Vista first look: Bugs and confusion

A massively multiplayer beta test

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Here's how mine went. First, my computer is intolerably noisy all of a sudden. The fan on my graphics card (nVidia GeForce 7900) now runs continuously. It's supposed to come on to cool things as needed, but now it never shuts off. Probably, it's a device driver problem. Or possibly, the Aqua Aero desktop uses so much of the card's resources that the fan simply has to run continuously. In any event, I'm not listening to this bloody thing for much longer. When my Vista reviews are finished, I'm going back to a dual-boot Linux/XP system.

My wonderful audio system isn't working properly, either: that is, my Creative X-Fi card and expensive surround speaker system. And this is a real pity, because Vista is supposed to have benefited from a great deal of attention to its audio capabilities. Too bad I can't enjoy them. The centre speaker is dead, and it's the most important one. The satellites are a little, how shall I put it, echo-ey. The centre one has the clarity and the satellites add an illusion of being in a large space, and provide balance. Well, using Media Centre, I tested the speakers and each one sounded the tone indicating that they'd passed. But the centre one is still dead at all other times. Maybe it's a driver problem. Maybe not. I simply recall that my audio system worked beautifully under XP. And now, it doesn't.

There is an irritating little row of pixels in my very expensive and very pretty LCD display that blinks white to black whenever the taskbar is hidden. The blinking stops whenever the taskbar is visible. I know, probably a driver problem. But Linux and XP didn't have it.

Now for another little irritant: immortal craplets. There are two. One is the Vista Security Centre. I have disabled it. I have shut it off in Services. I have tried to shut it off in Msconfig. It won't die. Every time I boot, the craplet pops up and demands to be enabled. But if it really is disabled, then why am I seeing the bloody thing? And there's another immortal craplet: one that tells you that you've "disabled important startup programs", like the Security Centre, for example. I've tried to kill this ridiculous thing too, with no joy.

So, one craplet pops up demanding to be enabled; you exit that, and a different one pops up telling you that you really ought not to have done that. Now, my definition of malware is pretty straightforward: malware is any code that causes my computer to behave in a way I don't intend, or any code that prevents my computer from behaving in a way that I do intend. Thus the Vista Security Centre is, quite simply, malware. I won't put up with this nonsense any longer than I'll put up with a dysfunctional audio system, or a noisy fan that never shuts up for one second.

And how about a few decent utilities? Yes, thank you for the DVD burner and thank you for the screenshot tool, and for the very basic photo and movie editing kit. But how about a decent text editor, for God's sake? Would it be so difficult to give it a little of the magic that Kwrite has got? A spell checker perhaps? The ability to clean spaces? A little colour-coded action for us HTML homebrewers, so we can see simple typos, like forgetting to close a tag? Is that too much to ask?

And how about a file wipe utility? Is that too much to ask? And how about a little encryption software? For email, and for individual files. Oh, Bitlocker is fine, but there are files one doesn't want decrypted whenever the volume they're on is mounted. Is that too much to ask?

And there's more. Little things, really. Firefox is unable to make itself the default browser; my SSH client from Anonymizer won't install; my attempts to apply security patches to Word 2000 fail ("the requested operation requires elevation"); the logout screen now has so many options it needs a pull-down menu, and it defaults to "sleep" when "restart" is the action which users know is the most common, most important - indeed, most therapeutic - one they can take on a Windows box.

I won't even begin to detail the security and privacy issues in Vista, as they are meat for an entire article...which is coming soon.

So, there's our first look at Vista. It does benefit from a lot of good ideas, many of them Apple's, of course, but good nevertheless. It simply doesn't work very well, unfortunately. There are serious problems with execution; it's not polished; it's not ready. It should not be on the market, and certainly not for the outrageous prices being charged. Don't buy it, at least until after the first service pack is out. Don't pay to be a beta tester. ®

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