Vista: First Impressions

There's only so much novelty in rearranging the z-order of desktop windows (the shadows are extremely amateurish, by the way, but functional, with the emphasis on "fun") and activating Flip 3D (which is actually quite neat and useful). Once that wears off, you start to see things as they really are..

First annoyance: Explorer list views don't allow you to click on empty space! Why? Because there is no more empty space! The selection extends outward towards some imaginary boundary, and hovering anywhere is selecting stuff, even stuff not under your mouse! This will take some getting used to (or else I could install an Aero-less theme - No Way!). Meanwhile, bringing any Explorer window to the front by clicking it, inevitably ends up with you activating whatever was clicked, i.e. "suspected-virus.exe". Oops! And right-click > properties > forget it. My pixel-accurate mousing skills will be put to the test as I shoot for window borders and Title Bars. Oh dear.

Only in folders with almost no content, or in the very last column of larger folders, do you have anything like the expected, intuitive, behaviour of clicking in an "empty" space. Sure, I could enable double-click-to-activate in Explorer so that hovering did nothing, but that's just for lamers and Old Age Pensioners who don't know any better. Single-click FTW!

And trying to make multiple selections using the Ctrl and SHIFT keys is infuriatingly difficult, because there is nowhere for you to rest the mouse cursor; you can't shift off anything. Everywhere is something. After only a few minutes, I'm already at the end of my tether. I'm thinking there must be some kind of hack for this, but I haven't found it yet. Answers on a postcard to the usual place. PLEASE!

Aside from activating individual windows to bring them to the front; clicking an empty space is how you deselect all items to see the size of all the items, in the status bar; in other words; how big is this folder I'm looking at? NO MORE! If you want to see this information, you now need to first select all the items from the folder. Oh fux! With a sigh, I grudgingly re-enable the preview pane, because they've probably moved this essential information to their new gizmo, right? Wrong! This information is nowhere! Oh bugger.

Fortunately, I have a whole wodge of tools in my Context menus, and can do all sorts to a folder, Treesize, directory graphing, you name it. I'll just activate the folder's menu and.. and.. and.. WHAT? Explorer Windows no longer have their own menu!!! You know, the one you get when you right-click the icon in the top-left, to work on the current folder. If you have a folder open in Explorer, you might click this to create checksums, or add the folder to your playlist, or zip, or browse with your image viewer, or whatever. B-B-BUT, THE MENU IS GONE!!!

that's right, you can no longer do things to the folder that you are looking at; you need to go UP a folder, and then do things to it from there. This is something that will doubtless have me swearing loudly at least a hundred times a day. it's nothing to do with aesthetics, either; the area may be icon-less, but it's still "hot"; you can click it for what used to be the left-click action menu; but the context menu, the important one, is gone. They simply removed it, something that was not only intuitive and logical, but something we've been happily using since Windows 95. Left and right-click now do the exact same thing! I don't understand - how can that sort of thing slip past thousands of beta testers. Maybe I have a defective copy of Vista, because I'm pretty sure upgraded versions of software have MORE functionality, not less. Now I have a list of lost features. Not good.

Fortunately, there is plenty good stuff to help balance out some of these ridiculous changes. The Explorer file sorting routines are excellent (apart from the infuriating list auto-sort that refuses to NOT sort when I drop things in a folder - I have F5, you know!!!); the resizing algorithms, the way icons space and move as you resize windows, is also much more realistic and pleasing, though the windows themselves are enormous, and take up twice the real-estate of my old XP windows. I can live with that, because There's a lot of functionality in them, and also they look good - more than once I've glanced sideways at my screen and got the distinct impression that I was back at my Mac. Very weird, but not entirely unwelcome.

The toolbar handles now have a suspension system, which is nice (though only on the taskbar, not toolbars on other edges of your desktop, strangely). If you drag them around, the follow like they were on wee springs, which gives you a very real tactile sensation when you work with them. Then you realize that it's no longer possible to create new toolbars by simply dragging folders into the handles or title spaces of existing toolbars, and your heart sinks.

It looks like I am going to have to create my 100+ toolbars by doing right-click ... New Toolbar ... Explore .. etc.. 100+ times. Oh Man! The phrase "You fucking morons" comes to mind, but I'm far too refined to stoop to such language, and instead simply kill Explorer (Ctrl-SHIFT-Esc for the Task Manager, as in XP, or Ctrl+Shift+Right-Click on start menu > "Exit Explorer" - new in Vista), and import my XP toolbars backup registry file..


.. restart immediately, and Boom! 100+ toolbars drop into place! Lovely! But still, whoever removed the drag & drop functionality needs a hard slap. If you are creating a super toolbar from scratch, please stop for regular breaks to prevent RSI! Another item for the "GONE!" list.

At least Windows Update did a nice job, and not only put all the updates in without messing up the system (it's always a 50/50 gamble with Windows Update), but installed drivers for my sound card (Audigy 2 ZS Pro). Restart Required. Sadly, this is something you still have to do a lot with Windows, even with audio drivers.

On my next boot into Vista I am greeted with a new startup sound, which is shit, and I immediately disable. This leads me nicely to what is probably the worst feature of Vista - the new sound mixer. Yes! You can set application volume levels relative to the master level, whoopee-doo! it's not exactly rocket science to work out a percentage value, you know. Please stop raving about sliders that slide by themselves! it's not impressive! Having a mixer half as good as the one in Windows 95; now that would be impressive, at least compared to what we got.

One mixed-up mixer..

What we now have, is an ill-conceived abomination. First, they completely rewrite the sound API so that any old mixers or whatever are now effectively broken. I can forget my HotKeys for instantly setting custom volume levels, for a start; Quickmix is now like, "Huh?", as is every other custom mixer in my toolkit. You Redmond Bastards!

I could live with this. Change is often good, and the Windows sound API badly needed some of that. I could wait for software authors to catch up (hell, this is just me installing Vista now, right!) if it was worth it. But from the looks of things, it is not. The new "mixer", and I use the term in its loosest possibly sense, is an RSI-inducing nightmare. Forget being able to access all your inputs and outputs in a nice easy list of sliders, or even to access them at all! Only two of the umpteen inputs on my card are even available. And to get to an actual slider, you have to wade through multiple dialogs, and tabs, and click buttons, and you name it! The actual volume level of an input (or output) is now a super-hidden advanced setting! FFS! Guys!

I use my computer to record a lot of music, so perhaps I'm more sensitive to these sorts of changes, but for sure, even switching between a simple "record" and "play" configuration is now a major computing task. What used to take 34 milliseconds, give or take, now takes MINUTES. I'm not kidding. For this reason alone, it looks like the future of my XP disk is well secure. Bummer.

I can't get my head around this change. I don't understand why the old mixer is simply gone. I can see the need for the extra bells and whistles (and I'm all for setting good icons on the various channels, sure!), but that's no reason to remove the old functionality, especially functionality that worked so well, and it did. I had HotKeys plugged into macros for most of my volume changes, but when I needed to get in and do things manually, the windows mixer was the tool of choice, and I've played with many. Why would they simply trash it?

When Microsoft introduced the new user-friendly Control Panel in XP, there was an option to "switch to classic view". "Option" being the operative word. This is what is sorely lacking from the Vista sound control. I'll bet the new one is frustrating tens of thousands of people on a daily basis. And we paid for this inconvenience, too! Good work, Bill!


it's a pity. I've been looking forward to getting Vista. I was hoping to use this upgrade process as an opportunity to trim down my Program Files*; remove all the junk I don't use, and keep only a choice selection of favourite tools. I was hoping to keep XP around only for beta testing and such. But clearly this isn't going to happen any time soon. At least the latter. Back to Explorer..

The breadcrumb trail in Explorer windows is a beautiful idea, until you realize that a) none of the entries have menus, either, so you can't "do stuff" to them, b) the breadcrumb trail can't be re-activated (after grabbing a path) unless you click out of the window, or click in an empty space in the window, which there often isn't (see above), and c) the path displayed there is often a complete fabrication, and believing it, or copying it, is quite often a mistake.

it's a nice idea, not Microsoft's, though I'll be watching their implementation closely. I also wonder why the pull-down menu truncates so I have to scroll through it, even though it's only using a third of my desktop height. Maybe they are still using 800x600 screens at Microsoft. I also wonder why I can't resize it manually. Oh, and d) you can't drag stuff into the breadcrumbs. One thoroughly wasted opportunity!

There's loads more stoopid stuff, for example; File Copy dialogs no longer tell you what file is actually being copied. Very handy! But the dialog now has an "Advanced" pop-out control to click (the "Vista Way" seems to be to hide common functionality behind deep layers of uncommon controls). The information we need will be there, right? Wrong. it's nowhere; another example of removed functionality. And XP was a fraction of the size, too. Weird, huh?

I mess around for a while, customizing. My context menu registry backups from XP slide right into place (after some editing, and a back-up of the entire HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT section, of course). And in no time, I at least have a working environment to mess around in. My next mission is to get device manager ship-shape, which means getting this InfraRed Dongle to work..

Kingsun SF-620 InfraRed on Vista..

Initially, this driver, though non-Vista and uncertified, installed just fine, and everything looked OK, until I went to actually use it. Dropping my Nokia 8310 (a classic cell phone; and the first ever to have GPRS) in its line of fire, I waited for the familiar "Device in range" sound. Nothing. I remembered that in XP, the InfraRed dongle was shaky above 38400 Kb/s and so headed to the Device Manager to limit its speed to that. The instant I OK the change, the machine Bluescreens. Darn.

After a reboot and the obligatory disk checks, I try again. This time, I guess I'll need to disable the driver temporarily to make the change, and so I click disable, and then OK. The machine Bluescreens. Fux! So this is why they warn against using non-Vista certified drivers! The chances of "Kingsun" releasing a Vista driver for this thing are about as close to zero as it gets. I'll need to figure something out. Either that, or make use of the InfraRed that's built-in to all motherboards, if only some fecker would supply the kits to enable it! (maybe £1 worth of electronics, which I probably have kicking around the workshop, anyway - old remote controls and stuff - a rainy day project)

After a restart and the obligatory disk checks, I mess around for a quarter hour, playing with the Kingsun install .inf; firstly attempting to install the driver with 38400 Kb/s set as its maximum speed (Vista was having none of that!) and then hacking a proper Vista driver install for a later Kingsun Infrared USB adaptor; even to the point of successful install, but again, failure was inevitable.

As a last resort, I go into the registry..


and hack the default and maximum values there. Reboot, activate Nokia, and BING! InfraRed is a go, and I sync my phone without further issue.

The other non-working device, by the way, is my "Creative Game Port", which as I suspected, is something I never use, anyway. Regardless, I visit Creative, looking for a solution. As it turns out, they have an updated driver disk for my sound card, and one install later, I still don't have a Game Port, but DO have all my audio inputs and outputs working, so that's a plus. Of course, it takes half an hour to adjust any of them, but still, that's not Creative's fault.

I'm not going to get into the subject of "Creative's fault"; There's quite enough bad data worming around the net about their Vista driver scandal, and anyways; thanks to customer pressure, and the sterling work of Daniel K forcing their hand, Creative are making amends. Just like people, companies learn by their mistakes. I will say this, though; if Creative don't release a Vista driver for my Remote Control handset, this Audigy will be the last Creative product I ever own.

For some unknown reason, I decide that the Sidebar might not be such a bad idea. I like the idea of live weather updates; so much easier than looking out of the window. Actually, it was when I discovered that you can drag items clean off the ugly sidebar and just leave them floating around your desktop, which is pretty neat. But when I start it up, for some reason, most of the images in my Gadgets are gone, and have been replaced by little red x's, just like the ones Internet Explorer user's see when an image is missing from a web page. But instead of wee suns and raindrops and stuff, I have Red X's, and I'm pretty sure it's not Red Xing outside (I check anyway, nope, no red x symbols falling from the sky).

After some nosing around, I discover that it's my old context menu imports that have done it. Bottom line: if the image type has a "content type" registry key, it will kill the Sidebar images (quite possibly the help system and other things too)..

"content type"="image/x-xbitmap"

I delete the offending keys (for jpg and gif, too), and the images re-appear. We live and learn, eh.

Exploring the Start Menu..

Although black, the new Start Menu is quite neat, and unlike XP, I don't immediately feel the need to enable the "classic" view. It has many interesting features, and equally interesting items inside it. It also has flaws. The first of these is its size. The inability to open proper sub-menus means that to avoid spending all day scrolling for stuff (the start menu is dead, anyway, long live toolbars!), you will need every pixel of space inside the main menu (mine is full, and I haven't installed any programs, yet!). Basically, you need to enable EVERY item in the start menu, just to get a decent length to work in.

In Vista, this isn't such a bad plan; There's options to put most of your "Personal" folders right there on the Start menu, and cascading, too. So after redirecting "My Documents" et-al to my actual, real work folders (on another drive) I have access to my audio and video work folders, words, etc., directly from the Start menu, and with their original names, too; e.g. "Imaging". Cool. At least all these extra items don't have to simply be useless fillers. Maybe There's life in the Start menu, yet.

Now it's time for some actual programs. But before I get stuck into that, I definitely need a(nother) break..

:o) The Writing Entity @

* GUYS! for Windows 7, please create ONE single folder inside Program Files, called "Microsoft", and put ALL your stuff in there! That goes especially for your development tools! What a feckin mess! Please note: this is MY computer!

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