Visual Tour: 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista

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20 Things You Won't Like

So, why is the year-old Mac OS X Tiger so much better than Windows Vista, which Microsoft won't even ship before January 2007? It isn't that Apple has put more effort into its operating system; Microsoft has mounted a gargantuan effort on Windows Vista. It's that the two companies have very different goals. I've come to believe that Microsoft has lost touch with its user base.


Scot Finnie's subjective operating-system rankings.

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Instead, Microsoft is focused on casting off its yoke as the industry's security whipping boy. It's also intent on raising the bar to 64-bit architecture, driving the need for advanced video hardware and dual-core motherboards, and pushing the RAM standard to 2GB -- all to help spur hardware and software sales over the next several years. Even though there are many great aspects of Windows Vista, taken as a whole, this next one could be Microsoft's first significant operating system failure in quite some time -- at least, as it's configured in Beta 2.

Here are the 20 Vista behaviors and functionalities that could turn off Windows users. Windows newbies may not mind some of these things, but they will definitely try the patience of the millions of Windows users who've got real experience and muscle memory invested in Microsoft's desktop operating system.

20. Minimum video system requirements are more like maximum.
Microsoft's recently announced minimum system requirements aren't so minimal when it comes to video memory. According to Microsoft, the next version of Windows requires 128MB of video memory in order for the up-level Aero Glass features to take effect. As the owner of two expensive Lenovo notebook PCs with 64MB of video RAM, that have supported Aero in the Vista betas just fine so far, I can't help but be a little skeptical about that minimum system requirement.

This issue is magnified by lackluster sales of desktop PCs in recent years and the precipitous rise in sales of notebooks PCs, most of which don't have upgradable video. That means that in order to get Aero, you may well have to buy a whole new notebook PC. Although it may go against their grain from a short-term sales perspective, notebook PC makers that offer a way to upgrade video RAM or graphics cards are likely to be hugely preferred in years to come. With notebooks becoming the primary form factor in many companies and homes, the artificially short half-lives of these computers need to be lengthened.

In a private meeting at WinHEC, I asked ATI execs and engineers whether the 128MB video requirement for Aero was realistic. While acknowledging that Microsoft's system requirements are good for ATI from a sales perspective, they supported Microsoft's requirement because as the number of simultaneously open program windows climbs, they've seen Vista Aero bog down in 64MB of video RAM. While some systems might get away with it, others wouldn't.

Turning Transparency on or off.
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My two borderline ThinkPad T43 notebooks with 64MB ATI Mobility X300 video live in a gray area between Aero and Vista Basic video modes. While transparency is turned off by default, Aero is available, and it's possible in Beta 2 to turn transparency back on. The Control Panel > Personalization > Visual Appearance (change your color scheme) > Open classic appearance properties (Appearance settings) dialog gives you the option in machines that support Aero to choose among three video modes: Windows Vista Aero, Windows Vista Basic and Windows Standard.

The Windows Standard mode was added for Vista Beta 2. It provides the basic look and feel of Windows XP but with the video reliability of Aero. (Aero provides for video driver programming at the user level while significantly reducing space available for video driver instruction at the kernel level. That results in a large reduction in the frequency of video-related blue screens, the single largest cause of Windows crashes in previous versions of the operating system.)

So the question is, are Microsoft and ATI correct that I might hit a video brick wall when running my 64MB ATI X300 in full Aero mode with transparency enabled? Time will tell. But I definitely don't like the idea that my recent hardware investments are suddenly out of date. And I very much doubt I'm alone with that feeling.

No wonder Microsoft announced these system requirements earlier than usual. It was probably afraid of a backlash.

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