Living with Vista: first 30 days

In PC World's recent online survey of nearly 1000 early Vista adopters, slightly more than a third said they were very satisfied with the new OS. Another third reported being satisfied overall, but not exactly wowed; nearly one in four were unimpressed.

And regardless of their overall verdict, a majority -- some 61 per cent -- reported at least one hiccup getting Vista to work with their existing hardware or software. After more than five years in the making, Vista offers much promise but still has many problems to resolve.

Looks count

The one thing almost everyone agrees on: Vista looks great. More than 80 per cent of survey respondents said the new interface is an improvement. The translucent Aero environment available in the Premium and Ultimate versions may be one of the few features that live up to Microsoft's "The 'Wow' starts now" marketing campaign.

"The Aero interface is excellent," says Brandon Morgan, a 24-year-old graduate student, who had no problems running Vista Home Premium, which came preinstalled on his new Dell notebook.

But not everyone could enjoy Vista's good looks. One out of seven Vista users in our survey had trouble obtaining video drivers capable of handling Aero and DirectX 10 (DX10), which allows for faster, more realistic gaming.

In fact, graphics card problems topped the list of hardware issues with Vista, followed by sound card troubles and webcam glitches.

While NVIDIA released certified Vista drivers for its GeForce 6 and 7 series cards on 30 January 2007, it didn't distribute final drivers for its high-end GeForce 8800 until three weeks later. Driver delays and glitches inspired disgruntled NVIDIA fans to set up a protest Web site, www.nvidiaclassaction.org. (ATI also needed an extra three weeks to provide drivers for several of its Radeon cards.)

The reason? Building drivers for Vista is far more complex than for XP, says Dwight Diercks, vice president of software engineering for NVIDIA. "Vista requires an entirely new driver model for graphics," says Diercks. "It changes how basic display is handled, and it removes older driver portions of the code that have been there since NT 4.0 days."

Painful access

One almost universally reviled Vista feature is its User Account Controls. In XP, it was much easier for users to install software and make other system changes; under Vista's default settings, you must verify every system change. That makes it harder for rogue software to install itself but puts an additional burden on users.

Ironically, Vista's added security measures also makes it harder for some legitimate software -- particularly security software -- to work correctly. Half of the survey respondents had trouble getting applications to work with Vista; virus scanners, firewalls and media players presented the most problems.

For example, after he upgraded to Vista, John Ohannessian, a 59-year-old computer consultant, couldn't reinstall his old copy of ZoneAlarm Security Suite because it wasn't compatible with the new OS. He blames software firms for not having products ready when Vista shipped.

ZoneAlarm plans to release a Vista-friendly version of its 7.0 security suite this month ($99.95, www.zonelabs.com.au).

Other security software vendors such as McAfee and Symantec also failed to make Microsoft's Vista-certified software list, which was released in February. Representatives from both companies say that their software is compatible with the 32-bit version of Vista, and that 64-bit security software will be available later this year. Security vendor Trend Micro, on the other hand, managed to produce a Vista-certified suite in time for the launch.

At press time, more than 30 days after Windows Vista shipped, Apple released a free upgrade to iTunes that should work with most 32-bit editions of Vista, but the company warned that some users may still encounter problems with data corruption.

Other users may have to pay for the privilege of running their favourite apps. For example, QuickBooks 2006 and earlier versions won't work because of changes in the way Vista handles administrative rights.

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Dan Tynan

PC World (US online)

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