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Windows Vista RC1: First impressions

Last week we got our hands on Windows Vista Release Candidate 1, which we'll start putting through its paces, but we thought we'd pass along our early impressions, in part based on a meeting with Greg Sullivan, the Microsoft group product manager for Windows marketing communications.

To begin with, Sullivan sat us down in front of Vista running on a Toshiba notebook with 1GB of RAM and an Intel 945 graphics processor. The GPU was carving out part of the main memory for its video functions. Now, based on testing in the GCN Lab, the Intel graphics chipsets usually leave something to be desired in the performance department (notebooks with ATI or nVidia processors, for instance, routinely outperform notebooks without). And performance will be a key requirement for running Vista at its highest level.

But we were pleasantly surprised, for example, by how well the Vista Aero Glass feature ran on the notebook. That's the feature with the cascading application windows and other bells and whistles. (And for those of you who've come to love that cascading window feature, which lets you flip through open windows via a 3-D, on-screen Rolodex-type interface, Microsoft has improved on it in RC1, spreading the windows out more so you can better see what you have open.)

Sullivan told us Microsoft did a lot of work on Vista performance between the last beta version and now--and it shows. But to be clear, Microsoft doesn't intend for Vista to perform better than Windows XP. According to Sullivan, Microsoft had two choices with Vista: Make it faster, or make it as fast as XP while running important behind-the-scenes features like Windows Defender that require processing power but make the overall computing experience better. Microsoft chose the latter. "We chose to be as fast and do a lot more," Sullivan told us.

That said, with new features such as SuperFetch and ReadyBoost, Sullivan said a PC running Vista could actually get faster over time (when has XP done anything but gotten slower?), but Microsoft doesn't plan to make such claims in its marketing.

That said, it could be a crapshoot whether existing PCs need an upgrade to run high-end Vista. Sullivan doesn't expect there to be any new PCs on the market that can't run Vista when it comes out, but IT shops should get familiar with the Vista Upgrade Advisor to find out what upgrades existing systems may need.

So is the product ready for prime time? Microsoft estimates there will be 5 million copies of RC1 in circulation and the company will collect feedback. So far, Sullivan told us Microsoft felt it was on track for the most recent release schedule--enterprise by the end of the year, general availability early next year. But Sullivan left enough wiggle room that we can't say for certain whether Vista will hit its current milestones.

"It feels like we're on track, but we're going to hit the quality bar regardless," Sullivan said. Which means Microsoft reserves the right to miss its shipping dates to work out any more kinks. If the RC1 process yields significant feedback (for instance, compatibility issues with hardware and software, which Sullivan said has improved a lot but is still a work in progress), then Microsoft "will need to scope it and do the work."

Stay tuned.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Sep 11, 2006 at 9:39 AM

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