Yet Another Vista Article

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Windows Vista is far from becoming old news. Pretty much everyone is hearing something (good or bad) about the OS very frequently. I have to admit that I wasn't at all excited about Vista, especially due to all the hype around it (and the talk about Aero being the only thing worth mentioning). However, after being bombarded with news about the new features and countless messages from Mac fanatics claiming that Vista was just a Mac OS X copycat, I decided to take a look at what everyone was talking about.

The Windows Vista site offers an upgrade advisor that serves to test your system to check if it will be able to run the new OS. The system specs of the computer I used for this test are: Athlon XP 2700+ / 2Gb RAM / GeforceFX 5200 AGP 8x 128mb RAM. The advisor doesn't give you any kind of "score," but on my test it showed that I was able to run an Aero-enabled Vista. The obvious next step was to actually test it on my system. One of the things you hear the most about Vista is the fact that you need a very powerful system to run it. Almost every computer manufacturer carries "Vista Capable" PCs, which helps to support this belief, and there's even one commercial in the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" campaign that makes fun of that. However, I am the kind of person that likes to base his opinions on experience rather than what others say, and I was ready to run Vista or see my computer die trying.

Vista offers a scoring system that serves to test your computer and give you ideas on the areas that you have to pay attention to improve your performance. My computer got a poor 2.6 base score, which is not very promising (not even encouraging).

The overall system performance is a little bit slow, however all the Aero features are fully functional, even the Flip3D. However, when you hit the Flip3D command there's a lag of about half a second (sometimes one second or even one and a half seconds) to perform that change. Things change when you are in the 3D view, though, since the windows flip very quickly and smoothly. There is an option to turn off the visual features to improve your performance, but that would be like buying a Ferrari to drive it at no more than 40 MPH, so I ended up turning off only a few of them (the ones I didn't care much about) and that greatly improved the system performance and overall OS speed.

I tested Vista for a while and I reached a very different conclusion than a lot of other people: it runs on my almost 4 year old computer without the need of any "major surgery." Obviously, a faster computer would make the OS run smoother and without lags on the Aero interface, but the point that I am proving is that you can run it just fine without having to go through a complete system upgrade. On the other hand, if you are buying a new PC chances are that it will already include Vista, so you won't have to worry about any of this. I should mention that the extra Gb of memory has been in there for quite some time since it helps during calculations and render times, and it's obvious that most users won't have more than 1Gb of RAM on their machines, however most users don't use applications like Maya, Mudbox or video-editing software, so the 2Gb shouldn't create a great impact.

Another question that arises is related to compatability of both programs and hardware. I am unable to test every software available for Windows XP so I just tested the ones I use the most. I tested Maya, iClone, Mudbox, Poser, a demo of Max 9, Toon Boom Storyboard and even Flash and they all worked pretty well. On the other hand, hardware was a different story. Right after install, Vista detected my nVidia video, VIA AC'97 sound, and CanoScan Lide 20 scanner, however the scanner didn't work on the "Fax and Scanner" utility, so I have to use it from within an image editing software. My Logitech QuickCam Messenger didn't want to work, though, and I had to look for drivers all over Logitech's website. Genius has also updated the Tablet drivers so I can use and configure my PenSketch in Vista. The big disappointment was my Lexmark Z55 printer since it just won't work, and Lexmark doesn't have updated drivers for it (although they claim to have those on their "to-do list"). This is really a drawback since Microsoft had supposedly released Betas and Release Candidates for months, which would have been more than enough time for the companies to ready their drivers.

There are also some small things that make Vista better than XP even if you are not a fanatic of eye-catching UIs, but rather want to work faster (some of them familiar to the MacOS X, but some not available on it yet). I am sure you know how the new Start menu works, as well as the thumbnail previews and fast switching during the Alt+Tab (which was available on Windows 98 but was removed on XP for some reason). The new Windows Explorer shows some shortcuts to your documents, images, music folders and more. The search is also integrated in the Windows Explorer, so you can search your files directly in it.

If you are on a tablet PC (or you have a tablet), navigating in Vista is as easy as moving your pen, thanks to the Pen Flicks. If you make a quick stroke up or down, you perform a similar operation as pressing the PgUp or PgDwn keys. A stroke to the right or left means "back" or "forward" (especially useful for the internet browsers and Windows Explorer). There's also an option to put commands on the diagonal movements of the pen, however those may make the overall navigation a little more difficult since you may end up copying something instead of going page-down. There is also a little panel where you can hand-write something with your tablet and it will automatically convert it to text. You can then use that text in a document, an instant messaging software, or anywhere else. Doing a little research I found a prototype Mac tablet computer that also does that (I don't remember seeing that feature built into the OS on a desktop Mac), however it's not yet for sale and I don't know when it will actually be available since Apple has its hands full with the iPhone and Leopard (which, as you may know, was delayed).

Visually, the OS is very atractive (as you may have noticed). I am not here to defend Microsoft's originality, saying that "Gadgets and Widgets are not the same thing", however I (and many of my friends, including Mac users) admit that Vista is just "sexier" than MacOS since crystal window frames blurring your background are more eye-catching than brushed-metal solid window frames. So for a company that is based on design, I dare to say that Apple was beaten at its own game. I was inclined to think that Vista was the most eyecandy OS, but I then discovered Beryl (a desktop interface for Ubuntu-based Linux systems) which does everything that Windows Vista and MacOS X do and more.

Some people in these forums were wondering about Vista's OpenGL support. The rumor was that Vista had completely dropped OpenGL, which would make it nearly impossible for 3D application users to run their software. When I was testing Maya and Mudbox I perceived a slight decrease in viewport performance, and that made me look deeper into the subject. I read two articles at OpenGL.Org and I realized that Vista's OpenGL acceleration is not only supported on the OS (using your manufacturer's drivers, of course), but it's actually a better implementation of it. The problem with performance is not related to the OpenGL acceleration itself, but with the new Windows Display Driver Model. The issue is basically a collision between both systems, and this will cause a 10-15% reduction of the acceleration performance (among other issues, depending on the app. For example, Maya's viewports turn blank when a floating window appears on top of them).

It is expected for this issue to be solved as drivers are more compatable with the new Display Driver, but, in the meantime, the only workaround is to turn on Desktop Composition in your system performance settings (in other words, completely turn off the Aero interface). Keep in mind that this problem only arises on windowed applications, since they are the ones that combine OpenGL and the Windows Display Driver Model at the same time. To tell the truth I didn't experience problems with Poser, but Maya would not behave correctly untill I turned off the Desktop Composition.

This may sound like a let-down for some users around here that rely heavily on OpenGL acceleration, however if you have the will to do it, you can simply turn it on/off depending on what you are going to work on. On the other hand, if you are after Vista just for the new visual style, maybe you should rethink spending your money. There's actually something called "Windows Vista Transformation Pack", which is like a "Windows Vista theme" (supposedly, it even supports the Flip3D). I haven't tried it so I don't know what it will actually do for you, however, as I mentioned before, Windows Vista has some nice features for you which may make it worthwhile for you.

I am not the kind of person to say "use this piece of software!" I usually give hints so people are able to choose for themselves. Personally, I consider Vista to be a great step over XP, but all I can tell you is to try the OS for yourself and see if it fits your needs. However, before doing anything make sure you backup your Windows XP (if you have Norton Ghost, I would encourage you to create a Ghost backup of your entire OS drive). The main reason for this is the new dual boot system in Windows Vista (Boot Control Data), which makes it very difficult to remove it from your computer in a non-destructive way (this is where Norton Ghost becomes extremely useful). Personally, I had to format my drives to remove Vista since it couldn't be deleted at all, and the Boot Control Data couldn't be removed.

Leopard will be released in October, and I wouldn't be surprised if it borrowed something from Vista or Beryl. Actually, I would look forward to that since that would only benefit the end users. Windows Vienna will be released in 2 years, and obviously the Linux guys will continue developing their own tools, so I really look forward to see what's coming next. I've heard a lot about how a company copies another company, but that only results in better products, which happens in all the different areas of software development. Blender, for example, now comes with a powerful fluid simulator, and we could pretty much say that Blender "copied" Realflow. Max added bone weights painting 2 or 3 versions ago, while Maya has had that for ages. Maya, on the other hand, now has Mentalray as a native renderer, while Softimage has used it way before it became Softimage|XSI. Shake (formerly by Nothing Real and now by Apple) offered true 3D compositing, but programs such as Nuke, Fusion and Inferno offered that feature a few versions early. So, the issue for me is not who's the original creative mind and who's the copycat, but rather having a tool that works and supplies your needs. If that means borrowing features from other softwares, I don't see what the big deal is if you are doing it to supply your end users with a better tool.


 

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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.  
May 7, 2007

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Member Opinions:
By: Paula Sanders on 5/7/07
Excellent review Sergio. I have been using Vista Ultimate 32-bit on one computer and XP Pro 32-bit on my other and I have not had any problems with Vista. The only software that would not install was Acrobat Reader 8, which is rather strange since it is new. Acrobat Reader 7.08 installed fine.

By: nemirc on 5/7/07
Hello,

I experienced exactly the same problem. The installer would tell me that I didn't have the admin rights to create the temp files, so I ended up trying Reader version 7 as well.

By: ClintH on 5/7/07
Great review. I always wait about 12 months after the release of a new OS from Microsoft before I upgrade. I think I'll wait a while for this upgrade as well. XP is serving my needs very well at this time.
I will also need to upgrade my hardware (P4 2.0 GHz) before jumping on the Vista wagon. But it looks really nice.
Thanks again for a fantastic review!

By: Black_Fingernails on 5/7/07
I had the same problem with acrobat reader 8 and vista, so what i did was right click on it and click properties > compatability then tick the box that says " Run this in compatability mode for:" and changed it to Windows XP SP2 and it installed fine.

Other than that, all i had to do was upgrade my audio driver and everything worked fine, and i only got a low 2.2 base score running vista ultimate. although those warnings got annoying after about an hour so i turned them off :O)

By: derrys1969 on 5/7/07
Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP around 2014. I think I'll wait until I have to necessarily upgrade. By then, mostly all of the bugs and whatnot will be found and fixed. Vista still looks to be full of eyecandy. I just don't see what it could bring to my apps at this point. Great review, though.

By: nickcharles on 5/9/07
Excellent review, Sergio. I will, however, stick with XP for now. I agree with Clint and derrys1969 on waiting awhile to upgrade.

By: GKDantas on 5/9/07
Great review, I use Vista since RC1 and it works great with my 3 years old system... when the final release arrived I just have one problem: my old NVidia FX5200, now that the final release is out Nvidia dont support it more...so i get a 6200 and now I have more speed in OGL and all works OK. I turned off some screen features for Aero... but it works more faster then my old XP here.

By: LunarSight on 5/10/07
Good review - the OS looks like nice eye candy, but I've had co-workers [IT co-workers!] who have said that Vista is a serious resource hog and extremely buggy at this point. I'm going to hold off getting it for the time being.

By: dk3d on 5/10/07
Surprised there's not much mention of the ability to use more than 2 gigs of RAM per application which is really the only reason I'd consider shifting from XP. From the article it sounds like Vista "looks" nicer and runs almsot as well as XP, but there's actually no benefit and even some drawbacks because of driver support being slow to market. You also end the second to last paragraph talking about removing vista from your machine. To me, that all most of us need to know I guess :)

By: AngelOfFire on 5/10/07
Interesting that people blame hardware vendors for the lack of drivers. Both ATi and nVidia have said it is much much harder to write and debug drivers for Vista, to the point where it will affect the price of future graphics cards. That's an OS issue, not the fault of hardware vendors. Printer drivers aren't appreciably harder to write, but if the printer's over 2 years, why should the manufacturer bother? If it's a graphics or audio device, it is a huge effort. Sticking with XP as long as possible looks like a good move. upgrading for eye candy is not a good move in my view.

By: nemirc on 5/11/07
dk3d:
The reason to remove Vista for me was related to the fact that I don't like dual boots. I had XP and Vista on the same machine (Vista being on the E drive, the one I use to store my projects, maya files, video edits and all that). I preffer to have only one OS on my computer than having two, specially if that would mean installing the same applications on both systems.
I believe that any application (be it a 3D app, video editing app or even an OS) has to make it easy to the user to uninstall as well as install, because there are always chances that you will need to remove it for some reason. Personally I wouldn't like to install Linux or OSX on my machine (assuming that the "Universal OSX" runs on x86 chips) just to realize that I have to format my drive because there's no other way to remove them.
Another important thing to consider is the fact that many users will only install Vista in "trial mode" becanse they want to try it out and then remove it later. That paragraph was specially aimed to that people.

LunarSight:
I have to agree. This is why I went to hunt down Services and startup programs that I considered to be useless (on my personal case) and that improved the performance (saving 20% of ram in the process). However these Services may be useful to ITs so this workaround wouldn't be an option in all cases.

By: tamathy on 5/11/07
Vista looks really cool, but that's about it. I could not get Core FTP or Photoshop CS2 to install, 2 programs that I use quite frequently. Unfortunately Vista came with my new laptop, so I have to keep my old one with Photoshop loaded to it until I can figure out how to get it installed. I found another FTP program that works, but the fact that I can't get an image program costing hundreds of dollars to install really chaps me. The killer was PSP 9, a program costing less than 10% of PSCS2, loaded and worked perfectly. DAZ Studio did funky things with it as well, so I bit the bullet & bought Poser 7 (but I'm glad I did that :-) ). The P7 renders a beautiful so far, & I am just learning P7. But I am still chapped about PSCS2 & probably will be for a while. Grrrrrr.... :-)

By: Paula Sanders on 5/11/07
I have Vista Ultimate 32-bit and had no trouble installing Photoshop CS2. I recently installed Adobe CS3 Design Premium. All the programs work perfectly except the free Adobe reader 8 which we mentioned in an earlier post.

By: spookuslucas on 5/13/07
Not that this is going to hold much weight here... but I haven't had any problems installing anything on my computer running Windows Vista Ultimate x64. The only problem that I have come across as mentioned by the writer of the article is the Lexmark printer that I have "X75" will NOT install under Vista. I'm also using some older modeling programs called Raydream 3D, Bryce 5, and Poser 5. I'm running a system that has a subscore of 5.1 (which is a score based off of the Core2Duo E6400 2.13 GHz processor). By the way, I downloaded and installed Adobe Reader 8 without a problem. I put Reader 7 on due to the Adobe Digital Reader software that you have to use for any digital e-books. As for graphics, audio, ethernet, printer (not lexmark), etc. It all just installed without any trouble. I keep the UAC turned on. I know a friend who couldn't install Office 2003 Pro because he disabled the UAC (user account control). When he turned it back on... voila! Office installed successfully. So anyway, Vista does have an advantage over XP in several ways depending on what your needs are and in no ways depending on what your needs are. Since the nVidia 8000 series graphics cards are the only thing on the market with DirectX10 support it'll be a bit before 3-D apps and games and drivers and everything else will run on Windows Vista the way XP runs such things. Vista is also ahead of it's time in my opinion especially with the DirectX 10 built in to the OS. I agree with the articles out that say this will be the much better OS for gaming and 3-D applications... much better than XP. It's just a matter of time before the software developers start programming for the newer features and better graphics. Phew... sorry to make everyone her suffer through my babbling... hahaha God Bless and keep creating.

By: lwperkins on 5/16/07
Thanks so much for the review! The comments were useful too;-)

By: svdl on 5/17/07
DRM and High Definition video/audio seem to be the great culprits when it comes to Vista performance.
I think I'll stick to XP 64 bit until Microsoft and Hollywood have abandoned their (already doomed) DRM crap. Which may not take overly long, the Microsoft engineers themselves tell that the DRM in Vista makes it overly complicated and slow, and Apple has already abandoned DRM in iTunes (good move, Apple!)
I'll wait for a DRM-less Vista successor. For now, XP 64 bit does what it has to do, with good OpenGL drivers for my graphics cards, the printer drivers work, camera drivers work, and all software works, at least as well as under XP 32 bit.
The info about OpenGL is pretty important for many Renderosity members, thanks for touching on this hotly debated Vista subject!
By the way, the new ATI graphics cards based on the R600 core (should hit the market this month) will come with full DX10 hardware and software support. ATI's track record on OpenGL support for consumer graphics cards is rather dismal, however, so I wonder how the new cards will do under OpenGL. I hope the merger with AMD has improved ATIs driver policies.

By: derrys1969 on 5/21/07
To follow up on another comment, is it that important to follow the pied piper of Microsoft and upgrade to Vista? Is it personal choice, that it will increase how you work or is it a matter of just staying ahead with everyone else?

By: nemirc on 5/21/07
If you plan to use the enhaced features, it would be worth to have it. If you don't, then why bother. I went to a friend's house yesterday and I checked out the new laptop he had bought (with Vista home premium). It turns out that he had turned off the new start menu, the sidebar, the icon previews and I don't know what else. He pretty much has a Vista-looking Windows XP, so in his case he could have pretty much chosen XP over Vista...

On the other hand, Microsoft will support XP for a few more years, but by the end of the year all the new computers will ship exclusively with Vista, so it seems to me that everybody will end up switching one way or another.


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