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Diary of a Vista user - For the next week, Duncan Evans reports in on his progress with installing and using the new Windows operating system.
For the next week, Duncan Evans reports in on his progress with installing and using the new Windows operating system.
Windows Vista is the biggest change to Windows since the launch of Windows 2000, or so claim Microsoft, having spent five years and the GDP of a banana republic producing it. Vista comes in five versions as our exclusive interview with James O'Neill explained. There are two Home versions, two business versions and an Ultimate edition, which contains all the features of all the editions. Happily, Microsoft sent the Ultimate edition in for review. Here then, is a seven day diary, updated each day, detailing what happens when you install the upgrade version of Windows Vista and then how well programs work and what the system has to offer in terms of new features for the photographer.
Welcome to Vista Mr Evans.
Day 1 – Saturday – The installation
The first thing that comes up from the installation DVD are numerous mildly phrased warnings. Is your PC good enough to run Vista? Is it man enough? Test your PC here to see if it's worthy enough to receive our new shiny operating system. You get some idea that this is going to be hardware-heavy when the OS doubts you can even run it to start with. I agreed to test my system and was rewarded by the information that yes, it was just about good enough. It's a Pentium 4 3GHz, 1Gb RAM and an nVidia 7600GT.
The first thing that Vista then does is check for upgrades to the installation routine, and yes, it had found an upgrade for itself, which it then processed and carried on.
There are two options for anyone installing Windows Vista. It can either be a completely new installation, happily obliterating what's on your hard drive, in terms of programs, or it can, and this is the first time ever, upgrade your existing Windows installation which means it absorbs and takes all your programs with it. Now, it did occur to me, that Vista-ising all my applications might just be a recipe for the blue screen of death, but the alternative was to go for the scorched earth policy of an entirely clean system and then have to install every application afterwards. Laziness won out and the upgrade option was selected.
Please enter your serial number – that enormous string of characters on the label – and then accept the licence agreement that's as long as the complete works of Shakespeare. Then the installer checks for naughty programs on your machine. These are applications that it knows don't work and will cause grief. It spends a while thinking then comes up with a list of stuff you must uninstall before it will progress on. It isn't an option, you have to do it. It also says that it keeps a list of these things and when you've uninstalled them, it will rapidly press on. However, one of the programs listed wasn't actually installed, just the download files were in a folder. I pressed on, and the program looped back round and asked to enter the serial number again and the licence agreement, and then spent another 10 minutes scanning for bad programs again. It decided that the folder of McAfee files were an unacceptable risk and that i had to delete them. So i did, and it went round again and i had to type in the serial number for the third time. This was really getting very annoying. Finally, it got passed this stage and onto the file copying. This was quite lengthy so i left it to its own devices and went for a drink.
A quick check for updates found that there were four new ones already. The system then started Vista-ising my applications and boy is that slow. It was at this point i noted with horror that the install screen said that this could take a few hours to complete. Fine, i said goodnight to Vista, left it running and went to bed.
The shiny interface with the happy, smiling gadget bar on the right.
Day 2 – Sunday - The installation continues
Woke up at 4.30am to see various lights flickering. It's still at it I thought, and went back to sleep. Woke up again at 5.30am. Same lights flickering – obviously it's communicating all my personal secrets back to Microsoft HQ in Redmond. I got up and switched the monitor on to find that it was ready for the next stage – application testing. I set that going and waited and waited some more. Near the end of this process – blue screen of death. Nice. Reset and waited to see if staring into the Vista void had sent my PC insane. Nope, it still worked and arrived at the time and date sections. Excellent, entered those, noted that Vista had now found another three updates since last night – those Microsoft boys must work all hours – and on it went. Eventually, it came to actually run the operating system.
The first thing you see, after the horror of installation, is the welcome to Vista screen, telling you that you have a lovely PC and that there's all sorts of goodies waiting just for you. A check on the hard drive found that I was now 5Gb worse off than i was before, which isn't anything like as bad as i thought it would be.
So, to the interface then. Wow, how good does this look? Very my friends, it looks as fine as a rich gentlemans' smoking club in Mayfair. That transparency effect on the menus is, as our esteemed Texan colleague Dave would emote, much coolness. The gadget bar on the right is a great idea and has lots of gadgets to choose from. You can decide which to have running. The stock market listing wasn't for me, but the picture slideshow and temperature gauges, as well as clock and news feeds was certainly attractive.
My daughter, by now, was eagerly feasting her little eyes on the Vista loveliness and asked if she could play Runescape – a Java-run 3-D online fantasy game. I said she could have 15 minutes while i had a break. In the end she only got 10 before, yes, you guessed it, another blue screen of death halted her rat-killing exploits.
After the restart though, what had happened to the interface? Lawks a mercy, it was like developing cataracts. It had reverted to the Home Basic version of Vista that doesn't have the fancy Aero interface. This was more like a Mars bar than an Aero, all chunky and bad for your arteries. Shudder.... and there was no option to turn it back on again either. Another restart then, and hey presto it was working. Phew. I could see the light again. So, trying out tab switching – very nice, and the live preview of windows on the taskbar was both clever and saved actually clicking and opening them. Very impressive.
The Security Window showing all your keeping the burglars out, options.
Now, let's see what applications are actually listed and running. Yes, all the important ones, Paint Shop Pro XI (demanding a download to make it properly compatible already), Adobe Creative Suite, Nikon View, Call of Duty 2 – frankly if that didn't work I was going back to XP. But what was this... all the stuff i uninstalled and delete prior to installing the OS. Including McAfee which wasn't installed, just in a folder. All on the Menu bar. Of course, they were bogus entries and didn't work, so I deleted them – ah, but deleting things requires permissions which you have to give. Vista has a computer access safeguard that stops anyone from doing anything naughty with your PC. Except that it doesn't because anyone can just click on yes, go ahead and delete it, like I did, so it was just annoying. I turned this feature off and was rewarded with Security Centre going red, like some angry security guard, muttering that the lock was missing and he was off for his tea and if anyone broke in it was my fault. And then the system crashed with a memory blue screen of death anyway so I gave up for the day.
Windows Defender welcomed me back, albeit grudgingly.
Day 3 - Monday - Light at the end of the tunnel
The first thing I did today was to try to run Microsoft Office apps, Word and Outlook, which, while really nice, are, let's face it, the pin-striped applications that are always talking about their house in Surrey and the price of Peruvian coffee stocks. They are essential, but in themselves, dull things. Which is why I was surprised that neither wanted to run because they were harbouring illegal VB macro scripts. Send in the SAS i muttered. They didn't want to work because bad people write hacking scripts in Visual Basic and the OS isn't bright enought to tell the difference between the actual application loading with a few of its macro friends, and the seething code of an ill-favoured youth from Seattle. So both these had to be cleared before being used. Security, it appears, is a number one priority with Vista. Okay, while it was yet more annoying things to have to sort out - and really, this was unecessary, both apps worked fine once they were cleared for entry over the Vista border.
In for a penny, in for a pound I thought, and activated the glowing red security chief, otherwise known as User Account Control, that I'd turned off the day before. Better to have a surly, obsessive security checker in charge, than to leave the house unlocked and a big sign up saying steal whatever you like. It reported in during the evening, as I downloaded stuff and installed other stuff. At times it was like living with my mother again... are you sure this is alright Duncan? Do you know where that woman has been Duncan? However, all of these kind of irritating things started to filter out as programs and files were checked and cleared.
Now, if you didn't like the old system that XP used of putting My Documents, pictures and music knee deep in a plenthora of folders, you'll like the new system. It wants to put all your shortcuts and good stuff into C:\Users\Duncan Evans - well, obviously not your stuff, but mine. Now, personally, I don't need Microsoft to order my folders, create a hundred shortcuts to places I don't go, and to label them how it wants. If I want my picture folder to be called Duncan's Photos, because i have other picture folders where i keep other things, then I don't need one just called Pictures. However, the Vista interface goes some way to realising that you might have your own ideas, and tackles this on the Start Menu. It has shortcuts on this bar for pictures, documents and music, which point to these artificially created locations. However, you can change the destinations, so that Duncan's Photos becomes the official Pictures folder, which appears on Explorer shortcuts and in the Start menu.
So, that's good. The Explorer window itself tries to shoe-horn everything into one window, which makes finding things initially tricky. It has links, folders and files. It likes to default to that ridiculous collection of shortcuts that it's made, which is fine if you are 12 and use your computer for three things only. Anyway, you can navigate away from that and at this point some of the good stuff appears.
The Pictures folder options with large pics and editable tags.
Well that's me impressed, and no crashes today either. Upgrading to Vista is like dating Nancy Dell 'Olio - you know it's going to be hell at times, but boy is it sexy. More tomorrow...
Day 4 - Tuesday - Files and things
A cascade of file information and commenting opportunities.
For anyone who has ever inadvertantly overwritten their picture files with dodgy versions - and this actually applies to any file type - there's an option on the right mouse click when selecting a file, to revert to the previous version. So if you do make an adjustment, get distracted, save the file and then realise it's all wrong, you can now revert back to the previous version of the file - all from the Explorer window.
Speaking of that, I mentioned before that it's become fairly complex, what with links at the top and folders underneath. If you tidy away the folder that now has your name on it - because it's full of useless junk as well as the default music and document folders initially - then the regular file folder tree is yours to command. Meanwhile, at the top of the screen, there's the back and forth arrows as before, but where's the up arrow gone that takes you back up on folder level? It's gone, and instead, the file path is listed, with drop down arrows for each folder depth. This makes it possible to jump up and out and over to a different folder at a completely different level. It takes getting used to, but this does make navigating around the system very fast if you know where you are going.
The Aero interface applied to Photoshop CS1 which runs perfectly.
I'm less happy that with the folder restructuring, Outlook now can't find all my e-mails, including one or two that I really could not afford to lose. They're on the PC somewhere, but Vista has moved them and won't tell me where. I'd search for them, using the search bar that's in each Explorer window, but I don't know what the files would be called so that's a little frustrating. I've found a shortcut to the original Documents and Settings folder from XP, but Vista won't give me access to it.
Anyway, almost as importantly as Photoshop working, Call of Duty 2 online. Instead of the normal 10 seconds to launch, it took 3 minutes, until I went into the properties panel and changed it to run under Windows XP compatibility mode. Then it worked fine again, though with a slightly slower frame rate than originally on the XP system. So, if something is proving problematic, turning on XP emulation for it may do the trick.
Tomorrow I'm going to have a look at Windows Photo Gallery, Mail and Contacts.
Day 5 - Wednesday - What the hell....
Hurray, my new PC for the office arrived, complete with twin 19" widescreen monitors so I can do twice as much work as possible. Well, that's what I told Pete anyway. Of course it arrived in pieces so it had to be assembled and we decided to install Vista Home edition on it. Not the basic edition I hasten to add, because that's for people with feeble computers. Well, a direct installation goes a lot quicker and is a lot less painful than the upgrade option as we suspected it would be. Then came the task of installing software on it, including Creative Suite 2.
Once past the usual do you know who sent you this, and do you really want to install this software type messages, the next problem was that CS2 doesn't recognise the folder name that Vista uses for 32-bit program software. There is a workaround for this, once you've Googled it on the net. Anyway, the rest of the installation went smoothly, accepted the registration key and said come on, help yourself to Photoshop. However, when I came to run it, it said the registration key was invalid. Umpteen installs, re-installs, repairs and phone calls to Adobe later and the best line of reasoning was that there was something in Vista that was deleting the key in the registry. We combed the registry for any sign of it, but nope, even after enterting the details manually in the key area called Registration, it did no good and wouldn't work at all. Then there was the announcement from Adobe that there might be compatibility problems, but they weren't going to do anything about it, largely because CS3 was due out next week, and that would be properly Vista-compatible. Thanks.
Windows Mail was the next thing to try, and this is like that open source program, Thunderbird, which means it was knocked together in a backroom by a dozen sweaty coders. Except being Microsoft, they probably had very comfy chairs, ergonomic keyboards and people to mop their brows on the hour. While it does the function of downloading mail for POP3 and IMAP servers, it is, let's face it, even with the Aero interface, something of a mangy dog compared to the elegant beauty of Outlook. It's like going on a blind date, expecting to meet Liz Hurley, only to find Jade Goody waiting. Actually, it has plenty of functionality like attaching signature cards and spell checking, but it is just a mail program - there's also Contacts and Calendar.
The Photo Gallery allows picture sorting from across the PC.
Interestingly, while you can sort images by the tags that have been assigned to them, you can also sort by the fact that things are untagged, so that if you were working your way through a picture collection it's easy to find the ones you haven't done yet. Also, the star rating system makes it very simple to just find your very best pictures, wherever and whenever they were taken. And you can watch everything in the Gallery as a slideshow.
Among the options on the menu bar at the top are the usual Print, e-mail, Burn options, but also ones for making a movie, where a disparate clump of images can be shoe-horned into a movie-based slideshow. Plus, there's an option called Fix, which deals with basic problem solving. But that will have to wait until tomorrow because the Gallery has just told me there's an update that support RAW files. Must go and install that.
Day 6 - Thursday - Galleries are go
So, the update for the Gallery is actually courtesy of Nikon - the link drags you off to their site, and there's a 20Mb download waiting. This adds RAW support for all the DSLRs and a handsome clutch (as I believe the collective noun for a bag of Nikon cameras is called) of compacts. Blah, blah, agree to the licencing info and download away. This did make me wonder at what point people stop reading licence agreements. In my case, if it's more than a page long, I can't be bothered, unless it's Microsoft, in which case I'll read three of four before my eyes glaze over, because I know they'll be installing all kind of stuff I don't need, won't want, and that will be happily reporting my latent PC criminality* to the relevant authorities. (*not really, I'm very good, honest.). Anyway, I digress as the download has finished and the installation is a-running. After going through the usual what country do you live in malarkey, it suddenly said, Nikon RAW convertor doesn't support this Operating System. What the! How can it not support it? The Gallery itself said it had an update. Talk about stupid. I guess the reason is that the codec is for the 32-bit version of Vista, and this system is the 64-bit version. However, this is still unbelievably stupid - why isn't there both?
Using the options in Fix It.
While none of these are earth shattering, a little tick appears next to the function that has been used, while at the bottom of the screen the Undo button allows any of them to be undone, regardless of the order they were applied. That images can then be burnt to DVD, sent by e-mail, have tags and captions added, or you can make a movie, all makes this little freebie program quite neat.
Selecting Movie on the menu launches the Movie Maker program, while taking the image you had highlighted with it. Movie Maker, as regards pictures, is basically a slideshow, but as most compacts can capture video as well, it means that both still and moving images can be mixed together. Images can be added from files on the computer or imported directly from a digital camera. Titles can be added, transitions thrown in and music overlaid onto the proceedings. Once the storyboard of your pictures and videos has been completed, it can be published to send by e-mail, recordable CD, back to a camcorder, onto DVD or simply onto the PC. Interestingly, if the DVD option is selected then Windows DVD Maker is launched rather than Movie Maker finishing the job.
Day 7 - Friday - The adventure continues
The reason why there was a delay in putting up the last two days of the diary can now be revealed. Was it some critical operating system error? Had I become totally befuddled by the file structures, the folder renaming, the "you can't access that earthling" messages, or were there further blue screen crashes so apocalyptic Mel Gibson was busy securing the screen rights? Well no. I crashed my car. Damn physical reality, it's so inconvenient at times. In fact, I've left an answerphone message for Mr Gates at Microsoft that the next version of Windows allows you to upload your entire personality (won't take long in my case) and so you can exist in a virtual reality nirvana, and instead of blue screens of death you live in a castle or something, and have to fight off people dressed as Macs, coming to crash your system. He hasn't got back to me yet, but bookmark this page, you read it here first.
So, apart from learning that Mondeo's and mini-roundabouts aren't best friends this week I've been learning to get along with Vista. I've learnt that there are two versions, and that the 64-bit version is probably less compatible with ordinary, mortal software than the 32-bit version, but that's an entirely subjective experience so it might not be true at all. Big help I know. I found that CS2 works on some systems, that it doesn't like Vista's filing systems and won't work on my office PC. CS1 though, works on my 32-bit Ultimate system at home and it's great. No really, it is. I found how to mix and match colours for the interface which you can't do in XP unless you get a third party program to skin it for you. I love the sidebar, which, as it's full of gadgets, I call the gadget bar. It'll be great to have a constantly running webcam on there as well - let's consume that broadband bandwith.
Being able to configure the Explorer pane is very handy.
There's no doubt that if you are an early adopter of a new operating system it's a bit like heading with the wagons out into the wild west. Yes, there will be indians along the way, but a couple of bottles of whisky, a bag of beads and some worthless land-right certificates will mean that you can explore this brave new world with only the occassional accident, incident and life threatening system crash. I've decided that I like all the new features, I love the graphical interface - a more obvious bribe to upgrade you'd be hard to find, and that i can put up with some things not working, and the ineviatible sorting out that needs to be done to get the system running how you like it. Welcome to Vista.