Hands On: A Hard Look at Windows Vista

Now that it's gold, here's an inside look at the best and the worst of Windows Vista

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So how do you edit BCD? There's a command-line utility in Vista called BCDEdit.exe that does this. BCD is a lot more powerful than XP's Bootmgr, so there are many other things you can do with it. But BCDEdit is difficult to figure out and use. And the rules that manage boot data in the BCD are more complex than you'd expect.

As part of the technical beta tester efforts, a free utility was developed called VistaBootPro, which provides a graphical interface for managing the BCD store. It's much easier to use than the command-line editor.

VistaBootPro is a better way to manage your boot data.
VistaBootPro is a better way to manage your boot data. (Click image to see larger view)

But people who frequently install Vista into an additional partition still need some help when they're removing Vista from a partition. The problem is the BCD's boot directory on the system drive. It's protected by aggressive file and folder permissions that prevent it from being stripped of security protections.

Deleting this folder can be a distinct problem. If you understand Vista's file permissions, there is an involved way to "take ownership" of Vista's boot folder and then delete it. VistaBootPro performed this magic in earlier versions, but that functionality is missing beginning with its 3.1 version.

TIP: But there is an easy way to solve the problem. On the Vista install DVD there's a folder called Boot containing a file called bootsect.exe. Using Command Prompt, navigate to that directory and type this command for detailed information about how to use this tool:

bootsect /help

In tests performed with Windows XP (installed on drive C:) and Windows Vista, this command loosened the file permissions on the BCD boot folder:

bootsect /nt52 c:

(Note: Replace "c:" with the letter of the drive that the boot folder was installed on.)

After running this command, you should be able to select and delete the BCD boot folder in Windows Explorer.

Other Changes

Those who pay close attention to the file system will at first be confused by the new namespace. Remember the Documents and Settings folder in previous versions of Windows? It's gone, replaced with the Users, which serves a similar purpose, so that your files by default are stored in \Users\username, instead of \Documents and Settings\username. To confuse you even more, there appears to be a Documents and Settings folder in Vista, but in fact, it doesn't exist -- it's essentially an alias to Users so that programs that expect to see Documents and Settings will still work properly.

Microsoft has also gone halfway toward eliminating file menus throughout Windows Vista, and this inconsistency can be disconcerting. Menus are gone in Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Windows Photo Gallery, for example, but are still there in Windows Mail, Windows Calendar, Notepad, WordPad, and a variety of other applications.

TIP: You can turn file menus back on by pressing the Alt key, and then make them disappear again by pressing Alt.

Windows Media Center has been updated, and can be used not only on a PC, but also on devices that Microsoft calls Media Center Extenders, such as the Xbox 360. Vista supports up to five Media Center Extenders on a single PC, allowing multiple devices on a home network to access Windows Media Center.

Tablet PC support has been beefed up in Windows Vista as well. A big plus is that you can now train the handwriting recognition system to improve its accuracy, and there's more visual feedback than previously.

A new installation process will be welcomed by upgraders. Installation hasn't necessarily been sped up, but it has been made easier. Vista uses image-based installation, and the process is designed to run mostly unattended. So after answering a few questions, you get it started and can then walk away while installation proceeds.

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