Writing is a lot like video editing, in that you tend to fool yourself about how long a column, article, or wedding edit will take to complete. “I’ll do that in 20 hours,” you confidently claim to yourself, and then six weeks lat

Death, Taxes and Vista

Writing is a lot like video editing, in that you tend to fool yourself about how long a column, article, or wedding edit will take to complete. “I’ll do that in 20 hours,” you confidently claim to yourself, and then six weeks later you deliver, frustrated and exhausted. It’s also like video editing in that you usually get paid by the job, not by the hour, so inefficiencies hit you in your wallet.

With this column, though, a first glance at Microsoft Vista, I thought I was sure to earn more than “you want fries with that?” wages. My strategy was to run three rendering performance tests on my spanking new HP xw8400 Dual-Processor, Quad-Core workstation. Then I’d install Vista, run the three tests again, and report the results. Just for the record, the three programs were Adobe Premiere Pro and two batch-encoding utilities, Rhozet Carbon Coder and Sorenson Squeeze. Easy enough, right?

My sum total experience with Vista before starting this project was reading reviews in the computer and business trade press, fuming at all the smug Microsoft bashers who swear that Apple invented everything from the graphical user interface (that was Xerox, from whom Apple “copied” the idea, according to Wikipedia) to Widgets/Gadgets (Konfabulator). That, and watching Apple’s brilliant Mac vs. PC advertisements, including the latest where the PC character walks around with a security guy who keeps asking him if he can answer questions from Mac. As it turns out, that particular advertisement was especially salient.

While on the subject, I was recently watching Herbie Fully Loaded with my eldest daughter, and noticed that the handsome mechanic wooing Lindsay Lohan was none other than the actor playing Mac, Justin Long, who is now set to appear as a hacker in Die Hard 4. That same week, I discovered that in real life, PC is played by John Hodgman, a Brooklyn-based writer who now appears on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. Now you know the rest of the story. But I digress.

Back on point, there I was with a Vista Ultimate disc—there are more Vista versions than options at a Chinese buffet—ready to begin. I inserted the disc and was advised to go online and download the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. Seemed like a wise investment, though my computer is one of the most powerful on the planet, and newer than some of the produce I have in my refrigerator.

I loved the online environment—lots of beautiful, happy people, obviously basking in the glow of the Vista experience. While the program scanned my computer, Microsoft took the opportunity to describe the various versions, a helpful exercise given the price differential between Ultimate ($189.99) and Home Basic ($84.99, both prices from www.Newegg.com). Ultimately, the upgrade Advisor said it was OK to install, but noted that it didn’t find compatibility results with the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500 graphics card and Intel Ultra ATA Storage Controller. Strange, I would have expected Microsoft to have supported both devices.

Great, I thought, I’ll spend two hours updating, and then won’t be able to see anything, or retrieve any data. These fears aside, however, the upgrade experience proved unremarkable—a bit lengthy, but not too demanding in terms of interaction, so I could just let it happen while I was working on another computer.

I rebooted for the last time, then tried to run Adobe Premiere Pro, and was informed that my registration information was invalid. I would have to reinstall, which I did, and found that rendering to MPEG-2 on Vista took about 25% longer. Nice. I fired up Squeeze and found that all my codec presets were gone, then tried to reinstall and got the same result.

Rhozet Carbon Coder informed me that it encountered a problem “while loading the conversion kernel,” which persisted after a reinstall. I’ll probably get Squeeze and Carbon Coder running again, but any hopes for an efficient experience were dashed. Though this column is almost done, returning my computer to pre-installation condition is going to take awhile.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? I’m underwhelmed. Vista is a lot like the way Windows is portrayed in the Apple advertisements, sending you queries before almost any action, usually at fairly nonsensical times. I’m sure there’s a grand scheme, but why would it ask if I want to install a program after I just put a DVD in the drive and clicked Setup? My memory is starting to go, no question, but I really can remember that kind of thing without prompting.

Most changes that I encountered were simply changes, not improvements. Windows Explorer, the OS application that I use the most, got a facelift that made the text smaller, and the program much more cryptic. The rest of the eye candy has little value to me. I don’t want a new operating system to change my life, I just want it to run my programs stably and perhaps a bit faster. At first glance, that ain’t gonna happen.

Without question, if you’re a Windows user, Vista is as inevitable as death and taxes. Maybe Vista will grow on me as I work with it on the new workstations that I review, but for now, I’ll be putting it off as ardently as the other two.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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