Microsoft Windows Vista Review for June 2012

First Impressions - Microsoft Windows Vista Review for June 2012

by Larry Neal Gowdy -June 07, 2012 (updated October 6, 2013)

Please also see Windows Vista Review for May 2012 Part 1 and Windows Vista Review for July 2012 Part 3.

Can Vista really do that?

Windows Vista with WindowBlinds

Windows Vista with WindowBlinds.

As I mentioned in part one, I am familiar with Vista® on customers' computers but I had never run Vista on one of my own computers until April of 2012. I passed on Vista when it was first released; I did not like the appearances, the menus, the slowness, the instability, nor much of anything at all about Vista. I eventually did give in and chose to run Windows® 7 in a virtual box within XP®; to me W7 is basically just a slightly more stable Vista that has a similar slowness but with less appealing appearances (I very much do not want transparencies on my desktop, especially not in the taskbar: everyone has their own personal tastes, and mine, unfortunately, do not like Aero). In many respects my opinions are being written from the view of seeing Vista for the first time.

The first three weeks of using Vista were a roller coaster ride of emotions: I hated it, I loved it, I thought that it was great, I thought that it was terrible. Now after about six weeks of use my emotions have found level ground and I feel as though I may have formed a useful opinion of Vista. I am still using Vista today as a work computer, which is evidence enough that I am sufficiently pleased with Vista. I continue to use XP on my other computers, but Vista has survived more than a month without being deleted in favor of an XP installation, which tells me that I might actually like Vista, or at least I like it well enough to wait a while longer before reformatting the hard drive.

The one and only thing that continues to make Vista tolerable for me is the use of WindowBlinds®. Numerous times I turned off WindowBlinds to return to the default Aero theme, and each time I was quickly displeased with the faded 'glowy' text and baby blue menu bars. Using the Windows classic theme enables Vista to be speedy and more stable than with the Aero theme, but at the cost of some programs being less attractive and more difficult to use due to text and icons not retaining sufficient contrast. For my personal preferences Vista is not a usable operating system unless it has been tweaked for performance and it is running WindowBlinds, and the surprising thing to me is that while WindowBlinds is loaded I am finding Vista to be slightly more useful to me than XP. XP is by far more stable and faster than Vista in most every known way, but Vista is currently more fun and convenient for my daily work.

Windows Vista classic gray theme

Windows Vista with a classic gray theme.

With my having become accustomed to Vista's files explorer menu I now slightly prefer the Vista layout over that of XP's. Being able to click in the address bar link to go up one level - or to go up several layers - has at times been a bit handier than repeatedly clicking on the 'up' icon in XP and earlier versions of Windows. With my now having had the opportunity to arrange explorer columns as I prefer, I am currently of the opinion that the Vista's file explorer has at least one good and useful improvement over XP's.

I still often prefer the speediness of the XP start menu layout. In pre-Vista versions I segregated my program folders into a few major categories (i.e. audio, hardware, office, etc.) which enabled me to quickly go the desired program within the expanding menus without my having to click on links. Vista's "All Programs" menu towards the bottom of the Start Menu is okay but slower than I would prefer, plus it requires scrolling through and clicking on separate program folders - including the new folders that I created similar to what I used in other versions - rather than quickly navigating through a menu that automatically expands when the mouse hovers over the program folder link. Nevertheless, since I am purposefully not installing the high number of programs in Vista that I normally have in XP, I am able to pin all of my most commonly used programs in the main Start Menu, and so I now rarely have a need to navigate to a program folder. Too, with the same WindowBlinds theme installed on both XP and Vista there is now little difference of appearances.

Vista tends to hang when reading sub-directories in the Start Menu's document folder (apparently either a security function or else having to read each file type into memory but not retaining the memory for use after rebooting). Nevertheless, I have become sufficiently enough accustomed to Vista's Start Menu that I have decided to accept the few smallish Vista nuisances as being unimportant for my needs.

An easy fix for the hanging-up when reading document sub-directories on the Start Menu is to simply copy all of the files into a separate folder and to no longer use the document sub-directories. I had rarely ever used the 'my documents' folders before on any version of Windows other than Vista, and so for me the small Vista problem is unimportant anyway.

There is an occasional stability weakness that first appeared while running WindowBlinds. The problems are not frequent and seem to be fewer as the weeks pass, but once every few days a program might freeze for about half a minute while loading, or the program might repeatedly maximize and restore while first loading. It might be my imagination but it appears that the maximize/restore oddity usually does not repeat itself when a program has been loaded more than once; except for CorelDraw® PaintShop Photo Pro X3 which continues having trouble loading, although within about a minute it does finally load properly (Corel's PSPP is not currently a favored program, so for the moment I am not much concerned of whether it works or not). The problems occur in XP as well while WindowBlinds is running, so this particular problem is not Vista related. Different stability problems (i.e. menus and programs freezing for a minute) occurred more often without WindowBlinds which points to Vista being the culprit. At present the minor variance of stability does not concern me; over all Vista usually shows to be more stable while using WindowBlinds, and WindowBlinds is of such a strong importance to me for appearances that I will tolerate a few small oddities without complaint.

The Windows Experience Index (WEI) menu command links disappeared, but were easily fixed through resetting the group policy. Little things like the WEI are unimportant to me, but it does show that Vista is not as solid as XP for the new 'enhancements'.

I run different versions of Windows and Linux® on different hard drives in one of my test computers (P4® dual-core cpu at 3ghz, 1g RAM, Abit® VI7 motherboard, and an old 256m AGP video card with a 24" monitor), and while running Windows 2000 I compared 2000 to the Vista machine (Dell® Inspiron® 530, Intel Core2® 4-core 2.5ghz with 4g RAM and a NVidia® 9400 PCIe video card). Windows 2000 is much faster and more stable than Vista in every measure even when on an older machine, and if a person is happy with W2K and the programs running within W2K then there is no good reason to upgrade. Internet Explorer® 5 in Windows 2000 is primitive when compared to all modern browsers, but Opera® and Firefox® run fine in W2K, with Firefox appearing to give the best performance.

On the same test computer XP Pro also runs faster and more stable than the Vista computer. XP and Windows 2000 typically load menus and frequently used programs almost instantly, and programs run without hesitations. Vista with Aero tends to load menus after a second or three, programs load a little slower, and hesitations within programs are frequent. Vista with a classic theme runs almost as smoothly as XP and W2K, but the hesitations within programs are noticeable and can become frustrating to a person who is accustomed to a fast computer. With a similar WindowBlinds theme in XP as I am using in Vista, the older programs like Office 2000 look fine for my tastes. It's a shame that WindowBlinds is not compatible with Windows 2000 (some of the older versions of WindowBlinds were compatible with W2K, but the newer versions do not show W2K as a supported operating system).

Vista screenshot with IE9

Vista screenshot with IE9.

I have XP with service pack 3 on an aging Compaq Presario V2000 laptop with a 1.8ghz Turion cpu, 1.2g RAM, and a tired 60g IDE hard drive, but still the XP boots faster (about 36 seconds to the full desktop plus about another 7 seconds to when the hard drive stops (Vista is around 70 seconds)), XP shuts off faster (about 10 seconds compared to Vista's 15 seconds), XP loads programs faster (most programs except browsers are near instant), XP runs programs faster (almost no hesitation on any, as compared to Word 2010 hesitating horribly when scrolling pages with graphics in Vista), and XP is almost 100% stable (I have not bothered to even attempt to estimate instability percentages in Vista and 7). I have tried numerous distributions of Linux on the laptop, including USB-mounted operating systems, but none were as speedy, stable, attractive, nor as useful as XP. It continues to be my experience that Microsoft's Windows XP is the world's best and most useful desktop operating system for business needs.

Regardless of the flaws in Vista, as a general rule I am still finding it to be more stable than all known Linux desktop distributions except perhaps Puppy. Considering that Vista can run most Windows-based software - which Linux cannot do well if at all - to me Vista with service pack 2 is a preferred choice over Linux.

At present I am still enjoying Vista Business, but I likely would not use Vista if I had to pay for a retail DVD. Vista might be worth ten dollars for an OEM reinstallation disc, but likely not worth one-hundred dollars for the retail version (the money would be much better invested into Windows 7 or 8). Since the vast majority of my time on a computer is within Word® or some other text editor - and of course a browser or four - almost all of my work can be accomplished in Windows 2000 or XP sizably faster, better, and easier than in Vista or Windows 7.

One major problem that I am experiencing is a rapid obsolescence of hardware. Some manufacturers are ceasing support for operating systems after only five years or so. An example is the NVidia 8400GS PCI video card that was released in 2007 but does not support Windows 2000 although it works great in XP and not so great in the Vista machine that I am using. XP remains the most popular operating system, which forces hardware manufacturers to continue support, but Vista was not much popular with manufacturers even from its first release, and with Vista now being five years old it is expected that many new products will only be aimed for compatibility with Windows XP and 7. I am of the opinion that it would not be wise to invest much time or money into a Vista computer.

My previous enjoyment of Windows Live Mail is still strong due to how it segregates folders for different email accounts. Nevertheless, if I were to use Vista permanently then I might switch to using the default Windows Mail email client or else repair the Outlook 2003 installation that was unhappily deleted by an Office 2010 installation. Now that WindowBlinds can enable a suitable theme and rid Vista of the blue menu bars and borders, I am finding Windows Mail to be sufficiently attractive. For me the appearances of programs continues to be the deciding factor of whether I continue using Vista.

Vista performance with a classic theme is decent enough, but it still cannot compete with XP (nor can Windows 7 compete with XP). For me the one and perhaps only real advantage of Vista is that it can run Internet Explorer 9, which I need for web design, and I prefer to run IE9 live rather than in a virtual box. Internet Explorer 10 requires Windows 7, but to me W7 is less attractive than Vista, which simply means that W7 will likely be kept in a virtual box and only be used on rare occasions to proof a web page in IE10. Would I still use Vista if I did not have a need for IE9? Maybe yes maybe no, but it is certain that I would not run Vista without the Win8 theme in WindowBlinds.

I keep expecting Vista to become terribly unstable and crash, but so far it has been working reasonably well for over a month, and at present I am not quite ready to return to XP fulltime.

Now comes the hard part for me, for me to accept and admit the reality that I like Vista. It's like going on a blind date with the girl who has the reputation of being the ugliest girl in school, only to discover that she's not only intelligent and with a great personality, she's also way-nice looking. A few minutes ago I got back on my main XP work computer, and yes it was fast, and yes it can run circles around Vista even though the XP is running on old hardware, but when I am typing in Word or Expression® - or eyeing a browser display - the speed of XP is no longer much of an advantage. After my having stared at XP's themes for ten years I was getting desperate for a change of appearances, so desperate that I spent months testing Linux distributions with my hoping to find one that is a suitable replacement for XP. In recent days I did finally create a theme that works well for me in Linux, but now, however, at least for the moment, Linux is no longer a competitive option for my needs since Vista is proving to work quite well.

Without my having seen Vista perform so well I never would have believed it possible, and a large percentage of the credit goes to WindowBlinds for making it possible for me to alter the Vista themes to suit my own personal tastes. I have not yet tested WindowBlinds on Windows 7, but if it works as well for W7 as it has for Vista then W7 should be the better choice.

As I was finishing this article I installed the new Windows 8 Release Preview on another computer for testing. The menus and commands in Windows 8 are quite good, as is the speed, stability, and appearance (except for the same Vista/W7 themes with the blue menus), although the W8 layout is awkward and requires numerous additional mouse clicks to navigate simple commands like shutting off the power. If Windows 8 continues working well I will be switching over to W8 fulltime when it is released and when WindowBlinds is updated to work in W8. When I upgrade to W8 I will no longer have a use for Vista, which is a shame; I was just starting to feel comfortable with it.

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

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