Article, November 2006
Microsoft Vista Beta-First Look
By Brian K. Lewis, Ph.D.,
Member of the Sarasota PCUG, Florida
Bwsail@yahoo.com (click to email author)
Many of the reviews that I have read on the early releases of Windows Vista have been done on "fast" hardware. Many times with 1- 2 GB of RAM. Knowing that many users of Windows XP will probably upgrade to Vista with their current hardware, I installed a Beta 2.0 copy of Windows Vista on an older machine. This computer has an Intel 1.3 GHz CPU and had 256 MB of RDRAM. I upgraded the RAM to 512 MB which is normal for many Windows XP users. The computer also has an ATA 40 GB hard drive and it did have a CD writer. However, when I went to install Vista, I found the installation disk was a DVD. So I had to upgrade to a DVD unit. I did manage to find a Sony DVD burner at a very reasonable price. So, a word of warning for those interested in upgrading to Vista when the final version is available, you may have to have a DVD drive to install it. This review is based on my hands-on experience with Vista.
I installed this Beta version to the hard drive as a new installation. It saved the previous version of Windows and user files in one folder. Since I had no applications or personal information on the drive I was able to delete this folder after the installation was complete. I did note that the installation took more than 90 minutes to complete. I'm sure that this was partly related to the speed of this computer as well as the size of the operating system. Since this is a pre-release version, it probably contains debugging code which contributes to its overall size.
Once Vista was installed, it brought up a Control Center Window. This had icons for several items, one being hardware that wasn't installed and other to add a printer. There were also a Vista tutorial and an icon for new items in Vista. The first thing I tried was to see what hardware wasn't installed. The first item on the list was the ethernet card, next the sound system, then a "Simple Controller" which I finally figured out was the modem and a SCSI controller. To simplify things I removed the modem and the SCSI card. Then I tried to install the ethernet card. At that point I started getting the User Account Control (UAC) windows which required that I approve every step that might change the make-up of the computer. Every time I tried to install a driver I had several UAC windows to get through before I could get to the installation process. And this, in spite of the fact that I was running as the System Administrator.
Any of you that have set up Window XP Professional should be familiar with the Administrator and User Account system. On my XP Pro system I have the Administrator account and a User account, both of which are password protected. I rarely use the Administrator account, instead I work in the User account. You might ask why I do this. The reason is that without the Administrator account running it is more difficult for trojans or parasites to make changes to any of the system files on my computer.
That is assuming that they can get past the firewall in the first place. I have seen too many XP Pro systems where the user is always running in the Administrator mode which has allowed invasions of the system by trojans/parasites. I have just cleaned out one system that was acting weirdly until I removed 295 parasites/trojans. Whenever I need to install software on my XP system, I simply use the "Run As" command and enter the Administrator password. That way I don't have to change from the User mode to the Administrator mode.
However, this has all changed in Vista with the User Account Control. Even if you are logged on as the System Administrator, it requests your permission for access to anything related to the system or devices. Just to review the list of hardware in the Device Manager requires that you get permission to do so by clicking in the Permissions request window. When you try to install new software or drivers you get a security window which requires your permission to let you continue. Then you get the UAC window which requires that you verify that you know you are installing new software and that you think it is reliable! You even get a UAC window when you try to download and install Windows Updates! I have learned that there is a good reason for this security. According to one report I have read it is possible for Trojans downloaded to your computer along with a web page, to inactivate your anti-virus, firewall and anti-parasite software. This can all be done in the background if you are running in the Administrator mode. Then changes can be made to your system software that can affect the operation of your computer. The UAC in Vista is designed to prevent this from happening. Once I set up my User account, then I had fewer UAC windows show up. They occurred only when I wanted to install new software or drivers. The only thing I had to do then was to provide the Administrator password.
Since I didn't have drivers for the ethernet card, I had to search for one on the Internet using my XP computer. After some research I was able to identify the make/model of the card. Then I found a driver on DriverGuide.com. I downloaded the zip file to my hard drive and burned it to a CD-RW. Then I transferred it to the hard drive on the Vista machine. Vista quickly extracted all the files for me. Then in the device driver, I clicked on "Update drivers" for the ethernet card and told it to search the drive for a driver. Low and behold, it did find and install the driver. Now, after some hard drive activity and approving the UAC to update the Network center, I was on the Internet.
The next thing I wanted was not my sound card driver. It was an anti-virus program. According to the Vista information site only TrendMicro has an A-V program approved for Vista. However, I had noticed on the Avast Web site that they had a Vista compatible version of their A-V software. So I went back to their web site and found that all versions of Avast are now Vista compatible. So I downloaded a free Home Edition and installed it. Again, I had the UAC windows to get through to get the installation under way. After it was installed, I went through the Avast registration and my A-V program was operational. So far, the Avast is running normally and is doing its usual updates in the background.
I have been using the Windows Firewall as I "assumed" it was a two-way firewall. I have since learned that it is only an in-coming firewall. I plan on replacing it with ZoneAlarm.
After a re-boot of the computer, Vista popped up a window and asked if it could install my multimedia sound card. I clicked on OK and the next window had two choices, one of which was to search the Internet for a driver. At this point I still had no indication as to the manufacturer of the sound card, so I selected the Internet search. In just a few minutes it changed from searching to installing the software. Then I had a window saying it had installed the software for the Creative Labs sound card! Now that, in my mind is quite an improvement over previous Windows versions.
The one interesting aspect of the Creative installation is that Vista could not install a driver for the game controller. As with most sound cards, there is a output for a game controller. For some reason, Vista was unable to install a driver for this output. It is now listed in the Device Manager as an unknown device. The sound card is listed correctly.
My next step was to set up a User account and shift out of the Administrator mode. That was accomplished quite easily through the Control Panel. So, once I was in User mode, I downloaded a copy of OpenOffice. When I started to install it, a UAC window popped up and I had to enter the Administrator password. Then the installation proceeded normally. Not really any different from the User mode in XP.
Vista has a Security software setup in the Control Panel that is similar to that in XP. It shows the status of the firewall, anti-virus, updates and a new item, Windows Defender. This latter software is an anti-parasite package. It has a default setting to scan your hard drive every day at 2:00 a.m. Since my computer is rarely turned on at that hour, I changed the setting to 5:00 p.m. It is more likely to be running at that time.
The last step was to install two networked printers. I clicked on the "Add printers" icon in the Control Center Window. That brought up the Printer Installation Wizard. I selected a networked printer and told it to find the printer. Several minutes later it told me there were no networked printers. So I backed up and selected browse for printer. That took me through the whole network tree, but I did find the printer. When I selected the printer and went to the next window, a bright yellow warning popped up to tell me that "printer drivers can install viruses! Are you sure this networked computer is trustworthy?" Well, since it is my main computer, I decided it was trustworthy and clicked on the OK button. Then I got the usual UAC window. After entering the password, the installation was completed and a test page printed. I had to go through the same routine with the second printer. But at least both of them are installed and working.
The Vista computer is now part of my local network and I can share files with it. In fact, part of this article was written on the Vista computer using the OpenOffice I downloaded. I had intended to finish the article on that computer, but the hard drive died. I can't fault Vista for this, the computer is old and it was the original drive. So, when the new drive arrives, I will have to reinstall Vista and all the drivers. Since I had activated this copy of Vista, it will be interesting to see what will happen when I have to activate the new installation.
Next month I hope to tell you of my experience with the Vista interface. So, hang in there, more information on Vista will be coming.
Dr. Lewis is a former university & medical school professor. He has been working with personal computers for more than thirty years. He can be reached via e-mail at bwsail(at)yahoo.com.
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