Vista –a Good News Story (Mostly)

Welcome to this, my first installment of Business Technology. My intent with this column is to review computer technology from a business user perspective. I will try to keep it in plain English, stay away from the hype and discuss things the average business person might encounter. (I will include a glossary of terms when I do need to drift into jargon.) If you have any topics you would like discussed in future articles, please send me an email; if it has to do with technology, chances are either myself or one of my colleagues has hands-on experience with it.

Vista is Microsoft’s newest incarnation of its Windows desktop operating system, just released a few months ago, and after a couple of months of using it I have to say that the news is mostly good.

I loaded up Vista and Microsoft’s new Office 2007 at the same time because they are really made for each other. There is one feature that, by itself, is worth this software combination: something called “Instant Search”. How this works is Vista constantly indexes documents and email messages. When you need to find something fast you can simply enter a keyword and within seconds it will give you a list of everywhere that word is being used. I use the search for “all mail items” frequently, and it saves me hours of searching as compared to the old way of slogging through multiple folders, or waiting hours for the system to do it for you.

Vista also shines in the area of system updates, device detection and especially security. Whereas older versions of Windows require you to manually download device drivers and updates, Vista just seems to know what you need and does it all for you. It is certainly not at all as intrusive as some people want you to believe.  All it really prompts you for are certain acknowledgments when you are working with system settings to make sure you are who you say you are, as opposed to someone attacking your computer from cyberspace. There are also many other security-related things it does in the background.

The higher-end “Ultimate” version of Vista also has a feature that allows you to encrypt the entire hard drive, so if you lose your laptop computer for example, the information in it is not compromised. And Vista’s slick new interface is one you’ll quickly get to like. It’s the most intuitive version of Windows yet.

Alas, as with any new complex piece of software, Vista is not without its problems and I think I hit them all. First of all, it needs power: do not even think about loading Vista on a machine with less than 1.5 gigabytes of memory, 60 gigabytes of hard disk space, and a two-gigahertz processor (dual core if possible).

I also had some more serious issues to deal with.  Thankfully my colleague David Miller was trained by Microsoft and has been working with Vista since early pre-release versions. Having been part of the Vista Technology Adoption Program means David has been made privy to all support-related Vista issues, and he has been great in helping me out of my problems. The most serious problem had to do with OneNote, a program for tablet PCs that allows you to take hand-written notes (more on this next month). There is a known bug that causes file corruption when OneNote files are sent back and forth (“synchronized”) between the laptop and the office server. I lost a week of notes before I realized there was this problem. So until Microsoft comes up with a fix, do not use OneNote in conjunction with offline files; keep these files on your laptop only and back them up manually.

On the topic of synchronization, I started off by synchronizing 7 gigabytes of data, which made my laptop computer constantly work its hard drive in trying to keep everything in sync, causing it to slow down to a crawl. After I reversed this and only synchronized the few documents I really need with me all the time (about 1 gigabyte worth), it started working just fine.

The bottom line: All in all, the combination of Office 2007 and Vista is a great one. I would not advise going around upgrading old equipment, but as you are acquiring new computers for your office, I would suggest you start moving in this area. If you have existing equipment meeting the specifications I described earlier, you may also consider upgrading to gain the security and other enhancements that Vista has to offer.

Glossary of terms used in this article

Dual Core – Two main processors in one.

Gigabyte – A unit of storage to measure the capacity of memory and disk storag space.

Gigahertz – A way to measure how fast a computer’s main processor operates.

Hard drive disk space – Where information is held permanently. As opposed to memory, information held on disk is kept even if the computer is turned

Memory – Where programs “load” in order to be used. Also known as RAM (random access memory). Not to be confused with disk space.

Tablet PC – A portable computer that understands handwriting. I will tell you all about these next month!

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