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From XP to Vista

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Installing a new operating system on your PC isn’t a task you undertake lightly, especially when the operating system you want to install is substantially advanced and, well, different to the one you’ve been used to for some years.

Vistaopenbox

This is unquestionably the case with Windows Vista which I installed on my primary desktop PC over the weekend. The edition I installed is Windows Vista Ultimate.

Don’t get me wrong. Installing Vista from scratch as I did – what the concise manual calls ‘installing’ as opposed to ‘upgrading’ – was as easy as you can imagine. No hardware or software issues affected the procedure, which took all of 35 minutes from start to finish.

That’s considerably less than half the time it took for every Windows XP clean installation I can recall doing over the past few years (and let’s not mention 2000, Me, NT, 98, 95, 3.1, etc). What’s more, once Vista was installed, I got from turning on the PC to a workable Windows desktop in less than 30 seconds. That’s with a spanking new installation, before any other applications were installed.

In sum, it’s all very easy to get up and running.

In fact, probably the trickiest aspect of installing Windows Vista is figuring out how to open the smart and stylish packaging so you can get started!

I thought it was just me with a brain cell or two unwired from understanding something that ought to be child’s play. But, no, it’s not just me – Microsoft has even published a special help page on how to open the Windows Vista box.

Once you do have it open, just insert the DVD into your PC and away you go.

Well, almost – there is some crucial work you must do before you insert that DVD.

The first thing is to check out your PC to find out if it’s capable of running Window Vista. Microsoft published a useful tool called the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor which scans your current pre-Vista system and produces a detailed report with a recommendation of which Vista edition might be right for you.

The system requirements for Vista mean you will need a PC with a bit more muscle than you might expect, especially if you want to take advantage of the coolest usability feature of all – Windows Aero, specifically Aero Glass which offers stunning glass-like translucency effects to everything you see on your desktop. It exceeds the expectations I had from just reading about it or seeing screenshots.

To use Aero, the most important hardware item is graphics. You will need a modern graphics card with lots of onboard memory, the more the better. Forget about integrated system graphics, common on a lot of business laptops – if you want the best experience, you need separate graphics processing power and memory.

A good yardstick could be that if you have a reasonable-spec computer less than 2 years old, it’s likely you’re ok for Vista with Aero Glass right out of the box. Most of all, don’t pay any attention to the minimum system requirements Microsoft say are necessary to run Windows Vista. You need to look well beyond those. Unless you want an experience akin to wading through treacle, that is.

One useful feature of Vista is the Windows Experience Index, which rates your PC on a range of factors to produce an overall base score ranging from 1.0 to 5.9. This can be quite helpful in helping you determine what software will run well, especially graphics-intensive applications.

To give you an idea, this is the index score of my Dell Dimension XPS Gen5:

Experienceindex

I found it interesting to see that the low-ish base score is determined, in this case, by the processor. It’s quite a powerful Intel Pentium 4 chip running at 3.2Ghz. Single core, though, so I suspect the score would have been in the 5s if it had been dual core. Incidentally, this PC has 2 gigs of RAM  – double what it shipped with – which I upgraded some months ago.

If you’re installing Vista in a corporate environment, you wouldn’t install the OS the way I did, ie, focusing on a single PC that’s not part of a Windows domain. As with previous versions, Windows offers a number of installation options including remotely over a network.

But for most users, popping in the DVD and letting setup do its thing is the way to go.

Now, a word about ‘installing’ versus ‘upgrading.’ As I mentioned, I did a clean install – backed up all documents, etc, to a separate drive, booted the PC from the Vista DVD and chose the custom installation option.

This means you start over from scratch. Once you have Vista installed, you’ll then need to install again every single one of the programs you use. And of course, backing up things you want to keep before you start is essential as a clean install zaps everything on your hard drive.

Microsoft recommends you do an upgrade installation from a supported Windows version (XP or 2000 only, depending on which version you have). I can see advantages from that approach, especially as you won’t need to re-install all your programs or have much to interrupt your continued use of your computer and, hence, your productivity.

But I prefer to start over from scratch with a new operating system. I tend to do that anyway – every six months or so, I’ll start over by re-installing the OS and everything else. My PC gets quite a pounding over time as I do things like try out new programs, many of which are beta, so the PC tends to accumulate a lot of clutter as well as be a bit unstable now and again. Especially with a new version of Windows, I always believe it’s best to start afresh.

None of my positive commentary means to say I didn’t experience any issues at all. I did, but none are show-stoppers from my perspective.

Some observations:

  • The only hardware issue I had at Vista installation time was with the Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS sound system. No Vista drivers came with the installation DVD nor could Windows Update offer any, and so device manager reported an error. Indeed, I had no sound. But a quick visit to Creative’s support website produced a Vista driver released only a few days ago. Works fine and now I have sound.
  • The same with the synchronization software for my Nokia N73 mobile phone – no Vista-compatible version. Sure enough, there now is, released a few days ago by Nokia.
  • Two products I use from M-Audio – the Microtrack 24/96 portable digital audio recorder (which I gushed about last summer), and the Podcast Factory marketed by Pinnacle Systems - are not compatible with Vista. Both still work using native Vista audio drivers but with limited functionality. I’m disappointed at M-Audio’s lame announcement on what they’re doing. Vista has been on the market since last November, so I’d expect a better indicator of availability by now.
  • Logitech is really on the ball with compatibility with the Quickcam Fusion webcam I bought a couple of weeks ago. Not only is the latest software Vista compatible, Logitech also made sure it’s offered through Windows Update. That’s smart.
  • A really useful resource in your pre-installation planning is the Windows Vista RTM Software Compatibility List. I found lots of helpful information here about much of the software I use – what works, what might and what definitely won’t.
  • Although Linden Lab says running the Second Life desktop application on Windows Vista is not supported, I’ve had no problems at all so far running version 1.14.01. There’s also a related issue around which graphics hardware you have where ATI graphics cards were the ones some people had reported as causing problems. Mine is an Nvidia Geforce 6800 which has no issues at all with Second Life running on Vista.

I still have some applications to install when I have some more spare time so I may encounter other issues. Equally, I may have good experiences (which I think is the more likely case).

In any event, I’m now up and running with Windows Vista where the installation was painless and my usage over the past few days has been a great experience.

I can definitely see why there’s ‘Wow!‘ about Windows Vista.

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