Windows Vista RC1: What A Wonderful World!

    August 31, 2006

Oh, thank the gods! Just as I was getting really mad at my computer and its diminishing returns, Microsoft delivers 100,000 quick thinkers, including myself, Windows Vista Build 5536, the Pre-RC1 build.

Oh, wonder of wonders, thank you Microsoft! You have restored my faith, and my computer, to optimum levels.

If you think I’m laying it on thick, you don’t know jack. Sure, Vista isn’t perfect, and no operating system ever will be, but I will say this: Microsoft could package this operating system and sell it to me right now. Release Candidate? I vote yes!

What’s good about it? In a word, performance. This baby runs smooth, many times better than Vista Beta 2 did. My hard drive doesn’t spin 24 hours a day, my battery life is getting back to Windows XP levels, and my laptop isn’t running at a billion degrees. All my programs work (Media Center and Movie Maker were completely broken before the upgrade, now I want to bear their children). I’m filling giddy. Sure, I’ll come crashing down eventually, but right now, all is well with the world.

The good (and I’ll have screenshots as soon as I reinstall Photoshop):

  • Vista RC1 takes up negative disk space! Yes, if you have Beta 2 installed, you may actually save disk space by installing RC1. I had 11.1 gigabytes free before install, now I have 12.9 gigs. Unbelievable. Of course, you’ll need a lot of free space to install it, but you’ll appreciate a little extra breathing room when it’s done.
  • There’s a new boot menu item that appears to allow you to revert your Windows Upgrade if your system fails to boot. Smart.
  • The Backup utility appears wonderful. Mac users will not be able to claim they have much up on Windows. Sure, it isn’t as pretty, but when you lose important files, you don’t give a crap if you restore them in 3D.
  • The animations, including the fade effects in some screens and the progress bars, are so smooth. The bars are practically hypnotic.
  • Alt-Tab, an annoyance before when your system was slow, is now nice and responsive. Vunderbar!
  • Media Center is much improved. The volume meter now goes to 50, instead of 25, giving you a Spinal Tap (“goes to 11!”) feel. Seriously, the old meter was too limiting, with only four numbers that seemed sufficient (22-25). Now, with more options, there are more acceptable volume levels.
  • Media Center includes a “Media Only” mode. It locks you into Media Center and gets the rest of Windows to shut the hell up. If you use it only on your TV, you’ll appreciate this.
  • Media Center has some great new sounds.
  • Media Center can be resized to a size tinier than a desktop icon. Thank you thank you thank you!
  • Media Center, when in full screen, does not stay always on top. If you want to open another program you can, and then go right back to Media Center without having to minimize.
  • Media Center has an express setup mode, for those who don’t want to go through it all.

Some stuff that isn’t so good:

  • You lose a lot of settings in an upgrade. It’s beta, which is unfortunate but understandable. Just make sure those upgrading from XP to retail Vista won’t have this problem.
  • Quick Launch has two identical items: Show Desktop and Shows Desktop. The secret: One minimizes all your windows, while one activates the sharks with lasers.
  • Media Center Express Setup signs you up for the Customer Experience Improvement Program. While I like this system, which reports to Microsoft some things, since I’ve seen how some Microsoft teams use this stuff to greatly improve their software, it shouldn’t be a default in anything, ever. You need to ask the customer every time their action will activate it, no matter what.
  • Media Center in windowed mode is always the same aspect ratio as your screen. It is completely unnecessary to force a widescreen window! Please let me specify what aspect ratio I want for windowed mode.
  • Minimized windows don’t have taskbar preview, just big ugly icons. Please find a way to enable previews in them, since the previews are so damn useful.
  • The Volume mixer is too sensitive: It shows way too many programs, practically every running program, including all my IM software. Find a way to limit what is shown. Also, ditch the horizontal scrollbar; everyone hates horizontal scrollbars. Just auto-expand the window if there are too many programs.
  • Media Center is filled with a ton of AOL crap. It can be disabled in Settings, thank god.

Some random stuff:

  • The circle that replaces the hourglass gets prettier the more I see it. It looks beautiful in Media Center, in particular.
  • The Windows Vista demos, which show you how stuff in Vista works, look good. But please rename them; most people see demo and think free software.
  • This may not seem like a great think, but when a windows is Not Responding, it has a really smooth fade effect.

I’ll be posting more thoughts on Vista in the future obviously. Keep on reading. Expect screenshots tomorrow.

Also, Mary Jo Foley notes that Microsoft has their 100,000, so you won’t be able to download until RC1 goes final. However, if you can get a DVD from someone or find the 2.6 GB ISO on torrent sites, all you need is your Vista Beta 2 product key to install it. Over two million people will be able to download RC1.

Rob Chambers talks Microsoft Anna, the voice in Windows Vista. I can tell you she is a huge improvement.


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