My adventure to Windows Vista Home Premium

Thanks to my buying a new laptop in January I was able to get in on Acer's Express Upgrade program to get a free copy of Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit version. Note, this isn't just an upgrade disk. It will let you install a clean version of Home Premium and the disk is also bootable.

So far, it hasn't been too terrible. Due to the laptop being "Vista Capable" and coming with Windows Media Center Edition 2005 already installed, upgrading to Vista wasn't a horrible process. My laptop is an Acer Aspire 5100-5022, the specs can be found here - which is where I also bought it. It cost me $740 when I bought it and I think I got a pretty good deal at the time. Especially considering the free upgrade to Vista Home Premium. The newer model of the Aspire 5100 laptop (5100-5033) does come with that as well and is down to roughly the same price I paid for mine in January. It features all the same hardware except 20 more gigabytes of hard drive storage space.

The only snag I ran into was I had to disable specific hardware to get it to install fully. The first time I tried to go for the upgrade the sound card, modem, and built-in webcam had re-installed themselves after the restart the Acer Upgrade Kit DVD did. This created some unforseen, at the time, consequences later on in the upgrade process. During the final step to upgrading the old drivers which had been uninstalled and then reinstalled due to the Windows XP driver cache, caused an infinite loop error thus BSODing the last step of the upgrade process and having to start over. Though, it wasn't hard to deduce the problem so all I had to do was to disable those three components completely in the Windows Device Manager. Not something your typical user will know how to do.

After disabling those components, the upgrade process went smoothly and need very little action from me beyond me choosing to do an upgrade or a clean install and inputting my license key. The complete upgrade process took about and hour and a half to gather information, copy the compressed archive files, decompress those archives, install and finalize the installation.

Post-installation my system was running pretty decently. As Home Premium includes Aero, I thought I'd see some graphical slow downs but to my surprise there were none. Aero works smoothly and quite flawlessly. I really like this new UI Microsoft implemented. It's no match for OS X but it's pretty close. The sidebar is much like the Google Desktop sidebar but uses less memory and integrates into the UI fairly nicely. My only gripe is that it can't slide in and out like the Google Desktop sidebar. Configuring it with new RSS feeds and new gadgets is fairly easy and something I recommend. The RSS feeds the sidebar uses are directly related to the ones inside of Internet Explorer 7. Adding a new feed is as simple as subscribing to it in IE7. To remove a feed you just go into IE7's RSS feed side window (Ctrl+Shift+J) and delete what you want.

I also found that 100% of the software I used day-to-day on Windows MCE worked fine under Vista (after getting updates for Vista, which was easy). I have yet to have any of the documented problems people are having with World of Warcraft on Vista.

One of the things I noticed that needed to be done quite immediately post-install was Windows Update. There were about 14 important updates to the OS which also included some updates for Microsoft Office 2003. There were also several driver updates and some optional updates. It's been two days since I installed and I've installed 14 important updates, 8 recommended updates, and 4 optional updates.

I also noticed that my filesystem and disk access time had gone up significantly. So I decided to do a Disk Cleanup of my main drive (C:). I have to say that doing this is nearly as important as doing the Windows Update. I cleared out about 2.5GB of junk from the upgrade process. Another nifty feature I saw was that by default Vista has all hard disks (partitions or physical) set to defragment on a weekly schedule. Being that I wanted to fix recover disk performance I went ahead and did a defrag. After the defrag performance went through the roof in relation to what it was immediately after the upgrade.

After doing that I adjusted the power settings. On a laptop power savings are very important if you're on battery. I was very pleased to find out that my favorite power management tool (Acer's Empowering Technology software sucks up resources and quite frankly, it blows) Notebook Hardware Control had released a new update that included Vista functionality. I uninstalled Acer's resource hungry power management suite and installed NHC.

If there's on thing I'm really liking about Vista it's the power management features. You can choose what it does when it's plugged in and when it's on battery, not one setting for all the time. By default, Vista has the same settings for when you're plugged in and when you're on battery. This means that your screen will turn off after 5min of idle time and your hard disk will turn off after 20min of idle time. As someone who tends to step away from his laptop while it's plugged in for sometimes in excess of 20min, this was an annoyance as minor as it may be. It slowed down time it took for everything to come back up when I came back. I know it isn't the best practice in terms of heat but it slowed everything down a lot up to 10min after "waking up." After adjusting everything to my preferences in NHC and Vista's own power management settings, I thought I was done with post-install configuration.

However, I was wrong. The UAC (User Access Control) was constantly around. It wouldn't let me run NHC without permission. Now, initially this wasn't that big of a deal. But after a few hours the nagging for permission whenever I wanted to move, delete or do something that might remotely be an administrative action got to me. Due to upgrading, my account retained its administrative rights. Which is actually something I appreciate. Since I'm the only user of my laptop I don't really have a security to issue when it comes to a lot of things. I'm also a power user and I tend to like to have complete control instead of being told I can't do something due to my access privileges. Although, you'll know when you'll be prompted for a UAC window because the buttons and labels that would require them have the Windows Security Center icon next to them. But in the end I decided to disable the UAC because I was just tired of the minor annoyances. This is a fairly simple process and shouldn't really warrant any Googling.

That's another thing I like about Vista's setup: everything is simple to find. If a setting or setting window is related to the one you're currently in it'll have links on the left side of the window to those settings as well. So finding things is fairly simple.

After that, I went out looking for updated drivers for some of my hardware. Specifically ATi chip since the Acer Upgrade DVD only installed an old ATi driver and no Catalyst Control Center. Every other new hardware driver was already installed with Windows Update.

After getting everything configured, I decided to find the updates for any programs that weren't working under Vista. This was a whole of two programs: iTunes and NHC. Getting iTunes to work properly just meant reinstalling the current version and NHC had released the update. Everything else I used day-to-day was working perfectly: Firefox, Thunderbird, World of Warcraft, Trillian, Google Talk, Google Desktop, Avira AntiVir, Picasa, and Photoshop CS2. The only hindrance I ran into for one of my near daily programs was Quark Express 7.0 Passport Edition. I had to set the executable (.exe) to run under the Windows XP SP2 compatibility layer, which is as simple as opening the file's properties. After that it worked like it should. As of this writing, I was going to download the Quark Express 7.2 update that includes Vista functionality. But I was presented with this on the update page:

"Attention Windows users:Due to technical issues, the QuarkXPress 7.2 Updater for Windows customers is temporarily unavailable. Quark is working to resolve this issue as soon as possible, and in the meantime you can workaround the problem if you wish by reinstalling QuarkXPress using the 7.2 installer as described here."
A little disconcerting but until it's available the workaround will suit me fine.

So far, all of the peripherals I've hooked up to my laptop have worked fine, if not better than they did in Windows MCE. Hooking up my Wacom Graphire 3 was the most intriguing experience I've had in Windows since moving from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95. Plugging it in and installing the latest Windows drivers brought up the Windows Tablet PC Input bar which hangs hidden at the bottom right of my screen. This is a neat keyboard tablet interface and writing pad for handwriting recognition. I haven't yet fully explored all the features of this but I expect it to be pretty neat. the feature that sounds the most interetsing is the "pen flicks" feature.

All in all, I'm really liking Vista as a whole and can't really complain a whole lot especially considering I got a $150 piece of software for free. I'm not complaining about the fact that I have a 64-bit processor and got 32-bit software. Your average consumer doesn't know the difference and the OEMs would have a harder time charging lower prices and making 64-bit drivers for consumers. Frankly, I'm glad that the upgrade process went as smoothly as it did. I look forward to seeing Vista take off and have more support from hardware and software manufacturers.

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