Back Up for Air

OK, folks I'm back from the Vista set up desert. You'd think it would be easier to put a new computer on line. But Vista is still on the bleeding edge and there are a ton of things that just don't quite work right.

Here are some thoughts on the new operating system. First, the colors, contrast and detail are on a whole new level. It's kind of the like the difference between TV and HDTV. Very nice. Second, the Control Panel, Desktop Search and File Manager are vastly improved. No more sitting around while XP churns through your media files to find that document you wrote about African anthropology. Now the document just pops in an insta-second. Third, the voice recognition software REALLY works. It takes a while to learn it. But you can surf the web by talking to the computer. No kidding. And lastly (and this is as much due to the awesome new processor and tons of memory on my new computer), Vista is really fast. Documents, web pages and menus pop up instantly, making the whole computer experience vastly better.

Now on the down side. Many programs are not Vista ready. Firefox, for example, cannot be run by any other user other than the "administrator". My mouse software is super buggy, which is enough to make me crazy. On Monday iTunes released its Vista compliant version, so it works fine. But most other programs are still working through problems, including my monitor drivers. Suffice it to say, Vista is still on the bleeding edge. My advice is to wait another six months or so before you upgrade.

The Aero interface is quite nice and has lots of fun little features. No doubt it is pretty, but it also does things that are useful. You can preview docs and programs from the task bar, it takes many fewer clicks to get around the screen real estate, and it is (as noted above) much faster. I'm not sure that I've discovered all its features, but of what I have seen, I would say it is a vast improvement over XP.

But for my money, the "killer app" in Vista is the voice recognition software. You can surf the web by talking to the computer. No kidding. And when dictating documents, it makes very few mistakes, unlike previous versions. Back when I was in grad school I made the transition from writing documents freehand and then retyping them into the computer (remember that?) to typing them directly into Word. It changed the way I worked and wrote. It looks to me like using speech recognition in Vista will be a similar transition. It is so much faster to dictate documents I can't imagine that it won't be common place in several years. However, like the previous change, we all will need to learn how to dictate documents so that they are written properly.

On the flip side, the speech software can also talk back to you. This works less well. I may not have it set up correctly and I haven't used it much. But my initial impression is that it slows the whole computer experience down significantly. Maybe when I learn how to use it better, it will seem like a better feature.

Anyway, those are my initial impressions. In that I only paid $150 for an OEM version of Vista Home Premium, I would say that Microsoft has done a good job of its next generation OS. However, as Apple is nearing completion of its new system, I am betting that Vista is going to be outperformed before it is even fully released. It's hard to be Microsoft, for sure.