Review: Windows Vista (First Look at RC2)

Posted October 31st, 2006 by kyle

I recently installed Windows Vista RC2 (Build 5744) on a secondary partition of my main computer. The installation was very smooth (whereas installing RC1 on my AMD Athlon 64 X2 with NVIDIA nForce RAID array was painful and LAN access was atrociously slow). Out of the box, it recognized all my hardware except the SoundBlaster X-Fi sound card, and their Beta drivers worked with RC2.

Boot time is about the same as Windows XP and performance feels similar as well. However, shutdown and restart don’t really work — Windows mostly shuts down but the PC remains powered on with a black screen (I have to hold the power button for several seconds to force the PC to turn off). My machine is less than one year old, so I would expect that to work.

Vista uses a new boot manager (Boot Configuration Database), which can be easily removed (if you know the magic incantation) via Bootsect.exe (available in the Boot folder on the Vista DVD) if you wish to completely uninstall Vista:

bootsect –NT52 All

Vista makes itself the default boot partition, but I’m not ready for that, and this is easily rectified via BCDEdit (accessible from a Command Prompt [running as administrator] in Vista):

bcdedit /default {ntldr}
bcdedit /set {ntldr} Description "Windows XP"

You can also edit the default partition and boot delay (but not the description) in Vista at Start – Computer – System properties – Advanced system settings – Startup and recovery – Settings.

Of course, the first thing you’ll notice about Vista is the completely revamped user interface, which has been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere. For the most part, I do like the new Aero Glass interface, although I’m suprised they don’t provide an option to retain the Windows XP Theme (just the Classic theme). And while pretty, it is a step back in at least one area: In Windows XP it’s easy to instantly tell which application is the active application (the entire caption and window border background is faded for non-active applications):

But on Vista with Aero Glass, the difference between the active window and others is much more subtle, making it very difficult to quickly identify the active window (the only obvious difference is the color of the close button):

The lack of a conspicuous focus/active window indicator really hampers productivity when switching between applications, especially on a multiple monitor system.

I tried to get IntelliType and IntelliPoint software running to utilize my mouse and keyboard to the fullest (I have Microsoft hardware — an IntelliMouse Optical USB and Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard — and both have only basic functionality in RC2). No luck — these are still in private beta, and the workaround I found did not work for me.

The next thing I’ll try is installing my essential software to see how it fares on Vista. While Vista is a significant update to Windows, the problems and shortcomings I’ve encountered so far have tempered my enthusiasm about its ability to replace XP for me any time soon. I’ll talk more about useability and new features in later posts.

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2 Comments on “Review: Windows Vista (First Look at RC2)”

  1. Jonathan Bridge Says:

    Instead of manually using BCDedit, you should try EasyBCD

  2. kyle Says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who finds the active window indicator a problem: http://slimcode.com/cs/blogs/martin/archive/2006/10/10/Active-window-caption-in-Vista.aspx

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