Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vista, It's Everywhere You Don't Want to Be (for now)

Now, continuing on in the vein of tech items (I will post more than tech related stuff, trust me, even I get sick of it. I pulled a muscle between my shoulder and neck today, and it hurts a lot. Ouch! There, that wasn't tech.) It's been reported that Windows Vista can be had in a public release beta.

For the uninitiated among us, that means that Microsoft has released a test-version only of the new Windows operating system. As people use it and report the bugs they find (and there WILL be bugs) Microsoft will go back and fix them, try and stifle your laughter.

Microsoft has only released versions of Vista to IT professionals and developers so far, but of course we all know someone who knows someone, and there's bound to be stuff popping up on bit-torrent sites in the near future.

So, I want to offer a few caveats for those of you that might be tempted to download and install the new operating system. Getting new software before anyone else can be exciting, but there are definite drawbacks. These guidelines can apply to any beta release, but being that Vista is an all encompassing OS and is making headlines, we'll focus on it for now.

1) Don't expect a stable system. Of course this would be obvious to anyone that has used beta versions before, but again, there are those that have no clue. Beta releases of software CAN be stable, but come on, this is Microsoft we're talking about. If you're thinking of installing this on your primary business machine, think again.

2) Some if not all of your third party software may not work under the new OS. What's third party software? Well games for one, word processing programs, basically anything that didn't come as part of Windows when you installed it. This is one major reason why I have held off with installing the beta version of Vista.

3) Nobody knows much about fixing it. Being that it is a brand new OS, you're going to find little to no technical support regarding its use. This is just the nature of the beast. After it's officially released, you'll find all kinds of web-forums and help pages in case you run into trouble. For now if you decide to install, you're on your own.

4) Hardware support is questionable. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that many drivers will probably be available in the beta version of Vista, however this does not mean ALL drivers will be available. You could find yourself with a useless video card, firewire card, etc. if Vista happens to not recognize your hardware. Don't look to the manufacturer, they haven't started releasing drivers for Vista either.

5) Recovery is questionable. I haven't seen much documentation online about what happens when you try to uninstall Vista and go back to XP. Maybe it would work out ok, maybe it wouldn't. The point is, it's a gamble.

6) Don't assume you get to keep it. As we all know, Microsoft has had a habit of rabidly protecting their software from piracy, be it through serial numbers, activation, WGA, or whatever. Though I haven't downloaded the beta myself (with good reason), I would imagine that there is some kind of "time-lock" device that's part of the operating system. So, after two months you might start seeing a message of "this program is no longer in beta, please purchase a full licensed version to continue the Vista experience" or something similar.

In any case, my advice is to have a separate "beta box" that you can install and put testable programs on. The beta box would be a computer that you only use for running beta software. The fact that it's running slightly questionably stable software deems that nothing important should be done on it, ie paying your bills, keeping accounting records, typing that term paper that took you 5 weeks to complete, etc. What makes this hard are the system requirements that Vista demands you have in order to use all of the features offered. Microsoft has called these "Vista Premium PCs". Basically if you don't have a system that could at least run Battlefield 2 on medium settings, you're going to be stuck with barebones Vista.

Regardless of my warnings, I'm sure there are some adventurous souls out there who will indeed find a copy of Vista beta and install it on the only machine they use. This is stupid dangerous, but I can't stop you, so good luck. For the rest of you, just wait until it's officially released.

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