Vista's not so revolutionary after all

I just finished previewing Vista Release Candidate 1 for the Test Center, and I suddenly realized I'm more underwhelmed than I anticipated. A few months ago, in this very column, I used the adjective revolutionary instead of evolutionary. I'm changing my mind.

Aero is slick, no doubt about it. But I have to say that the non-Aero interface, which I used on my anemic Gateway M-255E notebook, is slick enough. If Microsoft was going to deploy loads of programming talent to figure out a specific technical issue, I wish it had done it for WinFS or the full version of the Next Generation Secure Computing Base.

Instead, I now have a much slicker-looking version of Windows XP ... along with significantly increased hardware requirements. I don't mind the 1GB of RAM baseline so much. But the need for a 3D-accelerator in any PC that wants to run Aero sticks in my craw. Executives will start out seeing reason, but soon enough they'll want Aero running everywhere. That means fancy-shmancy video cards. And fancy-shmancy video cards mean added complexity, and that means more trouble for the desktop admin set -- all for something that really amounts to glitz and little else.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that Vista doesn't have worthwhile features. The new windows firewall and the UAC (User Account Control) log-in are great. After you figure out where the new menus are going, the new network and system interfaces are cool, too. Windows Defender is a step in the right direction. The snipping tool will be exceptionally useful for tablet users and folks who share information on collaborative Web sites such as those setup via SharePoint. The Sync Center is basically a rehash of the XP SyncToy add-on, but as I like that one, I'm happy that it's going to be a permanent addition.

But all of that really just adds up to a sexier XP experience. The Sidebar gadget-fest, for example, so far amounts to a power user's toy store. And it's nothing I can't get on XP if I'm willing to install something from a third-party, such as Yahoo's Konfabulator (http://www.widgetgallery.com/). And Sidebar also urges users to download extras from Microsoft -- something that seems to be a theme throughout RC1.

Next to Sidebar gadgets, Vista also gives users direct links to downloading Windows Live Mail, Live Messenger, the Live Toolbar for IE7, a link to signing up for Live OneCare, and more. Admittedly, this might be because the RC1 build we got was for the Windows Vista Ultimate SKU, but users of the Professional SKU should still do a careful check to see where their users can download new software before releasing it into production.

I feel as though I go through this with every Microsoft OS release: a certain amount of anticipatory excitement when loads of new features are announced, and then a "Where's the beef?" moment when I actually see it running. I suppose that's enhanced here somewhat because much of the beef I was hoping for wound up in the butcher's freezer. As it stands, Vista is a worthy upgrade to Windows XP, but if RC1 is any indication, there's no need to rush.

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Oliver Rist

Computerworld
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