Monday, May 28, 2007

Going from XP to Vista - Lessons Learned (May 29, 2007)

A few days ago I made the plunge and decided to install Microsoft Vista on my laptop and home computer. Many of you know I am a faculty at Paradise Valley Community College and teach Microsoft products, so I have a professional need to be playing and learning this operating system.

My bottom line upfront advice is unless you love pretty colors and 3-D hootsaws, there is no need to rush into Vista. If XP is working fine, you are good for awhile. Microsoft will not support XP for very long, but at least you know there is no need to rush.

Microsoft, for some odd unknown reason, has many flavors of Vista. Personally, I think it is stupid. The more confusing you make it for the consumer, the more the consumer is likely to think "hmmm, LINUX?" That is another story, as there even more flavors of Linux, but at least going Linux won't bust your back pocket. More on Linux in a bit...

Anyway, if you are going to go with Vista, here are a few considerations. They have something called a "Vista Upgrade Path" which essentially means you cannot upgrade to a lower level Windows. For instance, I could upgrade my laptop from XP Home to Vista Business (keeping my old settings) but could not upgrade from XP Professional on my main computer to Vista Business. On my main computer, I had to format my hard drive and install the operating system fresh, not a bad option in my opinion. Anyway, click on this
Microsoft link so you can figure out for yourself what you need to do.

By the way, I usually install a program or operating system first on my laptop. Once I get that figured out and running fine, then I take what I learned and apply it to my main computer.

Here's another thing I learned: give yourself time to install (it does take several hours) and then tweak. Microsoft leaves on so many #$%$ security warnings and what not that Vista was unusable until I was able to get in and turn off all the darn warnings, pretty visuals, and things that I was not interested in. Vista, like many programs, is bloated. It comes with a bunch of junk you don't need. I know, I know... some of you are thinking "GO MAC" or "GO LINUX." First off, I've tried Macs and just do not see what the big deal is. They are expensive and are not problem free, no matter what their cutsie ads are saying. Linux? Ahhh, another matter. I continue to play around with a few flavors (and there are a bunch): Knoppix and Ubuntu. The Paradise Valley Community College Computer Commons lab technicians like Randy Babick turned me on to
Ubuntu Linux recently. Like Knoppix, you can create a boot cd/dvd disk with Ubuntu so you can fool around with another operating system without messing up your Windows installation. One of the challenges of using a Linux operating system is finding workable drivers for your peripherals. I like my scanner, my printers, my tablet, and cameras to work on an operating system. BUT, the thing about Knoppix and Ubuntu is it is free. Another Linux flavor to look at is Linspire. By the way, they recently have announced a development agreement with the Ubuntu people. If all the Linux types could row the boat in the same direction it would give some hope of a legitimate competitor to Windows and Microsoft. My advice is download a few of the Linux flavors, create a CD bootable disk, and play around with them in your spare time.

Now, back to installing Vista! When you start the Vista installation disk, it will give you an opportunity to save all of your important data from your old computer. This is a good feature! I use two (I know, I"m paranoid) portable USB hard drives as a backup for my documents and pictures, so I was able to have the Vista startup disk make a backup of those files. It ended up being a +15gb file, but I was able to run it once Vista had installed and had all of my settings and files working in the new operating system. My email pretty much worked, although I scrapped the new Windows Mail for Outlook (within Office 2007). Some of you may want to use
Thunderbird, which is free but will not let you read your web-based email accounts.

I did find a few little surprises after installing Vista Business... on my main computer, my old Logitech 510 webcam did not work! Vista simply said "nope, not gonna run" in Vista, no matter what I did. OK, fine... so I went out and got the latest and greatest Logitech camera, the
Ultravision, and it works fine. In fact, one of the neat features of this camera is how it can somehow magically light an almost dark room. Spooky, but it works. The picture you see of me at the rop of this page (frightening, huh?) is from a nearly dark room.

NOW, I am going to save you time. You can learn from my mistakes. If you want this Aero and all the pretty junk that comes with Vista, fine. You will go ga ga over Vista. As for me, I want a system that runs fast, runs the programs I want and the peripherals I use, and to heck with the pretty 3D thingies and sounds that go ba boom. You are going to waste time trying to find out where everything is in Control Panel, for instance.

Here is the first utility to download:
TweakVI from Totalidea. Go ahead and start with the free version. There are all kinds of tweaks you can set in Vista; you really need to take a look. This one will improve the performance of your operating system, I promise. Another great site you need to save is Tweak Vista. In fact, before I did the Vista install, I printed out all of these Vista Tweaks I was likely to use and circled them as a reminder. Click here for even more Vista tweaks. Everybody's needs are different, so use the tweaks that fit your style.

Oh, one other surprise when I installed Vista was that a version of McAfee Virus Checker I had was not compatible with Vista. Uggggh, so I downloaded and happily use the FREE version of
AVG from Grisoft. I should have switched long ago. It works fine with Vista. And did I say it is FREE???

I love free or low cost good working programs and utilities. Given most of the commercial stuff on the market today costs big bucks and is filled with garbage, why pay for what you don't use?

Let me give you a perfect illustraton of bloatware. Roxio. I used the Easy Creator 9 Suite under XP. Many of the programs in the suite I just did not need, so I didn't install them. All I wanted was a good utility to let me easily burn CD's and DVD's. Well, I tossed this product out after installing Vista. It is simply not Vista ready, no matter what their site says. Nero is another choice but that is another case of a sub-$100 program with alot of bloat. So I did a search. I found a gem of a CD/DVD burning software called
Ashampoo Burning Studio 7. Download this sucker and try it out for free. I've tried it and it flawlessly burned music and videos. None of the burns are speedy; one of the things I dislike about CD/DVD burners. BUT, the software just WORKED!

By the way, my hunt was made much easier once I found this "best ever" site from the
Tech Support Alert folks. Some of the stuff they recommended I wasn't too fond of but some of it was great!

This is enough to get you started on Vista. In my next installment, I am going to recommend more great tweaks and utilities to make your Vista experience better.

Happy Computing,

Jim Patterson
Professor of Business/Information Technology
Paradise Valley Community College
Phoenix, Arizona