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13 February 2007

I love Vista, I hate Vista

By Andrew Clifford

Vista is a great improvement on earlier Windows versions, but it does little to protect your investment in learning, in software, and in data.

Last week I bought a Windows Vista laptop. Setting up the new laptop reminded me why I love Windows, and why I hate Windows.

The new Windows Vista interface is lovely. It just works. The new security features give some reassurance that, at last, Microsoft has produced a reasonably secure OS.

Some of the newer features are great fun. I managed some basic photo editing using only the voice recognition (that would make a great party game). The new Windows explorer is superb. Little things, like renaming a file without accidentally changing its extension, are done much better in Vista.

That's what I love about Windows. It's easy to use, packed full of features, and gets better with every version.

But I hit problems setting up the new laptop, which reminded me why I hate Windows. I had some problems because I am not a Windows expert. That's the first reason I hate Windows. Many years ago I was an expert in Windows 3.1. But then everything changed for Windows 95. And then Windows 98, then NT, then XP, and now Vista. Even though I use Windows every day, the investment of my time in learning Windows is undermined.

I had a problem migrating contacts from Outlook 2000. In the end, I had to install the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, and use that to import from Outlook and export to a format that Windows Mail would read. I am sure that there is a way to migrate directly from Outlook, but it is a damming indictment of Microsoft that it was easier to use competing open source products.

Most software installations worked without a hitch. Vista has a very sensible feature that stops you making global changes to configuration files, and invisibly applies changes to a separate virtual store so that the changes apply only to your account. This is just what you need, most of the time. But it took me hours to configure a Windows service that does not run under my personal account. Vista warned me twice that I was updating an important file, but it did not tell me my updates might be ignored. And I could not find anything about it in Windows help.

Finally, my backups stopped working. I use the file synchronisation utility rsync to maintain a copy of important files on a separate Linux computer. But my usually simple backup routine stopped working because file permissions have changed.

I love Windows because it's easy to use and works really well. But I hate Windows because it does not respect the effort I put in to learning, or the investment I have made in setting up software and maintaining data. Every new version introduces subtle new incompatibilities.

From my one week's experience of Vista, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. But I am still wary of Microsoft. If you want to keep the value of your investments in learning, in software, and in data, Vista does little for you.

Next: The limits of IT process management


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