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The debate pitting Windows Vista against its predecessor Windows XP continues to rage, from consumer desktops to corporate decision-makers – to upgrade, or not to upgrade?
That is the question that David Epp hoped to shed some light on with his Pros versus cons of Windows Vista session at the IT360 conference in Toronto last week.
A consultant with Acend Corporate Learning, a Toronto-based provider of technology training courses, Epp installed Vista operating system to accustom himself with it for his business.
But it soon became his preferred OS.
“Everyone’s going to experience some pain in order to get to the nirvana of a Vista deployment,” he says.
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Having instructed people in the use of Windows for years, Epp shared some of his favourite things about Vista, and some of the negatives too.
Pro – improved functionality
Vista’s Aero graphical interface isn’t just all about looks, Epp says.
The biggest noticeable difference from looking at a Vista desktop compared to XP is the higher fidelity graphics.
“The translucent borders on the window make it easier to not get lost in a series of overlapping windows,” he says. “It makes it easier to concentrate on what you’re looking at.”
Added perks are small previews of the windows stowed away on your taskbar when you hover over them.
Multimedia also get richer icons that better represent the content of the file.
Those accustomed to Google-searching every Web page they access on the Internet will appreciate the built-in file system indexing and search ability in Vista, Epp says.
A Search bar directly off the Start menu instantly brings up an application or file based on key word.
Search folders can be saved to be re-run at any time, and bring up new files that fit the criteria, he adds.
Con – it’s expensive
Resistance to adopting Vista has been particularly harsh, the consultant says.
“A lot of people have been avoiding Vista like the plague,” he says. “You’ve got to get the opinion that there’s some sort of compelling reasons not to use it.”
One of those reasons might be the cost involved. Some of your older hardware might need an upgrade – an additional cost to the licenses you purchase.
To support Vista, you should have at least one gigabyte of RAM, suggests Epp. And depending on how high resolution you want to run your desktop, a high-end graphics card is a good idea.
Pro –performance boost
If you do have the hardware to run Vista, you’ll benefit from some performance boosting features of the OS, Epp says.
Vista uses the graphical processor to render the extra fidelity offered by the Aero display. That leaves your core CPU free to run your applications.
ReadyBoost is a little-known feature that helps machines low on RAM, explains the entrepreneur. The tool allows a flash drive to be inserted and act as cache memory.
“The speed at which you can find small files is much faster on that thumb drive,” he says.
The OS also engages in some psychic-like attempts at guessing what applications you will run and when you’ll use them.
Superfetch pre-caches the applications you like to use often, so they’ll load faster when you launch them.
Con – incompatible hardware/software
While you’re able to boost the performance of some of your applications, others may not work at all.
You’ll have the most trouble if it’s a more obscure piece of software, or an application developed in-house.
“That’s going to be an issue when deploying on Vista,” Epp says.
But he points out that 98 out of the top 100 applications are now compatible with the newer OS, and it’s added to its supported list since launch.
Likewise, some hardware will run into compatibility barriers with Vista. Support for hardware has increased since shipping, with 54,000 drivers available on Windows Update today improving upon the original 13,000 available.
“Everyone has heard a story about someone who has a printer, or a scanner, or a camera that is not compatible with Vista,” Epp says. “That’s something to keep in mind.”
Pro – better security
The Apple commercial depicting a secret service agent pestering a Windows user over every single action they’re taking is an effective one, Epp says, but not necessarily accurate.
“If we look at it from an administrator’s perspective, then we’ve known for years that we should have different user accounts for admins and standard users,” he says.
Vista puts every user in standard mode and then asks for approval when administrative tasks are performed. User Account Control is designed to stop malicious programs from opening your computer up to attack.
“It can be programmed to go away,” Epp says. “But it’s one of the best new security features and it would be crazy to do so.’
Users with sensitive data can use BitLocker to encrypt entire drives to protect them from prying eyes. Users of XP had to choose files and folders to encrypt separately.
On the Internet security front, a new phishing filter in Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Mail flags potentially unsafe Web pages.
Vista also runs the browser at the lowest privilege level, so any changes it tries to make to your system will be blocked and prompt for permission.
Vista also allows firewalls to restrict what traffic is outbound for the first time.
“If you have applications you want to restrict your users from using on the Web, you can now lock that down,” Epp says.
Con – unnecessary burden
When it comes right down to it, a business should just ask if migrating to Vista is worth all the trouble.
Deployment is especially complicated in larger organizations and can cause disruption during the transition time, Epp notes. There’s also productivity loss on the side of the employee
“Any big change in any organization is going to cause some discomfort for people using the technology,” he says. “There’s going to be some calls to the help desk for awhile, and there will be some user angst.”
Also, if you’re using Windows XP and it supports all of your hardware, and works the way you need it to, there may be no major reason to upgrade. Much of the gained functionality in Vista has been added to XP through Windows Update.
“Granted Vista is prettier, but does that really contribute to my bottom line?” Epp asks.
Each business must weigh the pros and cons for their specific situation and make a decision, he concludes.