A friendly developer friend of ours has allowed us to use it on his system since it was made available by Microsoft over the weekend. Microsoft have yet to send us any reviewable copies in the post.
Suffice to say we're impressed. Vista has come a significantly long way since the RC2 build. It's polished, speedy, and looks good on the eye.
It's hard to quantify just how much of an improvement in speed and responsiveness there is over the previous betas. Vista was incredibly sluggish on anything with under 2GB of RAM, but now seamlessly slides from one app to another with the minimum of fuss and disk-swapping on a machine with half the memory.
User account control (UAC) is still present. Some suspected this would disappear in the final release, but evidently it hasn't. It's annoying to the extreme and will be the first thing to be turned off by any users who can find it within the deluge of control panel options.
We're surprised it made it this far, considering the negative feedback from beta testers and the press. It seems largely pointless and somewhat unproductive - users will just hit the ok button several times in an effort to rid themselves of the dialogs, with scant regard for what they're actually saying. We suspect it will vanish from the next incarnation of Vista/Windows.
Installation was smooth, far smoother than any of the betas. Seamless installation on a Nvidia based SATA RAID, was the first time Vista has picked the correct drivers automatically, with no user-provision necessary. Only the Audigy drivers on the test PC weren't found, and we had to resort to using RC1-compliant beta drivers from Creative, who are still struggling to provide the Soundblaster user base with any quality final drivers.
Start-up times are reminiscent of Windows XP, booting the test PC (Athlon64-3200, 1GB RAM) in under 30 seconds, as opposed to RC1/RC2 which took far longer.
Some of the other caveats we've previously reported on, are still present. User interface inconsistencies, and the removal of useful 'up' navigation icons within folder views are incredibly irritating and somewhat counter-intuitive to what has been learnt from previous version of Windows.
The smaller task tray and quick launch icons are still fairly basic, and don't provide users with any clue of what they might do. This really should of discovered within usability testing, and we're surprised these haven't been adjusted.
The new Vista sounds are ok. Not too over-the-top or ridiculously long, and aren't nearly as annoying as previous Windows audio inclusions.
Despite the niggles mentioned, Vista really has come far since earlier betas. Even releases from just several weeks ago have been eclipsed by the polished performance of the final build. It must be noted that this analysis is taken purely from how the system is perceived to perform, and not from timed results.
Despite the polished feel and decent performance, Vista still has relatively little to offer. Windows Media Player 11 and Internet Explorer 7 are both dowloadable for Windows XP. The majority of useful features for Vista fell by the wayside sometime ago, Vista just feels like XP with a glorified pretty interface and a sidebar that eats up more of your precious memory.
Still, the next version of DirectX is going to be Vista-only, so this may be reason enough to upgrade for a lot of people.
Expect more Vista analysis and benchmarking within the INQ this week. ?
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