Spoutin' Off: No need to stampede to Vista
By Michael Rau
January 29, 2007
Well, tomorrow's the day for which much of the wired world has waited more than five years: Vista, the much-anticipated upgrade to the ubiquitous Windows operating system, hits store shelves.
Now, call me a skeptic, but I'm guessing you won't see lines wrapped around tech stores at midnight, with anxious Windows acolytes just chomping at the bit to get their hands on it.
This prediction is no slam against the new OS. Rather, it's an acknowledgment of certain realities.
There are many issues to consider before deciding when and how to upgrade your computer - and whether you should even bother to do so.
First, there are four distinct versions of Vista (five, if you include the version available only to foreign markets). You'll need to compare them carefully before deciding which one is right for you.
For example, if you want to use any version other than Vista Basic, you'll need to make sure your system has enough horsepower to support it.
That means having a powerful enough processor, compatible graphics card and sufficient memory. (Microsoft says 512 MB, but everyone else recommends a minimum of 1 GB.)
Do you need to be able to fax and/or scan documents? Vista Basic and Home Premium have no such software.
If you want the media management capabilities found in Windows Media Edition, you won't find them in Vista Basic or Vista Business - but you will in Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate.
And the most highly touted new feature of Vista - the "Aero" desktop, which compares with the graphic quality and style of the Mac OS X desktop - is found only in the three higher-end versions and needs some of the enhanced system elements described above to function.
Here are some other issues to consider:
According to published benchmark tests, Vista actually runs slower than XP with SP2 - unless you're on a system with dual-core or multiple processors.
There have been many reported compatibility issues between drivers, the small programs that control how devices function, and Vista. This means that if you install Vista, your printer or scanner might not function properly.
The installation process, by all accounts, takes at least a couple of hours to perform, and that doesn't count whatever time you need for troubleshooting.
So far, there are no applications available that take advantage of Vista's redesigned architecture.
No doubt these will be coming, but I get a sense that software vendors are exercising a similar level of caution in giving the bugs a chance to be shaken out before committing themselves to a Vista-friendly upgrade.
By all accounts, Vista is, indeed, more stable and secure than its predecessors. But the fact Microsoft is working on its first Service Pack upgrade indicates that to some extent, as predicted, Vista is still something of a work in progress.
This is normal and acceptable. No software is perfect right out of the gate.
Does anyone remember how buggy the first release of OSX was? And it took Microsoft issuing two Service Packs for XP before it finally stabilized.
Eventually, almost all Windows machines will be running Vista, and in the long term, that will be a good thing.
But it seems to me that unless you really just can't stand to wait, your best option is going to be to hold off until you're ready for a new system. Then buy one configured for - and loaded with - the particular flavor of Vista that you eventually determine suits your needs.
Other published reports, as well as anecdotal accounts that I've gotten from a couple of local corporate information technology managers, indicate that most corporate and enterprise users will wait an average of 13 months before performing networkwide upgrades to Vista.
The two reasons driving this are the same as they might be for you.
The first is that large-scale users would rather have a stable network than be a part of the process of shaking out bugs - an exercise that can only lead to lost productivity.
The second is that in a typical corporate environment, any workstation more than a year old probably can't run Vista, meaning that they'd have to do a major hardware upgrade, as well. Many will wait until their systems need to be replaced, anyway.
So if you're salivating to get your hands on Vista, tomorrow's your big day.
I'm guessing that those who choose to be charter adopters are largely aware of the issues I've brought up and are prepared to deal with them.
My advice to you is to let them work the bugs out and wait a few months before upgrading.
But if you're planning to be out there at midnight, I'd call around first.
The manager of one of the "big-box" electronics stores told me that though they have many special events planned around the release, they won't be opening early to accommodate first buyers.
Vista is finally here - but maybe still not quite ready for everyone.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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