What's New Since RC1?

While we saw a great deal of changes between our initial review of Windows Vista Beta 2 and Release Candidate 1, it should come as no surprise that there have been far fewer changes between RC1 and the final version we are looking at today. For better or worse, RC1 was the last chance for Microsoft to implement any changes in Vista that were design changes; everything since then has been in the realm of last-minute polish and bug fixes. As a result, certainly Vista is in better shape than ever before, but at the same time it means that design issues we identified have not been resolved.

Given that, prospective users of Vista are going to find that our previous complaints about the User Account Controls still stand. We still find it's a good idea and a major improvement over the lackluster security features of previous versions of Windows, but even with the improvements Microsoft has made to it, it's still too annoying from a power-user perspective.

When Vista first entered widespread public testing about a year ago, a series of screenshots were circulated showing the worst-case scenario for the number of operations required to permanently delete a single file. At the time it was six operations ranging from confirmation of the delete to granting security permissions to empty the recycle bin. To Microsoft's credit they've reduced that somewhat, but we can still replicate that situation and come up with a worst-case scenario that takes four steps. Two of those steps are the required confirmation for deleting the item and then emptying the Recycle Bin, but the other two are security confirmation steps and while it's admittedly nit-picking, it's overly redundant to require two security steps to delete a file; this makes it twice as hard as it is under any previous version of Windows. UAC security will be accepted up to a point, but even one more operation than is necessary is going to quickly cause UAC to end up disabled by those who know how to do it.

Click to enlarge

Similarly, launching an application that requires administrative rights is still more difficult than it needs to be. As we touched upon this briefly last time, with the launch of Vista a lot of common 3rd-party applications will continue to require administrative privileges to run correctly, and it will continue to be this way for some time until everyone has had a chance to retrofit their applications for Vista. Unfortunately, every time one of these applications is launched the user needs to approve the application, and like the deletion scenario this gets increasingly redundant as the same applications are reused day in and day out. A pre-approval method or some other system is desperately needed for Vista's UAC system if the goal is to maximize security while minimizing the number of users disabling these advanced security features. Otherwise there are only so many orange screens that one can stand before UAC becomes a victim of its super-secure design.

One of the few noticeable changes since RC1 has been the driver situation with Vista, which has steadily improved since we first looked at Beta 2. Between the final driver submissions for RTM and a much smarter Windows Update, Vista was able to install drivers for all of our hardware in one of our test systems, other than the driver for a PhysX card. Working drivers were found for our motherboard, video, sound, network, on-board SCSI, and even TV cards. This is likely the high point for Vista as newer devices will ship without drivers built in to Vista, but nonetheless it's a refreshing experience after the amount of work required to completely install a set of drivers on XP. With the ability to load drivers off of a USB drive at installation, it should never be that bad again either.

The one weak spot as far as drivers are concerned continues to be audio and video drivers, but that too has been improving. We'll take a look at later with our benchmarks of Vista, but video performance is much closer to that of Windows XP compared to our first look at Vista, at least as far as DirectX 9 titles go. DirectX 10 and OpenGL are not as clear as there are no DirectX 10 games (and they will require Vista regardless) and AMD is still working the kinks out of their new OpenGL driver for Vista. For audio, earlier concerns about the new audio stack breaking older games has been partially resolved as Creative Labs has released a DirectSound3D-to-OpenAL wrapper that works with some games, showcasing that it's possible to work around the stack changes.

Even with a lengthy preview article, there is still a lot of ground to cover when taking a close look at the final release version of Windows Vista. We have attempted to create a comprehensive look at the new operating system, but even then there are still plenty of items that will have to wait for another day before we can truly evaluate them. The big question that almost everyone is going to want answered is pretty simple: should you upgrade to Windows Vista now or wait awhile longer? That's a question we hope to answer by the time we finish this article, so without further ado let's take a look at some of the new features.

New I/O Features
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  • BPB - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Quick launch is just...stupid, and ugly. All it is is additional shortcuts, and they waste taskbar space. I think a small menu that appears and disappears on the fly would be nicer.


    If you want Quick Launch to work that way, just add the icons you want into the Qucik Launch folder. Then unlock your taskbar and drag the bar which allows the display of the Quick Launch icons all the way left. Then lock your taskbar. Now you can just click the arrow that shows in the taskbar and it will display all your Quick Launch icons snd "disappear on the fly". It's not perfect, but it's closer to what you want. No wasted space AND you get your Quick Launch icons.
    Reply
  • darklight0tr - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    Quick Launch is one on my favorite features in Windows, because it allows you to quickly launch commonly used programs. I just wish Microsoft would have enhanced it with additional functionality. I have to use a 3rd party program to the features I want to Quick Launch.

    Despite the issues with x64, that's the version I will get when I migrate to Vista. I just wish Microsoft would have been able to release Vista as a x64 only OS. The availability of a 32bit version of Vista will keep the migration to x64 to a crawl.
    Reply
  • creathir - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    I cannot stand it... it does drive me nuts...
    Will most users not use it? I highly doubt that. Turning it off is not as easy as "1...2...3... OFF!"
    It does involve some tinkering to get it to turn off...
    The problem is, this is how things should have been from the beginning, but we have been spoiled by the lack of security. I really do not find that it gets in the way or anything like that.

    quote:

    It's as if Microsoft spent a good portion of the past few years working on an enhanced security design that nobody will actually use.


    I'm not sure if I would QUITE go that far... given the vast majority will have NO CLUE on how to turn it off…

    Just my thoughts.

    - Creathir
    Reply
  • Locutus465 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    http://vistasupport.mvps.org/turn_off_user_account...">http://vistasupport.mvps.org/turn_off_user_account...

    One of the many links I found by going to start and typing into the new Windows Search box located there in Vista :)

    Search is going to be one of the biggest selling points, works much better in Vista than it did in XP (I've used it in both).
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    Jarred's right, it's actually very easy to turn off. Although if you turn it off, Windows will bug you to no end in their protection center to turn it back on (which you can turn that off too :P). I ended up turning it off when trying to install drivers for my Realtek ALC888 codec on my Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6, because at first, the driver install kept looping and asking if I really wanted to install unsigned drivers. I kept hitting yes, they kept going back and prompting me. After Vista said the driver install failed and asked if I'd like to run it in a higher privileged mode, I did so. Then the install told me that I needed to be <b>ON VISTA</b> to install the drivers. I ended up installing a different set of drivers that I didn't even expect to work with the ALC888-DD.

    Also, to add in with drivers, UAC caused a weird issue with the 100.54 drivers from nVidia. When UAC prompted you, the screen fades into a B&W gray-ish hue ( kind of like when shutting down XP ), but when you're running DualView on Vista and you hit a button to close the prompt (being it accepting the action or whatever), the other screen literally freaks out. It goes to some weird graphical pattern for a second and then goes back to normal. Although the problem doesn't stay, it's quite noticeable out of the corner of my eye.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=vista+tur...">Easy as 1-2-3, or just http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsVista/en/libr...">get it from Microsoft. My feeling is that most people will *want* it off, even if they don't know how to shut it off, and I'll reword that sentence appropriately. :) Reply
  • Jedi2155 - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    Is there still Memory Address limitation with the 32-bit version of Vista?

    Like say, I had a SLI board (eVGA 680i in particular), and I wanted more than 2 GB, would I still hit the 2.25 GB wall due to address bus or does Vista gets around this and is actually able to address the 4 GB if I had that installed? Or is my only option is still go with x64 version of Vista....
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    It depends on motherboard and BIOS as well as the OS. AFAIK, you can't get more than 3.5GB (and often only 3GB) of accessible memory with any 32-bit OS on x86. The top 512MB is reserved. Perhaps it is OS dependent and you can get closer to 4GB, but for MS operating systems I think it's always been 3.5GB max. Whereas in XP you needed to use the /3gb switch for the OS, on Vista you use:

    BCDEDIT IncreaseUserVA [size]

    Or something like that. I don't know if the maximum is any different on 32-bit Vista than 32-bit XP, but I would bet it's the same.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    You're almost right. It's possible to get all 4GB(and more) on a 32bit system when using Physical Address Extension. However most consumer level boards don't implement this at the hardware level past what's required to support the NX bit(which also requires PAE), so most people can not get all 4GB in 32bit mode. With XP and Vista, you can get all 4GB as long as PAE is fully supported, however actually using PAE to get 4GB+ brings about some compatibility/performance problems, which is why 64bit addressing is a cleaner solution.

    The /3gb switch is an entirely different thing, it adjusts the 2/2 split between user processes and the kernel so that user processes can go up to 3GB by taking some memory from the kernel's space(which also can cause problems, oy).
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    I haven't read the article yet (am doing so in a minute) but just a thought by having a first look at the article index: I was wondering what impact Aero would have on power consumption. We know that it runs the UI on the graca, so the graca would be in use all the time. Is the load on it high or low? You can collect a lot of data on such a thing (power consumption while idling, moving windows around, ... on vista with aero, without aero, on winxp...)

    It could be that it gets a mention in the review, it's just not apparant from the index. I'll apologise beforehand if it does.
    Reply

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