Upon installation, Windows Vista rates each system's overall hardware performance, with the final score reflecting your system's lowest individual score. This is handy. For example, if you suspect that everything's running a little slow, you might find that your hard drive is returning the lowest score. Windows Vista will then recommend a faster hard drive or a drive with larger compatibility. Mostly, though, the video card will be the sore spot for most users. There's also an event log viewer to show, for example, after a specific software install your system performance started to degrade, and that uninstalling the software may restore your overall performance.
Under the hood, Microsoft has moved device drivers for DVD burners and printers out of the system kernel; Microsoft says that a majority of system crashes can be traced to improperly installed third-party device drivers. Thus Windows Vista hopes to vanquish the dreaded Blue Screen of Death common to earlier releases of Windows. Indeed, after testing several early builds, we found Windows Vista to be remarkably stable and robust.
Along with the diagnostic and performance monitors, Microsoft has improved the Help section considerably. There is a static FAQ, but it also links to Microsoft online and allows outreach to other users for help, either via a forum or direct PC-to-PC help. Of these, we really like a feature available on some, not all, FAQs that allows you to automate the solution by executing a script. This method doesn't teach you how to do it in the future, but it will accomplish the task at hand. For example, if you choose to update a device driver, Windows Vista will darken the desktop; highlight and open the Start menu, the Control Panel, and the Device Manager; then pause to ask you what device you want to update. It's like having a technician at your desktop, walking you though the process. There's an increasing reliance on user-generated support forums, which leads us to believe that Microsoft is shying away from its own live technical support. At press time, Microsoft's final support policy was unavailable.
Perhaps we're spoiled, but after more than five years of development, there's a definite "Is that all?" feeling about Windows Vista. Like cramming an info-dump into a book report the night before it's due, there certainly are a lot of individual features within the operating system, but the real value lies in their execution -- how the user experiences (or doesn't experience) these -- and like the info-dump, we came away shaking our heads, disappointed. Compared with Mac OS X 10.4, Windows Vista feels clunky and not very intuitive, almost as though it's still based on DOS (or at least the internal logic that made up DOS). Despite the addition of a system-wide, built-in Search, and various efforts to break away from staidly old directory trees, you still need to drill down one level to even access Search. And there are far too many dependencies on Microsoft products; this is not a very objective operating system, as preference is always given to Microsoft products (of which there are many), from MSN search to RSS feeds only from Internet Explorer. But is Windows Vista a bad operating system? No. It's just a disappointment for PC users who hoped that Microsoft would deliver something truly exciting to finally leapfrog ahead of Apple. They failed. But stick around; this is just Windows Vista 1.0. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is due out sometime before the end of the year. Windows Vista SP1 promises to fix what's known to be wrong within Windows Vista and should offer a few concrete reasons to switch.