Articles, tutorials and other stuff related to my many doings at Stardock.
A short review of Windows Vista build 5536
Published on August 26, 2006 By GreenReaper In

As the developer in charge of Stardock's Vista labs, I'm one of the few who gets to "play" with the new builds right away. Up until now this has meant several hours of reinstalling software over the top of a fresh install. This time I tried an upgrade from 5472 to 5536, and as it's the way many of you will be introduced to Vista I thought I'd share the results with you. I also wanted to see whether or not I agreed with blogger Robert McLaws, one of those who has been playing around with the interim builds and who has been predicting great improvements ( http://www.longhornblogs.com/robert/archive/2006/08/24/Windows_Vista_Pre_RC1_Is_Available_Now.aspx ). Is he right? Read on for my take . . .

Impressions of 5536...

The setup has started to include the "info cards" - in this case, little messages promising that you, too, can be a great director, famous (PowerPoint) presenter, or maybe even pilot the space shuttle with Windows Vista. Again, Microsoft is trying to push the "experience" on you - and giving you something to look at while you wait for its performance ratings to complete. I'm told a clean install is not that bad, but you have to wonder how many end users are going to be doing a clean install. In truth, the upgrade didn't take more than around 45 minutes for me, though I've had others say it took them over an hour. I could see upgrading from XP taking longer, if only because most upgrade candidates will have big registries and more cruft for the installer to sort through.

So what's the score once you're upgraded? On my dual-core E1505 laptop (labeled "Windows Vista Capable" by Dell, though that's pushing it for their lower models), it takes about 30 seconds from the start of the Windows booting process, 50 to the desktop and 1:00 to the Welcome screen . . . and after that it's hard to tell because other things kick in, but you can start working straight away. It's not slow, though I suspect this relies significantly on having half a gig of memory around to throw at the boot process. My total boot load was a shade over 550Mb, which compares less-than-favourably with the 230Mb of XP on the same laptop. Admittedly, I'm not running the Tablet PC service on that (nor will regular Vista users have to), and it trimmed about 50Mb off the working set over time. Still, I wouldn't want to actually use Vista in less than 1Gb, particularly since every single open window carries the cost of the DWM's buffering.

One of the things that really does keep going is Windows Defender and the Windows Firewall. They appear to make significant disk accesses totaling (on various boots) 50-100Mb by the first five minutes just after loading up the desktop. Security! The joke that the second core was added to check up on the first one is getting a little too close to truth, though the real cost is waiting for the disk. Good thing I got a 7200 rpm disk. On the whole, though, performance is definitely far closer to that which I'd expect from an operating system that's meant to be released in, yes, two months.

There's a few nice little user interface tweaks that make things just a little bit more friendly; for example, the way the "other logoff options" button is actually large enough to hit this time around. Progress remains to be made: on my laptop's high-DPI screen (an upgrade which I readily recommend) all the column headers in were incorrectly sized, making it harder to see what was actually being displayed. If Microsoft expects its ISVs to expend the effort to solve such problems, it needs to get its own software following best practices first. And yes, Windows Media Center looked great - except I didn't have a cursor!

Some things seem set to remain obscure to most users with Vista, like how badly your disk is defragmented (requires use of a command-line tool in administrator mode), and exactly how much help that USB key is as a ReadyBoost device. Perhaps that's for the best, considering Vista's main target market, but "you don't need to know" still rankles to a techie like myself. Worse, I've heard they want to make the logon sound mandatory ( http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/08/24/the-startup-sound-in-vista/ ). Guess what, Microsoft? It's our computer, and you're the guest. Learn to live with that restriction on your branding efforts, and put in a usable "off" switch, or we'll do it for you.

Drivers remain an issue, too. At least now there are drivers for most components, though some features are lacking (including Vista-compatible help for Device Manager itself). OpenGL still isn't all the way there, even though my X1400 drivers were built just 10 days ago. This is partly Microsoft's fault, because they didn't finalize a high-performance interface for OpenGL until it was almost too late to have one at all. Maybe they were concentrating too closely on DirectX 10, overlooking all the great consumer applications that make use of the competition - like, oh, Second Life, which still bombs out in this build.

That wasn't the worst flaw. On a hunch, I shut the lid. 7 seconds to sleep - not bad, though it could be better. I opened it back up, and . . . whoops. The screen powers up, but it's not showing anything, and the system is non-responsive. Scratch one for the RC - this is a laptop, it needs to be able to sleep. Others here at Stardock have had other serious problems that appear to be linked with display drivers, and it's clear we're going to continue to need to see significant improvement in this area. I'm sure the driver crews are working flat-out at NVIDIA and ATI AMD.
Edit: As of 2 September, ATI has released drivers that fix this problem.

The company has been dragging its heels for a while, pushing little features into the product to make up for all the big names (remember WinFS?) that didn't quite make the cut. It seems they've mostly gotten past that, though you know they're going to want to spring a feature or two on us for the RC (Virtual PC Express, for a start - http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/index.php?p=2649 ). Speaking on behalf of the development community, I'm glad to be entering the finishing straight. We need a stable set of features to build our own programs on.

The Verdict

So are the latest builds really any better? Despite the problems, a I'd have to say a qualified yes. It's about time - there's precious little of it left to fix the very real bugs that remain, let alone the "features" being forced in by Microsoft Marketing. We're going to need a release candidate out soon in order to find all the niggling little compatibility issues. That requires Vista to be solid enough for beta testers to want to use it as their main OS, and from my experiences it's not quite there yet.

Microsoft's developers have a little over two months to deliver on what they've promised - a next-generation operating system that can provide a solid base for years to come. This build is a sign that they may finally be in gear: but I worry that it may be too little, too late. Will they rise to the challenge, and deliver something they can be proud of? For all our sakes, I hope so.


Comments (Page 1)
on Aug 26, 2006
Great article. With the things I have been reading, and testing Vista myself, I am still not sure I am going to buy Vista when it is released.

Thanks for taking time to keep us updated on progress.

on Aug 26, 2006
Thanks, GR. Also not sure...umm, cautious...
on Aug 26, 2006
thanks for the post..

i was wondering, though, how are applications running on Vista?...i use alot of Adobe applications (photoshop/premier etc)...what is your experience with running third party software...do they run well in vista?

on Aug 26, 2006
liquidguru: I'm afraid I have not had time to test a large number of third-party apps - as mentioned above, that's one reason why MS is going to need to get a full RC1 out soon, otherwise the people who use them will not be able to test it thoroughly. My experience with previous builds has been that most programs could be made to work, except ones that had a reliance on graphics hardware: some took exception to the new driver model.

I personally suspect that many application compatibility fixes will be delayed until at least after Vista is released, particularly for consumer-only programs, like games. There are simply too many apps out there and not enough time to fix them all. Major apps should work no matter what MS has to do to make it happen - hopefully they already knows about problems with these.
on Aug 26, 2006
thanks for the reply GreenReaper...i'm excited about vista, but feel i will have to wait awhile after it's realeased before i start using it...same with all new OS realeases, i suppose
on Aug 27, 2006
I would strongly recommend that everyone take time to evaluate any Vista-related purchases, be they software or hardware. It is a big change, and it is likely to take some time for things to settle down. Windows XP SP2 is still a fine operating system and it will do for just about everyone for now. Even I do not even plan to move my own main home system to Windows Vista (. . . immediately ).
on Aug 27, 2006

My only experience with this new build is a lovely BSOD after login every single time.  This is the first build to actually BSOD on me, so for one to appear so close to RTM is a little worrying.

In general I would have agree with GreenReaper.  I am not planning on moving to Vista when it is out.  The OS is simply too slow.

I also wish someone at Microsoft would realise that time to login should not be the time until you see your desktop, but the time until the PC is actually usable.  Making the desktop show quicker by making services load later & later may look good on paper, but just frustrates users who can see their desktop but find their PC is near unusable while it thrashes the disk.

on Aug 27, 2006
Yes, the upgrade time is very long. But the clean install completes within 30 minutes, which shows the potential of the new install process.
It uses over 500MB RAM for me too, so is there any services that I can disable to trim down the RAM usage?
I find it quite surprising to know the cursor for your MCE is gone. The cursor didn't go away in my MCE, so I think that's just another weird bug =D
There are few weird GUI bugs like wallpaper is not stretched properly on second monitor, and apparently WDDM drivers are still a little buggy and wont let me change to 1280x768 when 1360x768 is the native resolution for my screen (I dont want 1360, I want 1280!!!). In previous builds the driver let me change to 1280 and not 1360, so I can't say if this change is right or not.

They fixed alot of application compatibility issues, so I finally have the feeling that I can use it as my primary OS (for the first time).
on Aug 29, 2006
This build is public now, so it better be good.

I haven't really had any issues with Beta 2, so unless this BSOD's all the time then Ill be happy.
on Sep 01, 2006
I tested beta 2 with adobe cs2 applications and office and they all worked fine. what didn't work was dell quickset which is quite an important little application that makes all the extra buttons work on dell laptop keyboards so i decided to go back to win xp. did you try to install the dell quickset in the latets build?

I decided I will give another shot at Vista when RC1 comes out.
on Sep 01, 2006
I didn't even try to install Quickset. I assume that those kinds of system-specific tools will be non-functional. I did attempt to use the touchpad software, but it was broken as well.
on Sep 01, 2006
Im sure Brad will be glad to hear that the handles limit is gone, or at least raised quite a bit.
on Sep 03, 2006
on Sep 03, 2006
ATI has seemingly fixed the T60 suspend problem with their beta drivers for RC1 (which are not part of RC1, though to their credit, they were available 24 hours later). We'll see more about that as I test other machines. I would like a way to force new drivers for the base install as well for video, as I suspect my new issues with the Crossfire test box are also tied to video.
on Sep 05, 2006
RC1 is out and it is much better than the release in the above mentioned article. Although there are still some things that required I reinstall the drivers (sound card, media reader) for them to work, build 5600 is a major break through over the previous builds. Almost all of the drivers worked fine for me (Fujitsu Lifebook 6010) I just had to reinstall the 2 i mentioned previously. I was amazed that a box that I had issues getting drivers for running xp seemed to find all the drivers I needed for Vista and download them during the install. Very nice. Also my RC1 machine running in media center mode works perfectly with my xbox 360 for streaming media, score one for attention to detail. This was an area I was hoping would not get neglected. Anyway, overall I am very happy with the newest buils. Running one of the newest builds of office 2007 is working great as well. Now I just need to wait for XNA studio and expression interactive designer to be Vista ready so I can start using this as my game dev machine.
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