Cybernaut 

Step up to Vista

Last week Microsoft finally released Windows Vista, the long-awaited follow-up to 2001’s Windows XP, with a curious lack of fanfare. When XP was released it was an event, with people lining up overnight to be the first ones on their block to own it. Widespread releases of pirated versions, which were only operable for a few months, only fueled the desire of the public to get their hands on this new software platform.

Whether the public is more cautious this time around because of all the security issues and patches, or Microsoft is playing it cool this time I have no idea, but it seems like a good tactic either way. Too much hype leads to overwrought expectations, which invariably leads to disappointment.

So far the reviews can be summed with a collective shrug. Reviewers generally like the new look and feel of the system, the built-in search system that archives your search results, the upgraded media centre, the intuitive filing system that allows files and folders to be several places at once, and the Gadgets (Microsoft’s version of Apple’s popular Dashboard), the built-in security, and the systems ability to maximize the use of higher powered computer systems in a variety of configurations.

The negatives are also compelling. Reviewers are finding compatibility programs with a variety of applications and games, Microsoft’s decision to release so many differently priced versions, the prices of those versions, and the way some functions (like Search) are located.

Still, while Vista is far from perfect it’s really the only game in town for the 85 per cent of PC users that haven’t shifted to Apple or Linux. Most people will buy one version or the other of Vista at one point, the only real question is whether they’re going to buy in sooner or later.

The smart bet is on later. While there are always early adopters out there, and to a certain extent their impulsiveness makes the world go around, there are several reasons why it might be a good idea to wait a little while before making the upgrade.

The first reason is that it is expensive. The most pimped out version of Vista, Vista Ultimate, retails for about $499, sans tax, at Futureshop. If you’re upgrading from XP with Service Pack II it’s a more reasonable $299, but that’s still a lot of scratch. The Home Basic version starts at $119 for upgraders, and $259 for people starting over, but it doesn’t have all the features or functionality of Ultimate, like the Aero user interface or Media PC capablity. A checklist of features available with different versions is available at Futureshop (www.futureshop.ca).

The costs aren’t likely to go down soon, but what are the odds that you’re going to be buying a new computer in the next few years? Pretty good, unless you already own something that’s state-of-the-art and should be good for another three to five years. If you wait you’ll be able to buy a new system that comes bundled with Vista, and save yourself the cost and frustration of upgrading. As well, only new systems will be able to make full use of Vista’s capabilities.

Another reason to hold off a little while is that Vista appears to be incomplete in the sense that it doesn’t have drivers for a lot of products just yet — such as advanced graphics cards and sound guards used by most hardcore gamers. Games that make full use of Vista, and the DirectX 10 graphics support, are also still on the horizon. Expect that to change within the next six months.

Still yet another reason to hold off is the fact that XP is still the standard for more than 80 per cent of users, and is likely to remain the standard for the next year or two. Gartner Inc., a reputed research firm, estimates that about 77 per cent of computers will still be running on XP at the end of 2007, and only about 13 per cent will have upgraded to Vista. As a result Microsoft will continue to support and update XP, as will all the third-party companies out there making software, peripherals, and PC products.

However, if you have a state-of-the-art PC that is upgradable and $500 to spend, there are a lot of good reasons to dive in and get Vista Ultimate. The ability to download, record and watch television through your computer is one compelling reason, given the cost of digital video recorders and cable. The ability to wirelessly network with your Xbox is another. The improved security should be most welcome, as well.

Interestingly, Gartner also predicted that Vista would be Microsoft’s last operating system. Given the speed of technology it no longer makes sense to release monolithic software every few years, but rather to continuously upgrade components of operating systems as new features and technology become available on a subscriber basis.

For more on vista, visit www.microsoft.com.

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