Launch Day reality check


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With the full public launch of Windows Vista and Office 2007 happening, now is a good time for a reality check in order to balance the hype that you’ll be hit with.

With the full public launch of Windows Vista and Office 2007 happening, now is a good time for a reality check in order to balance the hype that you’ll be hit with. This isn’t intended to be a full review, rather some general comments to balance some of the enthusiasm of recent days.


Vista

Is Vista better than Windows XP? – yes, in many ways. But it’s not perfect by a long stretch.

We’ve been using it for many months since the final code was released and while some XP hassles have been removed, new ones have been added.

Networking has been made more confusing with a bewildering range of dialog boxes plus features that we can’t get to work at all or only in some circumstances.

The results vary between machines so we’re not sure if it’s Vista or the drivers, but either way it’s a major hassle.

The in-built indexing feature is unreliable and lacks options that are standard in rival add-on products like Copernic or Google Desktop – this is no small matter because Outlook 2007 relies on the Windows indexing system, as does much of Vista itself.

The Aero graphics look great, if your video card can support it. However for many non-gaming users the Aero looks are ‘tinsel’ and not substantive. That will change over time as software developers take advantage of the power Aero gives them to make interesting and useful screen displays.

The security in Vista should be good after all the money, time and hype Microsoft has thrown at it. Only time will tell whether Microsoft has really improved the hacker protections in their new operating system.

As you’d expect, most programs will work with Vista even if they are not explicitly ‘Vista compatible’. System utilities like anti-virus, firewalls etc are, predicably, sensitive to changes in the operating system. However most regularly used programs, games etc should work fine including Office 2003 and its predecessors. Check on the software maker’s website for compatibility.

Almost any computer that runs Windows XP will run Windows Vista – which makes it easy for computer makers to honestly promote their wares as ‘Vista Ready’ but in fact many machines sold now won’t run Vista very well because they lack RAM memory or a faster processor.

In particular many new machines won’t take advantage of the Aero interface (because the video card is insufficient to drive the new graphics system). We’ve seen major computer makers selling ‘Vista Ready’ machines with an upgrade to Home Premium edition even though the machine won’t support the main benefit of the Premium edition; Aero graphics. Upgrading the graphics card on a desktop computer will cost you more and can be difficult, changing the graphics card on a laptop is usually impossible.

PC World magazine www.pcworld.com has some interesting test results for Vista on various systems. They report that increased RAM from 1GB to 2GB doesn’t result in as much difference as you might expect, which confirms our experience. Using integrated graphics (where the video memory is shared with the rest of the computer) with Aero graphics will affect your overall performance. Their test results show ‘pronounced’ performance decline with Vista on low-end systems, however Vista does seem better than XP at multi-tasking with the latest multi-core processors.

Vista isn’t bad, it just fails to deliver on the hype and probably won’t until there are major revisions (like a Service Pack) and one’s hardware is boosted to cope. Until that happens it is better to wait and let other people be the guinea pigs.

In other words, much the same situation as when other major Windows releases have come out. Windows XP was much more useful after Service Pack 1 (and especially SP2) and hardware evolved to cope … so it will be with Vista.


Office 2007

Happily, Office 2007 is in much better shape than Vista.

We’ve been using Office 2007 for a long time and are quite happy with it. But we are also content to use Office 2003 on other machines and don’t feel any obvious deprivation that draws us back to Office 2007.

The new interface is good, the only real issue is the learning curve involved. Some people will catch on to the new look quickly, others will take longer which is a concern for companies. However long it takes you, we feel the change is worth the time and trouble in the end.

We’ve been talking about the Office 2007 interface for around 18 months and our reservations have mostly faded over time and extended use. The minimise ribbon option was a welcome and well-designed late addition, especially for laptop users on small screens.

The new document formats are also an improvement that will take some time to bear fruit. ‘Docx’ etc are a ‘chicken and egg’ problem – it won’t be accepted until there is wide adoption and wide adoption needs broad acceptance. We expected other companies to take time to include ‘docx’ support but Microsoft itself (notably the Macintosh and Windows Mobile divisions) have been inexcusably tardy in supporting Microsoft’s own technology. The Macintosh team’s decision to hold off support for Office 2007 documents until the middle of 2007 is outrageous. Yes, I mean the Macintosh team at Microsoft – no wonder Office for Mac users feel like second class citizens.

Outlook 2007 continues to be a concern, for this lumbering beast of a program is great but can be sluggish for many people. That hasn’t changed in Office 2007. One major ‘benefit’ of Outlook 2007 is ‘instant search’ which certainly is not ‘instant’ and sometimes won’t search at all. Whether this is the fault of Outlook or the Windows indexing system it depends upon doesn’t matter to customers. We have to constantly resort to Google Desktop Search or the excellent Copernic Desktop Search to find Outlook items that Outlook 2007 can’t find at all!

We don’t like the new ‘To Do’ bar but that’s a personal preference that is easily changed (click the X in the top right of the bar). RSS support is good and we especially like the integration with IE7 to give you a single set of feeds instead of juggling two lists. Outlook 2007 does setup email accounts much more smoothly, finally using some of the tricks we’ve seen in other programs to guess the correct details. It also recovers a ‘corrupt’ PST/OST much more elegantly than in the past.

Categories have received a long overdue improvement with labels combined with color coding (what took them so long?) and now the category information is stored in the Outlook PST/OST data file not the registry making it properly portable between computers.

The calendar views have been revamped and not necessarily for the better. We liked the old ‘Week’ view that showed all the appointments of the day regardless of the time. Now all views show events spaced according to their time with gaps of ’empty’ time in between – that might be fine for people with many appointments but if you only have a few it’s better to see them listed together.

As we’ve said for some time, there’s nothing bad in Office 2007 but it’s hard to see enough improvements for the money you have to pay. The ‘Office 2007 Home & Student Edition’ is the best buy for many people even without Outlook but not as compelling as the ‘Office 2003 Student and Teacher edition’ which had Outlook as well as Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Microsoft apparently believes that most students and teachers don’t require Outlook.

Have a look at our Common misconceptions about Office 2007

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