9/19/2006 11:17:43 AM, by Ken Fisher
For the past two weeks I've been working almost exclusively on the Windows Vista RC1 build (5600). The quick and dirty is this: performance
is drastically improved over Beta 2, stability is significantly improved, but I am convinced there will be a second release candidate. I would also be surprised if Vista slips out
beyond a late January release.
Those of you who played with Beta 2 know that it wasn't a zippy build. I'm happy to report that things have changed. On my Pentium M laptop with 1GB of RAM, RC1 is roughly comparable to Windows XPthe user interface and general application launching feels about the same. On a 3.2 GHz Pentium D box
with 2GB of RAM, Vista both starts
faster and runs faster than with XP. IE7 RC1, which is part of the build, is fast, too. To give you an idea of basic performance, the latter system boots cold in 42 seconds,
including login. It also shuts down in 6 seconds. XP on that same box turned in time of 58 seconds and 15 seconds respectively.
It is still too early to say anything definitive about Vista's overall performance, but I will
note that as each build goes by, everything is getting faster to the point that today's high-end hardware now appears to gain a performance advantage on Vista. Note again that I'm
talking about boot times and general application performance. Gaming performance will be another matter entirely, but I contend that it is too early to talk about that
meaningfully because driver support is still being worked on vigorously. Yet in terms of basic, raw performance, I think it's safe to say that PC users with well-stocked, recent
hardware will see a positive performance delta with Vista. I think it's pretty clear that Vista needs 1GB of RAM and a late-stage Pentium 4 or equivalent.
The UI is snappier in general, and eye candy toys such as Flip3D look much better than they did in Beta 2, thanks to what appears to be some improved anti-aliasing. Window animations
are also less choppy on slower systems, but I am starting to worry that 64MB of video RAM won't really be a suitable bottom-end for Aero Glass on systems where the CPU isn't able
to really help out with the heavy lifting. Kurt Hutchinson is currently putting RC1 through a gauntlet of old hardware, so we'll have more to say about this soon.
For a release candidate, this build is a bit strange insofar as it introduces some features that we have not fully seen before either in the Betas or in the CTP releases. Most
notable, to me at least, is token integration of Windows Live in several places in the OS, including the Welcome Center. There was little doubt before that Microsoft would use
Vista to market Windows Live, but we're just now starting to see where they might be headed with this. Currently they are promoting the Live Toolbar, Windows OneCare, Windows
Marketplace, Live Messenger, and Live Mail. It's important to note that OEMs will be able to customize the Welcome Center.
Another new feature is the "Presentations" function. Presentation settings allow you to create a custom desktop for use in presentations, and allows you to set specific
audio volume, wallpaper, and screensaver settings. Nifty, and new to my eyes.
While pre-RC1/August CTP did sport the Program Compatibility Wizard, it looks to be fully implemented in RC1. The PCW helps users identify legacy software that may have problems
running on Vista, and in some cases, it can actually make incompatible software run by tweaking a special runtime environment. I could actually get the Windows 95 release of
Pitfall to run, but had nothing else on hand to test this with.
Microsoft has also tweaked the System Performance Rating Tool to be more reasonable. Our Dell 5510 gained a full point on the scale (rising to 4.2), with most of that coming from an
improved hard drive analysis approach that focuses on data transfer capabilities rather than empty space. It looks like Microsoft is listening to
complaints about this tool.
On the stability front, I will say that I was pleased that the test laptop could be upgraded without incident. Previous builds had trouble with some of the laptop's hardware,
including its Bluetooth radio and AGP configuration (grr), but at least in my case, that has been fixed.
I don't want to rag on Vista too much because it's not finished, and this online contest for who can bash on beta software the loudest is a little silly. That said, I had hoped
that by this stage Microsoft would be showing us compelling uses for the Windows Sidebar. So far, it looks like a giant waste of screen real estate.
User Account Control has reportedly been tweaked to be less intrusive, but to be honest, it seemed to be invoked just as many times as in the July and August CTPs. UAC is going
to be the big groan-generator with Vista. I hope the folks at Microsoft aren't being stubborn to a fault. I really had hoped to see this eased quite a bit by now.
Using it as my daily workhorse for two weeks has taught me a lot of things, the first of which is that Vista is doing better than many of its critics are claiming. A day after
RC1 was available to select partners, the wires lit up with story after story about how "Vista isn't ready." No, it's not ready. It's a release candidate, at best, a late-stage
beta at worst. Having actually used the OS for a while, I'm not so sure that the sky is falling claims have much merit, though.
I recall Windows XP being somewhat more polished at the RC1 phase, but I don't know that I would say it's a day-and-night comparison with Vista RC1. I didn't really think
running XP RC1 as a desktop OS was a great idea, and I'll still recommend that adventurous enthusiast types wait for Vista RC2 before moving their main workstations over. Of
course, to play it truly safe, prerelease software should be avoided entirely.
That said, my greatest praise for RC1 so far: no fatal crashes, no shell crashes, and only the occasional Internet Explorer barf. In other words, it's a lot like working on
Windows XP. Take that as you may.
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