Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Windows Vista/Longhorn Beta (CTP Build 5270): first impressions

(Click on thumbnails to view full screenshots.)

This review concerns Microsoft Windows Vista Community Technology Preview (CTP), which in the days of Windows 95 through XP was called the "Public Preview", and is effectively Beta 2.

On 27 Jan 2006, I installed and tested CTP Build 5270 on hirilonde, a Dell Inspiron 6000 notebook (1.6GHz Pentium 4, 1Gb RAM, 100Gb HD, 802.11b/g, 100-base-T Ethernet) that I purchased in June, 2005.

Stability: At present, Fair/Poor. Application stability is good; Windows Explorer "quits working" frequently. Other things are quirky.
GUI Quality: Very Good. Very slick, in an "OMG, this is Windows?!" kind of way. Rather unoriginal, in an "OMB, lawyer-weasels are chewing on my entrails in hell before the throne of Yen Wang Yie" kind of way. There are a lot of rough edges, as you might expect at this stage of development. Many features are now hidden in opaque ways and require you to click in unexpected places or hit complex control key combos to get to them. (Perhaps this is another unwitting imitation of Apple's MacOS X!) The nice, intuitive "Folder Options" that were a mainstay of Windows configuration from Win95 through XP has disappeared into some obscure place that I have yet to find. Windows XP and Office 2003's "filmstrip" preview has been replaced by "very large icons". Image previews now include tiny thumbnails, which I personally find very cool, but which might concern some privacy-conscious people. As Foster Provost once said at a workshop I ran, "how to bring up a talk without displaying the contents of your desktop/HD" is going to be a test of OS design for academic and business users. (To those who say "why would you want to?", the answer is: YMMV. See my earlier comments on privacy.)
Driver Availability: Poor to date. This is to be expected for a beta that came out a year before the scheduled release date (announced as 23 Jul 2006 for vendors, but rumor to be some time between late September and 07 Dec 2006 for end users) and a few months before the "release candidates". I was able to get the 1900x1200 WUXGA video mode working right off the bat, in about a minute flat. That beats every version of Linux I have ever tried to install right over the ocean cliff, off Craphole Island, and into the camp of the Others. On the other hand, Vista isn't detecting the on-board sound card of my Dell, and the horrendous PC speaker Monster-Beep of DOOM is very annoying.
Security: Good/Very Good. The update facilities seem to be in good order, continuing a trend started with XP. As you may know, Windows now trades off heavily between convenience (plummeting) and security (formerly abysmal, now becoming adequate).

Power, Productivity, and Convenience: Good. Save for the frequent security decision prompts, Vista seems pretty convenient, though one pays a premium in latency and overhead. Applications availability is sure to be excellent.
Web Browser: Good/Fair. From a brief test drive and evaluation of the built-in Microsoft browser, Internet Explorer 7 beta, it seems marginally secure. It isn't lean, but it isn't terribly slow and bloated, either. Tabbed browsing is a lot more convenient, but not up to Mozilla plug-in quality yet. It reminds me a lot of Safari; I'm sure that suprises you all to the eleven hells. One design property of Windows GUIs that annoys me to no end is that they tend to be complicated where they could be simple and vice versa. "Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler," wrote Dr. Einstein. In this case, I can't find a simple setting such as "open currently viewed tab as default in new tab" in Internet Options, to change it from the default of "open new tabs as blank `New Page'".

Size: Fair. Large and bloated. Were you expecting "Lean"? A base install is 3+Gb.
RAM Consumption: Fair. Heavy, as expected for something with this many features, most of which are not basic necessities. Again, this is Windows we're talking about. 160Mb for a blank IE7, over 100Mb for Explorer. This, too, reminds me of MacOS 10.x.
Response Time: Fair/Poor. As with Windows in almost every generation, Vista/Longhorn has slightly annoying latency. The file system refresh latency is terribly bad. The biggest wastes of time are where it attempts to diagnose or report crashes of things as common and basic as Explorer. Most these are probably feedback and debugging features that will be taken out, like scaffolding code, in the full release; not being a member of the IT press, though, I can't be sure which reporting features are only on by default for the time being.
Windows Annoyance/Pain (WAP) Factor: Fair. Medium to High. (Compare: High for Windows 98/ME, Medium for Windows XP Pro/95/3.x, Low for Windows 2000/NT 4.0.) The learning curve is higher than for Windows XP. Most of the GUI changes are good, but a significant minority (20-30%) are infuriating.
Overall: Fair/Good (for comparison, my reviews of earlier Windows releases in their respective times were as follows - XP Pro: Good, 2000: Excellent, 98SE: Fair, NT4: Good, 98: Poor, 95: Fair/Good, 3.0: Very Good)

Summary: It's a beta, so I am not too worried about stability, but the bloat and slow response time are not going to get a whole lot better, even with processor-targeted builds. The recommended specs are a 3GHz processor and 2Gb RAM, so my machine is already a little behind the curve, but it feels downright sluggish. It's pretty (thanks in large part to Apple), but I wish they would make stability job one. Microsoft's "job one" tends to center around productivity-wasters such as spam and security problems, which is all right, but where is all that much-vaunted model checking? No, seriously, I would like to see a less crashy OS instead of one that becomes increasingly unstable from kernel to kernel.

Happy Year of the Dog,
Tags: internet explorer, longhorn, microsoft, os reviews, software reviews, win2k, windows, windows vista, winxp

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