Driving Vista

I installed Windows Vista RC1 over the weekend, in what turned out to be a relatively painless install procedure. You give it your product key, your name, your region, and it does the rest. Fantastic.

But the Vista doesn’t come with the full NVIDIA graphics drivers installed for my GeForce 7900GT1 so I headed over to the NVIDIA site to download them.

The standard driver experience seems to be an InstallShield based Windows Installer application, which then gives you a few Accept buttons to click on and then does some “magic” to your computer. However the experience can vary wildly. Sometimes they force you to install some other software that bloats up your computer with the drivers, and sometimes the install doesn’t finish properly and you have no idea whats happened or how to fix them.

Seeing as Microsoft overhauled Vista’s driver management, I hoped to see some kind of unified installation and management application for drivers, ala Windows Installer for application set up packages. This management would handle the installation 2 upgrading and uninstallation of drivers. It would be able to rollback failed attempts to install drivers, it would uninstall previous drivers and install newer versions, and it would keep track of the drivers installed, and when uninstalling, delete all the files associated with it.

But no, we are stick with the old system. The NVIDIA installation seems to have corrupted my second display, and screw up Vista in the process. No error messages, no option to roll back and start again. A restart fixed this, and the driver seems to have installed, but there was no control panel or configuration application. This is something that an OS like Vista (five years in the making) should be able to handle properly and gracefully.

After a few days of using Vista, all it feels like to me is an interface upgrade to Windows. I personally can’t see where five years of work went to, especially from an organisation like Microsoft. Theres no WinFS, perhaps one of the few features that got me excited about Vista, it’s Windows Mail application can’t connect to my IMAP server, and the basic essentials have not been touched3 Even some new applications, like the Sidebar, have serious interface consistency and usability issues.

I think people don’t give Windows XP as much credit it deserves. It’s a stable and mature platform, and Service Pack 2 really gave it the foundation to be a secure operating system too. I think Microsoft struggled to create an operation system that is significantly better than XP, pinning it’s hopes on the legacy of Cairo‘s object-orientated file system. It probably would’ve faired better if it did an internal redesign of Windows instead, reducing the bloat and increasing the stability, something which everyone would probably like.

But what they’ve ended up with is a slower and more unstable operating system that offers very little past XP for the average user. Take-up will be slow, it will happen, but people expecting the kind of difference going from Windows 9t to XP are going to be disappointed, and rightly so.

  1. Although the installed drivers do support DirectX 9 now, so you get the full Aero goodness but not optimal performance. Better than VGA compatible 640×480 16-colour drivers that came as default in XP I suppose.
  2. I’m still skeptical about whether forcing only signed drivers to be installed is a good thing. While I think every manufacturer should go through the Windows Logo driver signing program, small incremental driver updates do seem to work better than just releasing milestone drivers. At least the bugs get fixed quicker, but new bugs get introduced quicker too.
  3. The “new” Control Panel just seems like some forms have been rearranged and a long overdue modernisation performed. Big deal.
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