Microsoft Windows Vista Review for May 2012

First Impressions - Microsoft Windows Vista Review for May 2012

by Larry Neal Gowdy -May 19, 2012 (updated October 6, 2013)

Please also see Windows Vista Review for June 2012 Part 2 and Windows Vista Review for July 2012 Part 3.

Vista is much better than its reputation (well, sort of, no, not really, but maybe: an unexpected conclusion)

Windows Vista Business

Windows Vista Business with the Opera browser.

I love it, I hate it, it's great, it's the worst ever, wow so right and OMG so wrong.

I recently received an older Dell® Inspiron 530 that needed quite a few repairs, another hard drive, and a fresh operating system installation. The PC had originally come from Dell with Vista Business so I thought what the heck I’ll reinstall Vista just for the fun of it before I part-out the machine. The computer was not worth repairing, so I installed some spare used parts just to get it running well enough to test Vista.

Vista is not new to me, I have serviced countless customers' Vista computers, but I have never run Vista on one of my own computers. Since the early 90s I regularly installed all updated versions of Microsoft® DOS, and I ran most all versions of Windows® up to XP plus a rarely used virtual Windows 7, but Vista never caught my interest. It is noticeable that I had formed a mental block; when I compare the different versions of Windows I tend to not even mention Vista. In many respects this review of Vista is written from the view of a person who is seeing and using Vista for the first time.

I began writing this article the day that I installed Vista, and every day during the two weeks of tests I added and subtracted from what I had written previously. The article got rather long and the topics became somewhat scrambled, so I chose to simply condense and rewrite the article from start to finish. It has now been three weeks since the tests began, and I believe that I am finally beginning to get a good idea of my likes and dislikes in Vista.

The Vista Business OEM installation began smoothly with twenty minutes for installing the main files, plus about ten minutes for the first updates. The full installation including service packs 1 and 2 took about eight hours, a similar length of time as XP with service pack 3. Installing the twenty-something software titles that I normally use required about a dozen more hours. By the third day of installations I was finally able to begin using the Dell Vista machine as a fully equipped computer.

One of the first things noticed after the initial installation and prior to service pack 1 was that Vista is slow, dog-slow. The Dell computer has an Intel® Core2 quad core CPU at 2.50ghz, 4 gigs of RAM, and a NVidia 9400 .5g PCIe video card. The computer should be speedy, but the menus opened slowly, requiring one to five seconds or more. When hovering over personal folders in the start menu the menus would often freeze for up to a minute. The round mouse-pointer swirl — indicating a prolonged wait for the files to load — appeared for most every command, and often appeared for no apparent reason at all (obviously something loading in the background). Stability was very poor; about half of all programs crashed or exhibited problems while running. After service pack 2 was installed the stability increased nicely, as did the speed. It continues to appear that Vista is only usable after service pack 2 is installed, and not a second before.

One of my greatest dislikes of Vista is the too-frequent use of baby blue pastels in the themes. There is absolutely no rational reason that most every program and menu in Vista must have blue menu bars and blue frame bars. Most all older software is also given blue bars in Vista; the menus in Office 2003 are overpoweringly blue and render the world's best office suite unusable. If a person really really likes blue then the person would surely like Vista, but for many of us Vista's appearance becomes physically nauseating after prolonged exposure.

The folder menus are set by default to use large thumbnails and icons. I have intensely disliked Vista's explorer menus on every Vista machine I ever used, but now using Vista on my own personal computer I am free to configure the menus to my own tastes. After about two days of normal use I had the menus configured with 'details' and preferred columns, and now for the very first time I am finding the Vista menus to be usable.

How does Vista compare to XP? XP is faster and more stable than Vista by a very wide margin. For items like menu display XP can literally be over a hundred times faster, as in 100 milliseconds compared to five to ten seconds. There is no known function that Vista can do that XP can't do faster and better. The only advantages of Vista over XP is that Vista can run Internet Explorer 9 (website designers have a need for IE9 so that web pages can be verified to display properly), and Vista has an updated theme that some people prefer.

One mistake I made was to install Office 2010 Home and Student so that I could use Word 2010 for my personal documents. The Adobe®-like 'find' and page display tab is a welcome feature, and while 2010 is considerably slower and far less user friendly than 2003, the modern gray skin and new features make Word 2010 worth buying. I downloaded and installed the trial version while waiting for the DVD to arrive in the mail, but when I deleted the trial version (first mistake) to install by DVD, the installer deleted Office 2003 even though the installer was clicked to keep any previous version. Losing Word and Excel 2003 was no big deal, I could reinstall them in a different folder so as to prevent future conflicts, but losing Outlook 2003 with all of my emails and accounts was a huge problem. I had installed Office 2010 on the Vista machine as well as an XP machine, and both had Office 2003 deleted or severely corrupted by 2010. I found the Outlook 2010 file in the office folder, and having clicked on it I was given the opportunity to enter a registration number if I wanted to rescue my emails, which meant that my emails were being held hostage until I paid more money for software that I did not want (reminded me of the Win32 Trojan tactic). The XP machine has all of my business emails, and I was more than just a little unhappy with Microsoft. Luckily I had made a full backup prior to beginning work with Vista, and so with a few more hours of work I was able to reinstall and reconfigure Outlook 2003.

The email client fiasco convinced me to never again purchase a Microsoft product that can so easily be deleted by another Microsoft product. It was not the first time that a Microsoft product trashed my other software, but hopefully it will be the last time. I had planned to purchase Outlook 2010 separately for use on all of my computers, but not now, no way. (Update 9-12-12: Just to clarify, the problem with Outlook was as much my fault for my not taking more precautions with the updates. No software is flawless. The basic rule of thumb still applies: always be sure to backup your files before installing new software!)

The Windows Mail email client in Vista appears to be a useful version of Outlook Express, but with a baby blue menu bar. Windows Live Mail 2011 has a ribbon similar to Office 2007/2010, which is okay, but WLM 2011 is all blue with no apparent means of changing its skin colors, and so I deleted it in less than a minute of having installed it. Windows Live Mail 2009 fits my needs well, it has few icons, the menu bar uses text instead of graphics, the email account folders are separated so that I can keep each account better organized, and the skin color can be quickly and easily changed so that I do not have to see just one color forever.

After a few hours of searching for and installing open source email clients I finally came to the conclusion that for my personal tastes and needs there are only three good choices in Vista, (1) Windows Live Mail 2009, (2) Windows Mail, or (3) Opera® mail. Since the Opera browser is the one that I use most often, and since Opera can also be used in Linux, then the mail feature seems to have several advantages for my preferences. My original choice was to continue using WLM 2009 in Vista, and since I had no intention to use Vista beyond the test period, then I was not going to invest more time configuring Opera mail.

The Windows Media Player 11 is a good program that looks fairly decently in XP, but its appearances have been severely cheapened in Vista. The skin has now been so thoroughly disfigured with 'glowy' wording and faded colors that the player is best left minimized out of sight. I was not able to force myself to keep Media Player displayed on a monitor, which resulted in my using other music players. Too, WMP's controls are fairly much instantaneous in XP, but in Vista there is about a one second delay when advancing a track or clicking to a new song. The delay does not exist in any other media player, and so I am assuming that the problem is either in WMP or in how Vista might be handling the commands. The delay is annoying, it cheapens WMP further, and it is just one of the numerous little things that combine to give the user a less than delightful experience. I downloaded and installed Zune®, not the best choice, but Zune's appearances are superb compared to WMP and most all other players. What can be more appealing than to see Zune's screen saver display the album covers that you yourself thought were appealing enough to buy? If Microsoft can create Zune, then why can't Microsoft put a bit of that same creativity into Windows?

Repeatedly over and again the programs that worked well or looked good in XP were degraded in Vista. I prefer to have the taskbar running vertically on the right side of the screen, but in Vista the taskbar widens to almost twice its thickness when used vertically, which is not a desirable nor useful size. Unless the classic theme is used, all menu and program window bars are semi-transparent regardless of whether transparency is turned off, and for those of us who pointedly dislike transparency, we instantly dislike Vista. Except for Internet Explorer 9 and a general change of theme appearance, for over a week I could not find a single thing in Vista that was as good or better than XP, not even close.

Once most all updates finished and I had all of my favorite software installed, my first impressions of Vista did not change much. Vista is a dog, a long low howling bowser that is slow, ugly, unstable, and has the fully unacceptable blue. I could likely grow accustomed to some of the blue, but not on all programs, and Vista is nowhere good enough to warrant my buying new software just for the privilege to use Vista without blue on every screen.

As I was nearing the end of my tests I decided to try WindowBlinds® to see if it might get rid of the blue. Having installed a dark theme in WindowBlinds I was happily surprised that the theme's top bar in Word 2010 adequately covered the dark lettered nag "for non-commercial use". I had expected the nag to disappear along with the "Trial" wording when I purchased Office 2010, but nope: my mistake for not reading the EULA's fine print, a mistake that I will not make again. WindowBlinds also changed the skin color of old software, enabling all of my favorite programs to be fully acceptable in Vista. I then tried the Win8 theme which is like an attractively enhanced classic theme, and I was further surprised at how well all of the software performed, as well as a superb increase of speed and stability throughout Vista. Menus in WindowBlinds began opening quickly, scrolling through menus became of a similar speed as XP, and suddenly I was enjoying using Vista.

Word 2010 screenshot in gray

Word 2010 screenshot in gray.

When I later went into the registry to tweak a few performance settings I found that some of them had already been made, apparently by WindowBlinds. WindowBlinds did not have similarly good results on my XP computer, but WindowBlinds made Vista a fully usable operating system that is now attractive, stable, and speedy.

While editing this article I received a Compaq® desktop that needed a fresh installation of Vista Home Premium. The Compaq has a P4-D 2.8ghz CPU with 1g RAM and a 250g hard drive. After the initial installation was finished, and before many updates, the computer was unable to run any program or menu without crashing, having partial operation, or having a serious delay. I had never before seen any Microsoft operating system function so poorly. Windows Millennium crashed several times every day on my computers, but at least the programs ran well in-between ME's crashes. For the first time I was seeing what other people complained about so strongly when Vista was first released, and why so many people quickly chose to downgrade back to XP. I actually felt a bit of anger that any software company would release a product of such inferior quality, and charge money for it!

I spent over two hours deleting junk advertisements, scam programs, and other trash from the Compaq. The Vista installation screen states "Time is precious", which is what I was thinking about while I suffered the chore of deleting trash from the installation. The quantity of junk advertising and scam software has gotten out of hand, and it is fully expected to continue worsening in the future.

Service pack 1 helped some of the stability and speed problems, but not much. After over eight hours of updates without service pack 2 yet being installed, I finally added another gig of RAM so that I could navigate through menus and allow the updates to finish quicker. With two gigs of RAM the machine came alive and became much more responsive. With service pack 2 installed Vista Home Premium was then reasonably stable and usefully speedy; not fast, but useable. As I had told customers in the past, having at least two gigs of RAM is pretty much a necessity for Vista. Many computer manufacturers sold Vista computers with one gig of RAM, which was a terrible thing to do.

Vista was surely the very worst Microsoft product ever released, and Vista's bad reputation is nowhere near as low as it should be, but some of the blame should also be shared by the manufacturers who sold computers without the proper hardware to operate Vista. I myself have never seen a customer's Vista computer run quickly nor stably, but the owners had never before seen a well configured computer, and so the people did not know that a computer is supposed to compute quickly and without crashing. I am thinking that if the average Vista user were to see a properly configured XP in action then the complaints against Vista would increase ten-thousand-fold overnight. I will leave one gig of RAM in the Compaq and resell the computer cheap. The next owner can choose whether to install more RAM or install XP.

Nevertheless, I am pleased with Vista Business now that the file menus are configured, plus the programs are now loading quickly by being cached for startup, and WindowBlinds is installed. I went back to using my XP Pro machine for a couple days, but I kept wanting to get back onto the Vista machine, which is what I am using at the moment. With WindowBlinds the Vista is close to what I was wanting for XP, only better now that I do not have to run Windows 7 and IE9 in virtual. I had purchased Corel's® PaintShop Photo Pro® X3 on sale for under ten dollars; it is a clone of my favored Jasc's® PaintShop Pro, but Corel's version has a modern skin. Now that WindowBlinds has made Jasc's PSP fully attractive I am regretting having purchased the Corel version.

PaintShop Pro 7

Jasc's PaintShop Pro version 7 within Vista.

For me I would not consider using Vista without WindowBlinds. WB enables the vertical taskbar to be acceptably thin, WB's performance tweaks work well, the themes dramatically enhance all of my favorite software, and I am very pleased. I suspect that WindowBlinds might do as well for 7 as it did for Vista.

XP’s support ends April 8, 2014, whereas Vista’s support extends to April 11, 2017, slightly more than three years of additional updates. By the time that Vista's support ends I expect to have fully migrated to Linux or else be using Windows 8-10. The current trend appears to suggest that the greater percentage of the population wants to use cell phones and wireless tablets rather than a desktop computer with a keyboard, and so it is understandable that Microsoft must aim its future operating systems to be what the greater percentage of people want. For those of us who use keyboards, however, we prefer an operating system that is designed for desktop computers, which will likely remain the focus for most Linux distributions.

Microsoft appears to be giving attention to the trend by offering a lot of MS programming software for free so as to lure programmers into Microsoft-based hosting and services, but I am unsure if the free software will much sway many programmers. Windows 8 gives the impression that it will likely be a warmed-over Windows 7 with the desktop metro theme converted into one large toolbar of apps; advertisements and all. It is unknown if Microsoft will be successful in creating an operating system that is well balanced between the wants of the user and the needs of the programmer; we will find out later this year when Windows 8 is released.

Will I continue using Vista Business? I am not sure; I like the change of theme in WindowBlinds, and now that Vista's speed is acceptable I am uncertain whether to go back to XP, stay with Vista, or go ahead and begin creating a new UI for Linux. I had been needing a change of pace for a long time, one that enables me to have choices of colors and themes while also allowing the use of my favorite software, and at present Vista with WindowBlinds is fulfilling that need.

(Update 9-12-12: During recent automatic updates I unintentionally updated Windows Live Mail 2009 to version 2011. Oops! With my not being interested in trying to downgrade back to 2009 I decided to give 2011 a closer look. Minimizing the menu ribbon bar is a great plus, and though the remaining menu bar is still baby blue, I think I might be able to live with it for a while. A purely personal preference is for software to not all be of the same theme and color. I like Microsoft Office programs to share the same theme, but I have discovered that I quickly grow bored of an operating system if all of the programs use the same theme (like what is common in Linux). So for now the baby blue color in WLM 2011 is acceptable and perhaps a little useful; the color makes me want to exit the program as quickly as possible, which makes me then more appreciate my other software. Hmmm, maybe keeping an ugly program on a computer might help us enjoy all of the other software longer? ;) )

Please also see Windows Vista Review for June 2012 Part 2 and Windows Vista Review for July 2012 Part 3.

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Copyright©2012-2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.
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