issues on the old machine (which was running Windows XP). Nevertheless, once that was cleared up transferring files over via the network connection worked perfectly.

“Clarity” Isn’t Exactly The Word I would Have Selected
Based on my initial use, I don’t think VISTA makes working with files any easier than compared to Win XP; at best, it is simply different. Initially, there is a definite PITA factor due to an unnecessarily high learning curve associated with the new file tree structure (or lack thereof). Since the new navigation structure wasn’t the least bit intuitive to me, I simply switched over to “classic” mode and things moved ahead much faster after that.

However, the one, BIG improvement in VISTA is the advent of Aero navigation system. Unfortunately, it isn’t available on the Home Basic edition and you have to have a pretty hefty graphics card on board to really make it work. This new computer has 4GB RAM and a 256MB video card from nVidia 7500 series. That seemed to be more than enough as Aero ran without any trouble on my system.

Essentially, Aero creates a 3-D view of all open windows and allows you to scroll through them like a sort of virtual Rolodex for your desktop. If you have a mouse with updated control functions, you can bring up Aero by clicking the “document view” button and then using the scroll wheel to cycle through the programs. In essence, you can quickly scroll through all open windows and select the one you need all with one hand and in a fraction of a second.

Although this might sound like nothing more than a novelty, I found this to be infinitely useful in just the first day of using VISTA. Finally, someone at Microsoft deserves a bonus! The photo to your left (click to enlarge) is frame of the Aero system in motion. In fact, the front screen is this article in the midst of being created via the new trial version of Office 2007. Moreover, one of the slicker features in the Aero system is it provides you with a real-time version of each window. The tiny window immediately behind the front window is a progress screen showing how much time is left in a file transfer between my old and new computer.

This is without a doubt, VISTA’s weakest component. All but three of the non-public domain programs I use on a daily basis were fully compatible with VISTA. As a result, I will have to purchase upgrades to the following software if I want to continue to use them or, in some cases, abandon them altogether due to a lack of planned VISTA-compatible updates:

  • Adobe Acrobat Professional. I use version six and I’ll need to upgrade to version eight in order for it to work ($159).
  • SmartDraw. I really don’t like this program enough to upgrade. Instead, I’ll look for a replacement.
  • Micrografx Picture Studio 8. Although I still really like this program it is old enough that the company has since been bought out and I don’t like the new versions based on the original software package. I’ll have to do some comparative research to find a replacement but I expect something worthwhile will cost at least a few hundred dollars.
  • Music Match Jukebox. I have used this media/streaming music player for years. In fact, I was among the first 100 users to purchase the lifetime upgrade. I’ve always been happy with the service and the player until now. Apparently, the latest version of the player is not compatible with VISTA and when I went looking for an upgrade I discovered the company was purchased by Yahoo, who publishes a similar – but different – player/streaming service.

    After reading through a long FAQ file I discover that Music Match customers will be allowed to convert to the Yahoo player/streaming service without being charged an additional fee. Unfortunately, there’s no way to download the Yahoo player or log into the Yahoo streaming service without first purchasing the upgraded Yahoo player. Thus an annoying Catch-22 is born and when I went looking for a customer service email address or online form, I found one at Yahoo which continually crashed IE7 so there was no way to send in my complaint or request for help. And what about telephone support? Forget about it. So much for taking care of their customers. They just lost this one after nearly 10 years.

  • Of course, these are only the programs I use on a regular basis. I have at least two dozen more programs which are scheduled for VISTA Roulette over the weekend.

    Security On Steroids
    Although VISTA recognized all of my peripherals and installed the appropriate drivers without thinking twice or even asking for permission, it was a different story with software installation. All the horror stories you’ve heard about VISTA’s overactive security features are spot on (if this is news to you, go watch this Mac vs. PC advertisement).

    I’m not entirely certain how annoying this feature will be in the long run. I’m hoping it will die down but I’m not going to hold my breath. In the end, software installation would have gone much faster without this annoyance and even though you can disable the offending security feature it isn’t exactly easy to do. Instead, it would have made much more sense if VISTA had a desktop icon allowing you to disable the feature and then turn it back on during periods when you have a large amount of software to install (like when you buy a new computer).

    Without a doubt, Microsoft dropped the ball with regard to the ridiculously complicated security system. In fact, after experiencing it for just a single day, it made me wonder which would be less frustrating: continue dealing with this critical VISTA flaw or learning the MAC OS. I wish I had the money to find out…

    Do you need VISTA? No, there’s nothing I’ve encountered in the software so far that makes it seem like a revolutionary step beyond Win XP. Nevertheless, Microsoft has ensured that at some point in time, you will need to upgrade. Just hold off until you have no other choice, the longer Microsoft has to work out some of the numerous bugs and annoyances as well as streamline software installation, the better.

    Furthermore, expect to have to purchase a larger number of software upgrades for this new operating system as compared to when you moved from Win 98 to Win XP. For smaller budget organizations, this is something you’ll need to tabulate in advance of making any new computer purchases. Furthermore, you can budget even more resources for necessary memory and video card upgrades in order to get good use out of the more useful wiz-bang features VISTA offers over Win XP.

    Overall, when adding up the hardware upgrades, minimum memory and graphics components, and software necessary software upgrades this is easily the most expensive computer upgrade I’ve experienced in at seven years. In fact, it was nearly twice as costly as my last computer upgrade three years ago.

    Is VISTA in-and-of-itself worth this expense? No, if you’re in a position where you have no choice (like your old computer simultaneously suffers from power supply failure and a degrading hard drive) then you do what you have to do; otherwise, wait.

    About Drew McManus

    "I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

    I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

    In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

    For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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    11 thoughts on ““VISTA: Bringing Clarity To Your World”…Somewhat”

    1. Drew,

      Your comment of ” In fact, after experiencing it for just a single day, it made me wonder which would be less frustrating: continue dealing with this critical VISTA flaw or learning the MAC OS” is interesting. Having worked XP and then Mac OS X, let me say that OS X was so easy to learn. It really was and I am no computer geek. My biggest problem with the Mac? I use Smart Draw for all my stage plots and therefore use a virtual XP to do this work since Mac does not support Smart Draw. However, the folks at Smart Draw say a Mac version is coming!

    2. Thanks for the input Doug, it makes me wonder if I should have switched. another unpleasant reality is that I’m in the middle to two large projects and the thought of slogging through whether or not PC files would be compatible with MAC was not something I was looking forward to. Nevertheless, I think that if anyone out there is in a position to give both OS’s a try before buying, do so.

    3. Not pushing you to change, but there are other alternatives. Dell has announced they’ll be shipping computers with Ubuntu (http://www.ubuntu.com/) installed. Those not buying a new computer can simply download or order a free CD. http://www.ubuntu.com/desktopedition says you should be able to install it in 25 minutes, or you can just use it as a Live CD to try it out (that means it boots off the CD and leaves your hard drive alone — I’m guessing you’d be up and running within 1-3 minutes of turning it on).

    4. Exactly why I have always been a Mac user. I think there are extreme cases where one needs to use a Windows-based system and that would be for work. Then one should have a Mac so they can actually get things accomplished.

    5. For those interested in contributing to the Drew McManus “Get A Mac” fund, you can send your donations or iMac/Mac Pro gifts-in-kind to the following business address:

      Drew McManus
      416 W. Washington Blvd. #2
      Oak Park, IL 60302

      Donations are not tax deductible but are sincerely appreciated! Additionally, a series of detailed articles comparing Vista Ultimate and MAC OSX will be published within one month after the new MAC is installed and operational.

    6. We have both types of computers here.

      I switched to mac in the past year and now run it like a banshee.
      Also you can run windows on the new macs really easily. It’s transparent.

      Installation of everything on a mac is easier and it works the first time.

      Get a mac.

    7. Get a–well, you know. I’ve been using Macs, exclusively, for decades; Windows machines seem strange and clunky. The below really happened in 1986, but it seems like the Pleistocene:

      ME: What’ya got here? Looks like a little TV.

      PARTNER: Naw, it’s a computer. It’s called a Macintosh.

      ME: Ohhhh, I’ve heard about ’em–you cut and paste on the screen, right?

      PARTNER: Oh, yeah. And this is the new Mac+ model. It has a 10 meg hard drive and 64K of RAM!

      ME: Wow! (long pause) What’s that mean?

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