Windows Vista (Vista vs. the laptop)

Here’s a nice quote from our good buddy Jim Allchin, back in 2004:

 I'm not sure how the company lost sight of what matters
to our customers, both business and home, the most, but in my
view we lost our way. I think our teams lost sight of what
bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean,
what security means, what performance means, how important
current applications are, and really understanding what the most
important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random
features and some great vision, but that does not translate into
great products....I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at

Jim Allchin is, of course, none other than the windows development chief, and has been since the mid 1990s. Well, at least he’s being honest, I suppose.

As mentioned in the previous entry in this series , I went through the experience of installing Vista on my work laptop. The laptop in question, is approximately 1.25 years old (it was purchased over the fall of 2005). It’s a fairly nice Sony Vaio VGN-T350p. A handy little 10.7″ wide mini-laptop with a 1.2ghz Pentium M processor, 512MB of RAM, 60GB hard drive, Intel 855GME graphics, and a DVR+-RW drive. Obviously not top-of-the-line with what’s out there now, but still a very very nice system — arguably even better than most laptops that are currently in operation out there.

The OS installation went off without a hitch. Entering an appropriate activation key and getting through the “windows genuine advantage” verification is left as an exercise for the reader (that’s what google is for). Getting the system up and running on my wireless was a tad tricky, as the configuration paradigm for networking in windows is changed yet again. It involved poking around through a few windows and whatever the new version of “network connections” is called, but I eventually figured it out. It’s nowhere as easy as it should be, but it’s no more difficult than it is in XP — just different.

Once on the network, I quickly installed the latest security patches (yes, there are several out there already for Vista), and was on my way. I set my background image, and the optimal screen resolution (both settings took a bit to find, since they too are no longer in the same place), and things looked pretty good. Vista has this goofy “sidebar” thing on the right side of the screen that takes up way too much space and doesn’t serve any use, as far as I could tell, other than constantly displaying the weather, a big clock, or a calendar or some other widget-thingies. I set my sights on getting rid of that thing, which involved right-clicking on it and telling it to go away, but also going into another menu to tell it to close and never come back. So far, not so bad. The new interface looks nifty, the explorer is much more refined, and even IE7 is a good step (although you don’t need to upgrade to vista to get IE7). Then things started to go downhill.

I installed Madden 2007 (which runs perfectly fine on the Windows XP install on this laptop), and was unable to run it. “Your graphics card is not DirectX compatible,” it insisted. I decided to try out Second Life as well to see what that’s all about (but that’s for another blog entry), and was confronted with a similar message. Sure enough, when I boot into XP on the same laptop, all is well. Thinking that maybe I needed an updated video driver (unlikely since the intel driver bundled with vista is dated only a few months ago), I visited Intel’s website. Sure enough, the one included with Vista is the most recent driver. There’s an asterisk in that compatibility table though. It turns out that that graphics chipset — a very common one present in laptops from Dell, HP, and others of this generation, will not have a “WDDM” driver released for Vista. Therefore, it’s not 100% Vista compatible. I dug a tad further and discovered that, sure enough, as far as I can tell, without a “WDDM” driver and a “Vista Premium Ready” PC, Full DirectX won’t work in Vista. This makes pretty much any game un-runnable, and eliminates the possibility of using the Aero UI improvements (transparency, effects, etc.). So my laptop, which is perfectly usable in XP and Linux, is completely unusable with Vista.

Don’t get me wrong here, I expected that like any new OS, there would be new hardware requirements. But this laptop is really only last-years generation. It’s not that old! What’s more, I checked and even the Intel 900 and 950-series graphics chipsets aren’t 100% compatible with Vista. This eliminates pretty much any motherboard (laptop or otherwise) with built-in-graphics built before spring of 2006, right?. And all for a fairly artificial requirement that Microsoft has come up with.

Oh well, not that it matters anyway, since most people getting Vista will have it included in new systems anyway, and this is a great racket going on (as has been the case for years) between Microsoft and the OEMs to generate sales and perpetual un-necessary upgrades. Do I really need anything better than last years on-board graphics chipsets to run MS Word, Windows, IE7, and play the occasional football game? The fact that it works in Windows XP proves that the answer to that is definitely “no.” However, Vista makes it something-else entirely.