Windows Vista RC1 reviewed

(September 14, 2006)

Not even three months after the Beta 2 version, Microsoft released the first Release Candidate of its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system to the public. My Beta 2 test lasted only one week, because Vista simply wasn’t ready for everyday use back then. But according to numerous other reviews on the net, RC1 made much progress since. I was a bit sceptical about that – how far could they have come in just twelve weeks? So it was time to do another test with the current public pre-release version. The bottom line this time: Vista has indeed become a somewhat usable system. I’m not going to ditch XP in favour of Vista soon (simply because I’ve already installed too much applications on the »old« system), but in a year or so, I think that will be an option.

Here are some of my findings in short, unsorted form:

  • Contrary to what most reviews say, the installer and the post-installation process is still painfully slow. There are some places where the computer is just doing nothing for minutes.
  • The nVidia graphics drivers delivered with Vista are very slow. They do offer Aero Glass acceleration, but with a very low performance. Moving around windows with only ~15 fps isn’t what I expect from a GeForce 6800 card. Unsurprisingly, installing the current nVidia graphics drivers fixed the problem.
  • Before installing the nVidia graphics drivers, I tested my simple vortexengine2 test application. Vista is said to have some emulation layer that emulates the OpenGL 1.4 feature set via DirectX 9. I didn’t see that. A scene consisting of only four triangles ran with only 6 fps via the good old OpenGL 1.1 software renderer. Another reason to install a »real« driver soon after the installation: As with Beta 2, nVidia’s optimized drivers offered the full OpenGL 2.1 feature set in acceptable performance.
  • Driver support has been improved a lot. With some online support, Vista even could install my DVB-T card (a Conexant CX88-based Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T) drivers automatically.
  • With working drivers under the hood, I decided to give Media Center a try. In Beta 2, MC was worth but a good laugh. For RC1, it has improved vastly. Not only did it detect all 27 TV stations around here (Beta 2 did only find 7 or so), Windows Media Center 3.0 is actually usable! The user interface is nice, performance is OK and using WMC as a small windowed application also doesn’t suck any longer.
  • The Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) graphics driver framework is really a cool thing. At one point, the nVidia beta drivers crashed and the screen went black for a few seconds. I eagerly waited for the inevitable bluescreen, but – there was none. Instead, the desktop came up again, with all applications running (including the WMC live TV window!), only a small notifier gave a clue on what’s happened. Now that’s f*cking impressive!
  • The UAC security warning dialogs show up much less frequently now. Even better, the short pause just before a dialog appears is almost gone. In my opinion, the current state of UAC is optimal.
  • Explorer’s list view is back. Oh yeah.
  • The Task Manager now lists services, allowing to start and stop services »ad hoc« without having to go all the way through the Management Console.
  • The Flip3D window switcher now does some decent antialiasing. In Beta 2, it just looked silly.
  • Vista finally gets rid of what has been the default mouse cursor for one and a half decades now. The new cursor isn’t that much better than the old one (the metrics are still ugly), but it’s an improvement after all. I’m optimistic that Microsoft will finally have a decent mouse cursor in 2020 or so.

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