What's nice is that I see that in Vista. By and large, despite the backward compatibility problems, it offers real value over XP. A quantum leap? Nope. That's just fine with me. I want good incremental value. That's not to say that Microsoft is hitting on all cylinders here. There is plenty to dislike about Vista, though little to outright hate. And isn't there enough hate in the world to be hating an operating system? I think so.
Search is everywhere. It is integrated into the operating system like no add-on can. You can search for files from anywhere. If you open a folder, you have a search bar at the top and search that folder for whatever you want. Sweet! You can search everything from the Start menu (is it still called that? It's just a little circle now...). You can do simple searches and more advanced ones. Best of all, you can search the program menu. In XP, once you acquired a significant number of programs, you ended up paging through a billion menus to find and launch them. Microsoft has fixed this problem. Not only have they redesigned the program menu system but you can search for your program. This has eliminated dozens of Desktop folders that only contained short cuts.
With wireless access becoming ubiquitous, Microsoft rightly decided to make it easier to connect to wireless networks. It's pretty much automatic with Vista. The only decision I usually have to make is to determine what type of network I'm connecting to, which alters the security options.
Speaking of security, that too has improved. I'll take the other writers word for it that the underpinnings of the OS are more secure. The biggest, most visible security changes are the inclusion of features that you used to need additional programs for. These including a personal firewall that is finally useful and an anti-spyware program. Oddly, Microsoft still does not include anti-virus in the system. I'm sure there's a good reason, such as a court order or threat of a lawsuit.
Vista has a lot of eye candy. It's not useful but it makes the day more pleasant. For example, there is this new feature whereby the you see a miniature picture of each open window and you can scroll through them to get to the one you want. Useful? No more so than then XP's task switching (which still works) but much prettier. The same goes for the opaque window dressing. It's pleasant even if it's not particularly useful.
Tons of Useful Goodies
Microsoft continues its tradition of adding small but useful programs to the OS. Most of these are available somewhere else, often for free. Microsoft is not known for originality in this respect. The just turn it into a feature. The Gadgets are just another desktop widget like Yahoo! Widgets or the Google version. What's different is that they are there out of the box and don't require you to download something special.
The included calendar program is also decent. It's not as full featured as the one that comes with Outlook but it is serviceable and stable. The same is true for the photo organizer (a Picasa clone) and the snipping tool.
It is still a monumental pain in the tookus to set up a printer that does not support Windows naming conventions. I know it is in part the printers fault (how hard is it to put SMB support in a printer anyway) but that doesn't takeaway from the fact that this comes up a lot. There are boatloads of networked printers and print servers that only hand out a TCP address. Vista, like its predecessors, makes you jump through a dozen hoops to create a port, load a driver, etc. Given the geniuses at Microsoft, you would think someone would have figured out a way to detect and configure these printers in a more user friendly manner.
Living in a Microsoft World
The only drawback with Vista's search engine is that it cannot index all types of files. As an OpenOffice.org user, my documents do not get indexed which limits what search can do. All the search engines have this problem but it seems about time to include what has become a major office suite. It makes you wonder if it's on purpose. This is true about any program in Vista. They don't seem to understand that theirs is not the only file formats.
No Program Launch Bar
This one is so simple. Microsoft has that lousy little program launch toolbar at the top. That forces you to have small icons. Why not have a big fat tool bar like the Mac OS X Dashboard? Clearly someone at Microsoft was thinking of that. They have the sidebar for the gadgets that kinda works that way. I can download ObjectDock but why have another program floating around when it's obvious people want to do this. It's just obvious.
User Access Controls
One of the best features is also the most annoying. Vista makes it difficult to do certain little tricks that viruses like to use such as changing registry options or spawning other programs. Vista also looks to see if a program has been certified as genuine too. The same is true for programs that could do a lot of harm such as those that change system settings. Since there are lots of legitimate reasons a program may break these rules or not provide certification (such as being an older program), you get a dialog box that asks you if you want to run this program. The reason why this is so annoying is that it happens a hundred times a day. It would have been better if the program asked this once and then remembered that it was okay to do so.
Now you can shut this behavior off but you lose the protection. If you try to fine tune this behavior you quickly find out that there is a security policy program (secpol.msc) that can do this and that it doesn't come with Vista Home Premium, the most ubiquitous of the various versions. So, for most people the only options is to run it at full throttle or not at all.
Like I said in a previous post (To The Pain), backward compatibility is a real problem. An awful lot of applications - fairly recent ones - simply don't work or won't work right. If there is one reason not to use Vista, this is it. If you can't run a critical applications under Vista, then it's of no use to you.
Vista is a worthy update. The additional security, search, and wireless networking support are serious improvements. While it's not enough to spend money on an upgrade, if it comes with a new machine, you will be pleased. That is, if you don't mind half your programs not working.