We've been getting ourselves familiar with Microsoft's new operating system here in our workshop and I thought that I'd give you our first impressions. And, so far, it's all good.
First up, the installation process is much smoother than before with almost all of the user input being front loaded so that you can leave the installation process to run unattended - a pleasant change from XP where user input is required at multiple separate times during the install. All told, it took approximately 45 minutes to complete the basic install.
Next there was the issue of drivers. We were doing the install into a PC Medic-built box with a 3.2GHz P4 and 1Gb of RAM. The motherboard was fitted with a nVidia 6600GT video card, a Hauppauge WinTV PVR card and a Ralink-based wireless lan card. After the install, the TV and Wireless lan cards were not recognized, but Windows Update commenced dowloading drivers for these. After a reboot, all hardware was up and running without the need for a single driver to be installed by us, pretty impressive.
Putting aside the eye-candy provided by the Aero interface, which is pretty but hardly essential, one of the features that we were most impressed with initially was the enhanced security that encourages you to set up standard accounts for all users, rather than administrator accounts. There is also a new system called User Account Control, which alerts you anytime you are making a change that has any system-wide or security implications. Some may find this a bit of a pain on a day-to-day basis, but we see it as an added layer of control from stopping the user making a bad decision.
A lot of parents will be happy to see a built-in Parental Control system that is not only effective, but also extremely easy to use, something we can't say about many commercial software pakages that try to do the same thing. Parental Controls can only be applied to Standard Accounts, and this will hopefully encourage parents to set up their young children with such accounts. Parental Control can be set to allow user accounts to access the internet at only certain times and days each week. It can restrict the type of websites that can be visited e.g. no nudity, no violence, no drugs, etc., or certain websites can be blacklisted (Bebo, anyone?). You can also determine whether games can be played or not and, if so, the age rating of the games that can be played. Finally, you can restrict which programs on the computer the account can use, so you could restrict the use of messaging programs such as MSN Messenger if you so desired. On top of all this, the administrator can view activity logs for each standard account that has Parental Controls applied to, so you can track the websites they visited, as well as the ones that were blocked. When you consider that some companies charge $40 or more per year for less well implemented versions, this is a high-value inclusion in Vista.
Outlook Express has been replaced/upgraded to Windows Mail and the big news on this e-mail client is the inclusion of a spam control system and it appears very good at its job. We downloaded 183 mails and Windows Mail's spam filter correctly identifed 146 pieces of spam. A total of 7 pieces of spam got through to the Inbox, while no false positives were detected (i.e. no genuine emails were sent to the spam folder). This is quite an impressive result and, as with Parental Controls, we guess that a lot of makers of anti-spam software will be wondering how these new features are going to hit their sales.
There are some other interesting features in Vista that we'll come back to in future posts, but for now you can take it that we like what we see.