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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  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    That's up to Vista, it benchmarks a flash drive to make sure it's fast enough to be effectively used as a ReadyBoost cache. If ReadyBoost won't engage, then your drive isn't passing one(or more) of their tests. Reply
  • mlambert890 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    How is the PC hemmhoraging marketshare to the Mac? You've got to be kidding. Their marketshare in 06 rose from a pathetic 4.4 to a somewhat less pathetic 4.8. Thats with ALL of their ridiculous hype, ALL of the asskissing from the press (including you guys now I guess?) and ALL of the armies of lunatic "Mac priests" that pollute every forum.

    Its hillarious that you would position this tiny growth in a share that declined steadily for 22 years until it hit rock bottom at like 3% in 2003 as a "hemmhorage". I have to wonder why you would characterize it that way. To be honest, it reeks of bias.
    Reply
  • quanta - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Think about it, ReadyBoost is treated by Vista as random access memory, to store temoprary contents than can change very often. Considering typical USB flash drive only has 100k write cycle, you will need to replace it very soon. Worse yet, when the flash drive is gone, so will your critical data at the worst possible time. With the hardware requirement of Vista, no amount of wear levelling is going to help. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    No, this is wrong.

    ReadyBoost is a write-through data cache handled by the SuperFetch system; when enabled SuperFetch uses it as another cache location optimized for small files. Based on the information we've seen, it's used primarily to store DLLs and other static and semi-static data that is needed an intermediate amount of time(not important enough to spend valuable RAM, important enough to cache), with highly dynamic data sent to SuperFetch or the hard disk to avoid unnecessary wear out. It will most certainly put wear on flash memory, but it seems unlikely that it will put 51TB of write-wear(the amount of data that needs to be written on a 512MB flash card to write over all bits 100k times) before several years out.

    Of course, this is as according to Microsoft. We don't really know what exactly is being stored on a ReadyBoost drive at any given moment, however we have no reason to believe that Microsoft isn't really taking efforts to minimize writes. We'll find out if/when flash memory starts wearing out.
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    We'll see. Please remember that the 100k write cycle is an average, that the flash is used as a small cache only, and that write leveling of COURSE will help before making assumptions.

    Ive been beating up flash for YEARS thats still going. There are moves to literally put OS's on flash based hard drives. Hybrid drives already use the same concept as ReadyBoost (and are also supported on Vista).

    Using flash as a cache for magnetic media is not some untested concept that is going to lead to global data destruction.

    MS must have really destroyed their mindshare that so many armchair scientists are just fully willing to believe that theyve figured out ALL the stuff that the "idiots" in Redmond dont realize. Give a little credit to the armies of PhDs that work on at least the basic concept for this crap. Maybe implementation gets flawed by the realities of release cycles and budgets, but BASIC CONCEPT is typically sound.
    Reply
  • dugbug - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    UAC is like a firewall -- chatty at first (during installs and configurations), but once you have set up your system you will hardly ever hear from it. This should be obvious to the authors.

    And for that matter, the 6-operation file delete they discuss in the beginning was for deleting a file on a shared desktop (meaning a delete was for all users). This is commonplace for enterprise and workplace users, it should be no surprise that a file used by others would require permissions to delete. Though Im glad the number of operations was greatly reduced.

    As to the comments about vista being sluggish? Perhaps it is RAM? I have 2Gb and vista runs without any slowdown at all. Once you use it for a while you won't go back to XP.

    -d
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Untrue. Enthusiasts use lots of things like the Control Panel, MMC console, etc. and these all require UAC every time. Currently, I also have startup programs on my beta-test box that UAC blocks. This would be fine, if UAC had a feature saying "Yes, I know what this program is, let it run every time all the time" and be done. But, UAC doesn't have this option, so a user has to allow the program to run every single freaking time they boot their machine.

    I've tried changing the program properties so that it runs as Administrator; that hasn't solved the problem. I turned off UAC, which gives me a lovely annoying red-X shield in the system tray that every so often decides to warn me with a popup balloon that UAC is turned off and I could be in danger, so it's annoying even when turned off, and there's no easy way around it. Enthusiasts do a lot with their computers, and what they do is likely to increase their number of UAC prompts. Bottom line: Unlike OS X's methods, Vista's UAC happens far more often, and is far more annoying. And because it doesn't require a password (like OS X) and is just a click-through, I'll put money down that within a year, it will be worthless, as the average user will learn to click through it without reading a single bit of info.
    Reply
  • funk3y - Sunday, February 04, 2007 - link

    The red cross can also be disabled for sure; on my computer, which is a member of a domain I recieve no error message at all, even if UAC & co are disabled. Reply
  • haplo602 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Realy. What's the hype all about ?

    SuperFetch - trivial change to caching mechanisms. Anybody that would require it would have already implemented it in *NIX systems. This is a purely desktop user feature to hid some processing overhead. There's nothing new about this that would prevent implementation in w2k already except MS incompetence ...

    ReadyBoost - So the new standard is to have a permanently attached USB stick to have some performance ?

    Compund TCP, Receive window auto tuning - I laughed like mad. So they finaly made a proper implementation of something network related? End even then Vista is SLOWER. I'd suggest take a stand-alone NIC that Vista nad XP have drivers for themselves and test it. Should rule out driver bugs.

    I/O improvements - so I make an app that makes a high priority high capacity I/O operation (say 1GB) and you can go for lunch till the system is anyway usable. Seriously. I/O in small chunks makes perfect sense in multitasking environments since you have more entry point and can adjust the stream on OS level and tune performance. That XP or Vista are stupid enough to do this is their fault. I guess MS will hype this as the next best thing in a future OS ?

    All in All every feature hyped in the article does not deserve a Marketing Name(tm) because it is a normal concept. So we have a shiny new bigger and slower OS that is hiding this behind hyped features. F.E. memory compression could very much improve system performance without relying on external devices (ReadyBoost).
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Just admit your bias man. There is NOTHING MS could do that would cause you to give them kudos. I spend my days arguing with guys like you for a living (unfortunately) and its just exhausting.

    I could point you to REAMS of documentation of all the crap that has been rewritten and overhauled in Vista, but whats the point? You want to hate it so hate it.

    Its sad that technology debates are STILL religion for so many after all this time :(
    Reply

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