Saturday, August 13, 2005

Beta Stuff from Microsoft

A lot of people like to criticize Microsoft, and I must admit that I enjoy partaking in that, too. However, I use Windows just like everybody else. I've been an XP user since summer 2001, when I installed the beta. I recently installed their two latest beta offerings, Windows Vista (Longhorn) and IE 7.

First off, I installed IE 7 on to my XP box at home. I'm actually composed part of this post on IE 7. First the good... I like the UI. I haven't used IE 6 much for the last three years or so, but I had its UI stripped down very similarly to IE 7. Of course it will draw comparison to Firefox. It is definitely weird where they put the menu bar. The new tab button looks odd, but I think it's actually pretty intuitive, especially if somebody has not used Firefox or Opera before, as will be the case for most IE 7 users. Ok, now for the bad... It is slow and a memory hog. It tried some JavaScript and dhtml benchmark sites, and it is much slower than IE 6 and Firefox. Opera is still the king in terms of speed of course. It is also uses a lot more memory than IE 6 or Firefox, especially when you start opening up multiple tabs or you hit a site with lots of CSS or DHTML. Finally, it is well known that IE 7 does not and will not pass the ACID2 test. That doesn't bother me as much as it might others, since neither Firefox or Opera pass it either. Also it should be noted that Microsoft generally tends to introduce features first, then optimize performance later on their beta type releases. This is the right way to engineer software, but it was still surprising to see the performance of IE 7.

Now on to the bigger fish, Windows Vista a.k.a. Longhorn. I created a small partitition on my XP machine to install Vista and had no problems with the install. The installer is much simplified, though it is still a very long procedure. Since this is an entire operating system to consider, let's break things down:

UI. I had heard a lot about the revolutionary new graphics and UI in Longhorn. I did not see it in Vista though. I've also heard that some UI elements are disabled if your graphics card is not beefy enough, but if that was the case for me then it never indicated this. My graphics card (Nvidia GeForce Ti 4400) is pretty decent, though a couple of years old. I think 128 MB of dedicated video ram and DirectX 9 support should be enough for the operating system, so I'm going to assume that nothing was turned off. Given that, the UI is disappointing. It's relatively clean, but the grey/silver windows are just ugly. I don't mind that there is less chrome, just don't like the look of the new chrome.

Windows Explorer. I give high marks to Windows Explorer, though some of its toolbar items can be confusing. It's easy to accidentally specify some kind of sort on a set of files that could take a long time. This does not cause the whole system to lock up though, it just makes the window you were looking at lock up for a few minutes. I have to say that it really reminded me of Finder...

Security. Windows Vista makes lower-powered users the default, or at least its supposed to. The beta simply logs you in as the administrator, but you can create limited users pretty easily. The new authentication mode allows for you to do everything as this lower powered user and simply have Windows prompt you for administrator password when needed. In other words, Windows has finally added sudo. This is done exactly how Apple does it on OSX, so it's pretty good. I haven't encountered any bugs with this, though I have heard of others that did. Otherwise, security is much the same as in XP-SP2.

Compatibility. As expected, I got to encounter to some hardware issues with Vista. It wasn't too bad though. My wireless PCI card was initially not recognized so I had to install its driver. The driver installed nicely, but the config tool supplied by the vendor (Belkin) did not work and would crash immediately when you would try to launch it. I was able to get Windows to connect to my home network, but it's connection was much more unstable than it is on XP where I use the vendor config tool. Otherwise, things seemed ok. I was able to install and run Java, as well as Tomcat and Eclipse. I was also able to install iTunes and burn CDs, and plugin my digital camera to import pictures.

Performance. Like IE 7, performance stinks on Vista so far. It boots/restarts very fast, but file management is much slower (and that's without anti-virus software...) and application performance is noticeably slower. This was a little noticeable on stuff like code compilation but much worse on something like Photoshop image filtering.

Other Stuff. I wanted to try the integrated search (the current MSN desktop search I believe) but it has been very slow in indexing. Of course I don't leave it running overnight, since I normally stay booted in XP. I did have good experiences with MSN desktop search when I tried it in the past. I was not surprised to see the desktop search built in to the start menu, though I expected there to be options for desktop vs. web searches.

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