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Is Windows Vista ready for you?

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Because I'll soon have the pleasure of evaluating Windows Vista forThe Register in a series of articles concerned with the user experience, administration tools, and security features, I wanted to be certain that this new OS is compatible with my hardware.

Fortunately, Microsoft has a website devoted to answering these questions, although it takes the ludicrously arrogant stance of informing potential punters whether or not they are ready for Vista, rather than the other way round. It's quite irritating, actually, because the only question that needs answering is whether MS and partners have enough device drivers handy and have exorcised enough of the bugs from this bloatware monster to enable it to run properly on the equipment that most users have got. Remember, we call it an "operating system", not an "operated system", for a reason: it's the OS's duty to run your machine, not your machine's duty to run the OS - but just try making that point to a Microserf.

To find out how well Vista might run on my machine, I installed and ran Microsoft's Vista Update Advisor utility, which I had imagined would give me all the reassurance I need, and suggest the edition best suited to my needs from among the four currently on offer.

I know that my system has all the raw resources needed to run the Aero desktop easily under heavy multitasking: an Intel Core2, 2GB of system RAM, an nVidia GeForce 7900, and a whopping 500GB of storage. The system is more than adequate; still, one worries about device drivers, backward compatibility with older applications, and the like, and I wanted to be certain that my "Vista experience" will be all it's cracked up to be. Naturally, I didn't anticipate a major problem, since everything in my system is as vanilla and mainstream as it can be.

So imagine my surprise when the Advisor reported that several devices might not be compatible with Vista. And just look at how mainstream these "questionable" items are: nVidia GeForce 7900; Creative X-Fi Audio Processor; Intel 82566DC Gigabit Network Connection; Intel ICH8 Family USB Universal Host Controller; Intel ICH8 Family USB2 Enhanced Host Controller.

So now, after running the Advisor utility, I'm a good deal less confident that Vista will handle my hardware - which, from my POV, is its primary reason for existing. (Of course, from MS's POV, its primary reason for existing is to be sold.)

I was also warned that some of my software might not be compatible. There was nothing on the list that would concern me personally or interfere with my forthcoming reviews, but I was quite surprised to find Windows Messenger included. Surely, one should expect Microsoft's own products to work tolerably well with Vista.

Now, for me, if Vista fails to run properly on my machine, that's just fine. It's news, and I'll be delighted to report it in excruciating detail. But if I were a consumer, I would certainly think twice about Vista after consulting the Upgrade Advisor. It's given me a very poor first impression of the operating system.

Undoubtedly, the Advisor's chief purpose is to put consumers at ease about this overhyped and confusing product, but in its present state of development, it can only add to the confusion and increase doubts. Of course, a good deal of responsibility lies with the equipment vendors, whose latest drivers may well be out of date Vista-wise. For example, after running the Advisor, I updated my video and audio drivers, and ran it again. Creative Labs still hasn't got a driver that the utility will recognise, but nVidia now has. Thus I was finally reassured that Vista can handle my graphics card. (Actually, I was told that my graphics card can handle Vista, but see above.)

Regardless of how much the vendors are to blame, and how much MS is, the Vista Upgrade Advisor is sure to be a marketing fiasco. Ideally, it should be a tool to help consumers choose an edition of Vista that will work for them, and reassure them that they can upgrade if they want to, without having to buy new equipment. Instead, it demonstrates nothing so much as the fact that Vista is still half-baked. No one is going to buy it if they sense that it's not ready to run their machines and applications smoothly. And yet, that is the distinct impression that the Advisor utility gave me.

I'm quite ready for Vista, as most users are. The real problem is that, this late in the game, Vista doesn't appear at all ready for us. ®

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