Vista head scratcher

So the Vista bandwagon trundles on and we’ve just hit the Release Candidate 1 stage. It’s a significant milestone – when you get to RC1 level, basically everything should be done and it’s now a case of nailing down the final bugs, fixing the inevitable internationalisation issues, and making sure that drivers and setup are done and dusted. Or rather, that’s the conventional view.

Vista head scratcher

I’m not convinced that we won’t be seeing more changes between now and release, and although some of them might not seem significant, they could rumble onward. The latest news is that one of the big anti-virus firms has protested that Microsoft has added code to the 64-bit version that makes it impossible to patch the kernel on-the-fly – a naughty kind of behaviour that’s typical of badly written code, viruses and rootkits, but also of anti-virus and anti-rootkit tools that try to get in there to see if anything else has been getting in. At this point it’s tempting to scream and shout that Microsoft should be locking down Vista tighter than a very tight thing indeed, that there should be not the merest hair’s breadth of a gap to allow anything nasty into the kernel. If in the process of doing this the marketplace for anti-nasty software dries up, then hooray! Nailing the underlying problem is in everyone’s interest, whereas picking up the pieces after the bomb has gone off is ludicrous. Let’s see how this pans out between now and final release.

I expect you’re wondering what my take is on Vista now. We’ve been beta testing the various versions for a while, but I’ve kept myself away from the UI changes right up until the RC1 release point, because it’s very easy during a beta program to become attuned to the new ways of doing things and so to forget what a shock-of-the-new all the paying customers are going to receive.

I downloaded the pre-RC1 build and I popped it onto a spare computer, sat back and scratched my head. And scratched it some more. I eventually decided that this was a very different Windows experience. Much of the vocabulary is the same, things have moved around a lot, or been renamed and subtly shifted. I must confess that I really don’t find the new UI to be particularly productive, at least not in a sysadmin’s “poke around under the covers” sort of way. Things aren’t where I want them to be, I’m very confused by the new pseudo-URL bar, and after a week I’m still not at all that confident about what’s going on. This is deeply worrying, because if there’s to be any chance at all of Vista taking off in the corporate desktop sector, then things have to be stupendously easy, more logical and better laid out than before.

Maybe I was just trying to be a power-using geek and normal users would find Vista to be just fine? Well, my head scratching is best exemplified by the apparent loss of the Start/Run option that I use all the time to bring up a command box – it’s just not there on the menus, unless I’m going blind as well as daft. There’s a box marked Search, and if I type “cmd” into that and then hit enter, the Command Prompt does in fact appear. But would you really call that a search? I’m not happy with the resolution settings for the OS either – by now, we should be truly resolution independent and I should be able to zoom back and forth by adjusting the logical pixels per inch. I could then decide when I wanted to be in close for fine work, or further back, and apply that setting to my whole working space.

And now for the real bugbear, the security dialog. Whenever you do something that needs your attention, you’re interrupted to check that you’re happy with what’s about to happen. Or rather that’s the theory. Let’s take a concrete example: go to Control Panel | System Maintenance | System and find Windows Activation. There it says “Windows is activated” and lists the Product key, and next to the key is a hotlink marked Change Product Key, so let’s click on it. The screen goes semi-dark and a dialog box pops up labelled “User Account Control”, which is meaningless – how is this related to my user account? Then it says “Windows needs your permission to continue”, which is reasonable, followed by “If you started this action, continue,” which is pure gobbledegook. I just clicked on a button and this happened. Did I start the action, or was it something else going on at the same time? How would I know? Underneath this it then says “Windows Activation Client” – but my machine is already activated, maybe it’s a different sort of “activation”, who knows?

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