For more than a year, I poked and prodded my way through hundreds of Windows Vista menus and dialog boxes. But after I finished writing “Windows Vista For Dummies” and “Upgrading and Fixing PCs For Dummies,” I turned off my Vista PC.
On the rare occasion I fire it up to double-check a few settings, Vista constantly reminds me why I’ve never installed it on my main PC. Let me count just a few of the ways:
Security problems. Just as it claimed with Windows XP five years ago, Microsoft says Vista is the most secure Windows version yet. That’s true, given the company’s dismal security record. Yet, as I write this, Microsoft is rushing out an emergency patch for a Vista flaw that, as Windows Update says, “could allow an attacker to compromise your Windows-based system and gain control over it.” That threat wording sounds exactly the same as my old Windows XP PC.
Don’t count on third-party security programs to protect Vista yet, either. Vista doesn’t work with many of them, forcing the security companies to write them from scratch. ZoneAlarm’s firewall still isn’t compatible. At least Windows XP’s third-party security programs come with five years of real world experience.
Aero display confusion. Some reviewers glow about Vista’s Aero “glass” interface, which places glossy transparent borders around every window. All that prettiness brings an unpleasant side-effect, unfortunately. Transparent borders mean that the active window – the one you’re currently working with – blends in with the rest of the pack. Put two Aero windows side by side and look for yourself: With no colored strip across the top, the active window’s only earmark is a tiny red box in its upper right corner.
To turn off Aero, right-click the desktop and choose Personalize. Click Theme, and switch to Windows Classic. Nope, it’s not as pretty, but it’s more efficient. Besides, Windows Classic is the only theme that works on most laptops, which lack the graphics horsepower to handle Aero.
User Account Control nags. Microsoft certainly grabs your attention with its new User Account Control alerts. Whenever you do something requiring administrative rights – installing a new font, for example – Vista darkens the screen and asks for your permission to continue. A click on the Continue button lets you go about your business.
Sure, this drama makes your PC more secure, as it makes people think before doing something potentially dangerous. But it will also annoy most people to the point of turning it off, defeating its purpose.
To dump User Account Control, click the user photo atop your Start menu, and choose Turn User Account Control On or Off.
Hidden display settings. Tasks that were so easy in Windows XP become cumbersome in Windows Vista. To change the display settings in Windows XP, for example, you right-click the desktop and choose Properties. The Display Properties window appears, letting you choose a new theme or click tabs for changing your background, screen saver, appearance or resolution.
Vista added an onion of layers to do the same thing: Right-clicking the desktop and choosing Personalize doesn’t let you do anything – except fetch the Control Panel’s options for controlling the things Windows XP offers up front. (And, for some reason, Display Settings, the most frequently accessed option, appears at the bottom of the list.)
Missing folder menus. While cluttering the Control Panel, Vista cleaned up the folder window. Unfortunately, they did so by removing the menus. That’s right: Window menus, depended upon by a generation of PC owners, now lay hidden behind a press of the Alt key.
To bring back the folder menus, choose Start -> Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Folder Options -> Use Classic Windows Options, and click OK.
No off switch. Years ago, turning off a PC was as simple as pushing a button. Vista transforms that simple task into two shortcut icons and an arrow that fetches a seven-option menu. It’s a rare PC owner who wants to ponder menu options when he tries to leave his PC.
Why not take mercy on the average PC owner and make Vista’s Off button actually turn off the PC? Leave the other options for tech hounds to add with a trip to the Control Panel.
Lack of drivers. Vista still lacks drivers for lots of hardware, perhaps because of a lack of Vista enthusiasm among vendors. To be fair, Windows XP also suffered a dearth of drivers after its release. But you could usually download a Windows 2000 driver that worked just as well in XP. Vista lacks that safety net, leaving loads of equipment bound for the landfills as Vista owners replace equipment that worked fine with Windows XP.
Forced software upgrades. During the tech boom, people felt obligated to upgrade their software with each new version. Nobody wanted to be left behind on the tech curve. Today, people realize they can crop a photo just as easily with last year’s version of Paint Shop Pro as the latest version. Unfortunately, Vista sucker punches its owners into buying Vista versions of their software because hundreds of Windows XP software packages won’t run under Vista.
No Killer App. So, what pressing reason drives us to Vista besides the fact that it’s finally arrived? There really isn’t one. In fact, most people encounter Vista simply because they find it preinstalled on their new PC.
These are just a few reasons keeping me from booting Vista on an everyday basis; there are many more.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Windows XP and the slew of free programs that prop it up so well. Firefox, and its hundreds of extensions outshine Internet Explorer and its meager add-ons. (Firefox users were protected from Vista’s latest security problem, as well.) Google’s Desktop Search works just as well or better than Vista’s newly enhanced search.
I may turn Vista back on after the first service pack, but for now, I’m sticking with Windows XP.