Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
As you may have heard, Microsoft has begun allowing public downloading and testing of their Vista Beta 2 system. Much like you I suppose, I usually hate windows and swear never to purchase another disk from Microsoft. But since they offered a download for free, I couldn't resist the urge to take a look. I'd seen a few screenshots here and there, but it's not the same as clicking around on your own machine. Today I installed the beta 2 and thought I might as well share my experiences with it as I do with linux systems. I thought perhaps others might be curious as well.
The downloading process wasn't too bad considering it was from Microsoft. They did want a name, email address and confirmation. I wondered why, but figured that was a good time to use that old hotmail addy vonskippy razed me about. It took a while before I could actually get it as the news of its availability had already circulated around the net fairly well before I signed up. But once I could get something other than the error page the download came in rather quickly. Despite having an amd_64, I opted for the 32-bit system as it seemed the most likely to work. I didn't want to have to re-download and do the "musical harddrives" more than once.
As I didn't have any allocated fat or ntfs space on my current drives I decided to install this old 60 gig harddrive that was laying around. I had a bit of time getting vista to want to install on it. I used linux fdisk and dos fdisk and finally maxtor's maxblast, but I kept getting 'windows can't find a suitable partition for installation' errors. I paraphrased there as I didn't note the exact wording. I finally got the idea to unhook my slave drive and vista started the install. I don't know whether it was all the partitions on it, or the type of filesystems on it, but apparently that slave drive just confused vista's installer too much.
The installer starts off with a big black screen with the words 'windows is loading files' and a gray progress bar. After a few seconds one sees a lovely blue and green background come into view and eventually a dialogue box appears. It asks for one's language, time & currency format, and keyboard. Then comes the install box. From there one can click "Install" or choose from What to Know before Installation or System Recovery Options. Choosing Install prompts the user for their product key that microsoft gives you for the beta upon signing up and asks whether to automatically activate when online. There is a 30 day limit on non-activated product keys/systems. I guess the system would become unbootable at that point? I don't know, but since I had a legal key I left that checkbox ticked. Next one must agree to the License terms.
After all the unpleasantries, the next is a box for choosing Upgrade or Custom (which I reckon translates to New install). As upgrade was disabled, probably because no older windows was detected, I naturally chose Custom. Then a partitioner comes up. It appears one could choose to install somewhere other than the first partition of the first disk, and one can delete, make, resize, or format partitions very similarly to what we see in linux. After all the messing around with my drive, it ended up being a single 55 gig ntfs partition. Speaking of ntfs, that is one's only choice here. Vista requires NTFS. But the naming conventions have changed a little, at least for this phase of use. The disks were labled Disk 0 and Disk 1 and then the partitions were Partition 1, 2, 3, etc... As stated earlier, I ended up having to disconnect my slave drive and restart the procedure in order to convince it to continue.
The install takes little over a 1/2 hour for files to be installed before configuration begins. The system reboots and eventually an animated background appears. It's the same pretty blue and green background, but this time it is "moving." The effect reminded me of the northern lights actually. I thought it was pretty. Next one is asked for their country and keyboard preferences again, then an username, password and icon/picture. I think there was another question here, but my crazy mouse did it's weird "double clicking action although I only clicked once" thing again and I missed it. I'm assuming it was probably setting up an admin password. Then another dialogue showed up for setting up "Help Protect Windows Automatically." Our choices here are (1) Use recommended settings = install security and other updates, enhanced spyware protection, online solutions for problems, and search windows update for drivers when new hardware is detected. (2) Install Updates Only, or (3) Ask Later.
For me, the first thing I saw when I logged in was a window asking how I wanted to setup my two monitors. They were at that time set at 1024x768 and cloned. But almost immediately another window opened informing me of the Successful connection to Network and asked me to choose a network category: public network or private. Yet another window appeared as well welcoming me to my computer. From this window one could setup a few things like devices and some other personalizations like look and feel and display settings.
But almost immediately more windows opened informing me of newly detected hardware. So, for several devices I went through the process of setting them up. Windows downloaded and installed drivers for my sound card (but not the joystick port), tv card, and logitech webcam. I'm assuming it did the same for my video card as it was using nvidia drivers from april. It wasn't able to setup my scanner tho and asked for the driver disk. As I'd not seen it in years, I cancelled out of that. Vista must have come with the drivers for my nic as it was set up automagically from the very start. My sound blaster worked good, but later the media center said it couldn't find the tv card although we just saw vista install the drivers for it.
I tested out several screen resolutions and was able to obtain 1280x1024 as I usually run, but decided on going back to 1024x768 as it seemed to look a little better. I also tested the dual monitor setup, having the second as an extended desktop, and that worked good as well. I reverted back to cloned however for the sake of the screenshots. I say it worked good, but changing resolutions and configurations blanked the screen for quite a while and I wondered if the desktop was going to come back. It always did tho.
On the desktop are these little widgets for a clock, picture slide show, and Microsoft developer's rss feed. These are part of the "gadgets" suite. There are several neato gadgets available like a timer, cpu meter, currency converter and sticky notes. I tested most of them and they seemed to function well, and didn't seem to eat up memory or cpu cycles. They even have adjustable transparency available. There will be others available to download as well. The rss feed seems to only be connected to microsoft and I did not find a way to adjust it or add your favorite feeds to it. Not to say it's not possible, it just wasn't obvious in a quick test situation.
The menu looks like they copied from one of Stardock/Wincustomized themes. It's a double column of offerings with one column for the actual applications, first in most often or recently used format with IE and Outlook constant at the top. The other column is for things like Documents, Pictures, Control Panel and Computer. Choosing All Programs brings up the actual application menu. I found it was a bit cumbersome in use.
As you can see Microsoft comes with a few applications for everyday tasks. Not as complete as even the smallest Linux distro, yet it offers more than Windows past. The games menu contains 10 games and includes titles such as Chess Titans, Inkball, and Purple Place. The accessories menu items are reminiscent of the offerings in the previous releases, but this time we have the Windows sidebar entry (which is where the gadgets are located), Connect to a Network Projector, Command Prompt (which I understand was missing from XP?), and Snipping Tool. This snipping tool is most welcome and actually caught me off-guard. It is actually a screenshot tool. With it one can capture full-screen, windowed or lassoed portion screenshots; then manipulate the shots slightly or email them. Not realizing it was available at the time I needed to take my first screenshots, I had downloaded the 30-day trial of Snagit. Back 6 or 7 years ago when I ran windows, I paid for user rights to that program. It was great then and it's really wonderful now. I don't know what it costs now and I didn't check to see if my old registration code still worked. The snipping tool worked great too during my superficial tests. It's a bit more awkward, but it would have sufficed.
Some of the other included applications include a Media Center, which I gather is a all in one fancy media player. It had choices for watching dvds and tv, listen to cds or other music files, and viewing images and other video files. It has quite an extensive setup for speakers, monitor, etc. but it was of course all graphical with nice little images to help. It seemed kinda bulky and a tad slow to react. It then, as state above, couldn't find my tv card for which drivers had been installed. There is also a more basic media player, primarily for music files and cds. Also included in Vista is a great dvd maker. You can drag and drop or choose files to be burnt onto a dvd. There is even a preview function. Images are given some nice effects by default and are customizable as well as dvd menus. In that same ilk is a moviemaker application that looked rather nice as well as a handy image gallery (viewer).
This is of course Microsoft Windows, so it naturally includes Outlook and Internet Explorer. IE features tabbed browsing now, but other than a revamped look, I didn't see much else new with it. Outlook appeared the same to me as it was years ago when I actually used it. Also found is a nice looking calendar application and a new fax and scan app. Having seen early reports of Firefox not working in Vista, I was anxious to confirm this. I was not able to confirm that report as Firefox downloaded, installed, and surfed just fine here.
The usual windows system tools are still there as well. They all have revamped entry guis, but underneath many appear quite the same as they did in windows98. Here are some shots of control panel, user settings, and some system maintenance tools. But if you'll notice in the second set of shots, same ole same ole here.
The new look of Vista is quite an improvement over previous Windows releases. The default theme is attractive and the window widgets seem to function well with no visible delay in repainting. The new panel/kicker as well as the start button are great looking. There are a few personalization to the theme included at this point as well as some nice landscape backgrounds and a few pretty new screensavers. The new user folders naming scheme is a bit more mature and yet an easy adjustment for previous users or obvious to new users.
Underneath it appears most of the system tools are mere updates with a fancier gui. Performance of vista on my computer was good overall. Windows and apps seemed to open in just a few seconds (some almost instantly), but there was this annoying blanking or blinking/flickering of the screen anytime the security warning tool appeared. It appeared each time anything was changed or even looked at, such as looking at the device list, installing applications, or even when vista wanted to install drivers itself. They didn't occur as often or repetitively as earlier reports indicated, but I understand they have been lessened due to complaints. I experienced no crashes or screens of death here. I hate to admit it, but it behaved rather nicely.
That being said, I don't know if Vista will be worth the cost of upgrading to most individuals and businesses or not. It has a much nicer look and seems to behave better, but it also appears to be a fancy face on the same ole windows with a few new apps thrown in. A lot of the new found stability could be due in part to the required ntfs moreso than a rewrite of the system and tools. Of course I'm no expert, especially in the Windows world, so what do I know. What I do know is that even if it was installed conveniently on my main everyday harddrive, I still would find no reason to boot it other than this initial curiosity. So, only time will tell how well Vista will be adopted. It is going to be their best yet, but will it be good enough? It is still Windows.