May 23

Upgrading to Windows Vista takes time, money and patience.  And after much sweat and a few tears, it was all for naught, and I ultimately retreated back to Windows XP.

For Every Problem, There is Opportunity

My hard drive crashed in late January, coincidentally the day before Microsoft released the consumer version of Windows Vista.  When a spinning drive sounds like a child eating Cap’n Crunch, you know it’s time for a new drive (which Seagate replaced for free, by the way).  I had a recent backup image of my XP partition, but I took the crash as a sign and opportunity to upgrade to Vista. 

Since I was starting with a brand new drive, instead of upgrading my old XP image to Vista, I decided to start with a clean Vista installation.  I typically do clean installs anyway when upgrading to a new OS because it’s a great excuse to clean up five years of software installs and uninstalls, spyware and other PC bloatware.

Time and Money

All told, it took me 27 total hours (over the course of a week) and $325 to upgrade to Vista (not including the cost of Vista itself, which was free with my Microsoft Empower subscription).  Note that I have a complex system with lots of software and hardware, which is typical for a software developer.

In summary, about one third of my current software ran fine on Vista; another third required an upgrade or patch (often for a fee); and the final third had serious problems or didn’t work at all.

Et Tu, Visual Studio?

Much to my dismay, one of the most troublesome upgrades was Visual Studio.  Of course I knew that Vista would not support Visual Studio 2003 and .NET 1.1, but I was caught off guard by the number of problems with VS 2005 on Vista.  The worst part was the VS macros failed to run.  As a disabled programmer, I simply cannot use Visual Studio effectively without my hundreds of macros to assist me.  The trick to getting Visual Studio to work well on Vista is to install two separate updates, as described in this excellent article.

After a week of hunting for new drivers and software, I’m down to just two items that do not work on Vista: Elo Touch screen and Dragon NaturallySpeaking Pro voice recognition software.  As of this writing, both companies have failed to provide a Vista upgrade.  Unfortunately, both items are critical to my computer use, hence I’m forced to remain on XP for my production work.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I love Vista for the most part.  It’s gorgeous-looking and has many handy new features.  My 2-year-old PC is barely fast enough to show the new Aero glass style and 3D window flipper, so after spending a day marveling its beauty, I reverted back to the “Basic” visual style.  Especially handy are the improvements to Explorer, including a breadcrumb address bar and instant search.  The new Sidebar is also quite interesting with many cool gadgets available.

There are few aspects of Vista that are truly “bad,” but with any major upgrade, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way.  For example, Vista data backup is much easier for novices, but is unusable for me because it won’t backup specific folders or files, and it refuses to backup executables and other non-data file types.  The Office 2007 ribbon bar can be quite handy, but Microsoft took a step backward by not allowing the user to customize the ribbon commands.

As for the ugly, in a word: UAC.  The new Vista security model is totally stupid.  Not only does it ask you to confirm everything everytime (a nightmare for a person like me suffering from repetitive stress injury) but Vista will often ask you 2-4 times for EACH thing.  (For example, to rename a folder in C:Program Files requires FOUR confirmations—no kidding!)  It’s difficult to imagine Microsoft engineers using Vista UAC and actually thinking it was fine.  Why didn’t Vista simply follow the time-tested ZoneAlarm model?  When a program runs, give the user the option to: 1) block the program from ever running, 2) verify each time the program runs, or 3) run the program everytime without asking.  The latest Apple commercial sums it up perfectly.  I finally shut off UAC on my PC.

Back to XP

Vista is a beautiful operating system with many handy new features.  But upgrading is like major surgery and will take time, money and lots of patience.  And you may find that not all of your software and hardware runs on Vista.  If you upgrade to Vista, you may consider preserving your Windows XP setup with a dual-boot so you can switch back and forth, as I do.

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Article published on May 23, 2007

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