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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  • Zebo - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    I'm still on 2k pro which I think is faster and more power-user friendly than XP. Is this true in general? I've never noticed a security issue in the first place so these security features and especially those silly "do you really want to run this program" dialog boxes drove me crazy on XP when I tried it. Does vista have a lot of those? Stupid OS I wouldn't have clicked it if I didn't want to run/install/throw it away etc. Reply
  • Aikouka - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    Zebo, it sounds like if you run Vista and don't disable UAC (User Account Control), you will drive yourself crazy. UAC almost literally warns you about every executable opening (I believe certain ones are allowed automatically, like Windows Explorer. I can't remember since I turned it off :P).

    Other than that, I don't see anything really different from XP in terms of user warnings and such. There's still the balloons from the system tray and such.

    One interesting change that I haven't seen anyone mention is how Windows Update is now an application instead of a website. It seems a bit nicer having it that way as the website with the ActiveX controls always felt so slow to figure out what needed to upgraded. This new WU also includes Ultimate Extras and direct program links to adjust your WU settings (which is handier I think).
    Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    One interesting change that I haven't seen anyone mention is how Windows Update is now an application instead of a website.



    I guess thats a good idea if you use windows update. I don't update just for updates sake subscribing to the "if it aint broke don't fix it" axiom...probably why I still use w2k:)
    Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    There's still the balloons from the system tray and such.


    Oh that's maddening. I literally offered $100 to anyone in a forum thread who could turn those yellow balloons off completely when i tried XP. No one could do it. You can't turn certain ones off despite tens of registry tweaks we tired.
    Reply
  • Zorba - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    The balloons are easy to get rid of. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/power...">TweakUI - FTW

    Not sure if it will be in Vista or not, but works great in XP, never seen a balloon except right after I install XP. PM me and I'll let you know where you can send me my check ;).
    Reply
  • Zebo - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    BS doesn't work. Been there done that! Show me a SS with you holding mouse over Start button and it doesn't say "click here to begin" I'll gladly pay you $100 for the fix. You can't do it. BTW this drives me fusken crazy! I've been using MS start buttons for eight years like I don't WTF Start means and designates ..Arrr Reply
  • Zorba - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Ah I thought you were talking about the system tray balloons like that one that always pops up for no reason that always says "now connected to wireless network." That one drives me crazy when I use someone else's lappy.

    I never even notice the ones over the start button, I guess I never hold my mouse over it long enough. I could see how you would find them annoying though.
    Reply
  • Zorba - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    BTW: I just checked and Win 98 has those boxes over if hold your mouse over the start button, etc too. So it isn't just an XP thing. (Yes I still have 98 on a box at home) Reply
  • stash - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Zebo, it sounds like if you run Vista and don't disable UAC (User Account Control), you will drive yourself crazy. UAC almost literally warns you about every executable opening (I believe certain ones are allowed automatically, like Windows Explorer. I can't remember since I turned it off :P).

    Not even close. UAC will prompt you for things that require elevated rights, which besides installing apps or making changes to the system, should be very infrequent.

    Which is why I want to know specifically which common 3rd-party apps the author is referring to on the first page.
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    Well, I guess my statement may've been a bit zealous, but you can't forget that literally every application that I ran while UAC on was an install or a system executable to install software that I needed or change settings. The changing the settings may've seemed the worst, as trying to open the system menu from another menu required your authorization. It was a bit crazy sometimes... Reply

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