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Scott's Column
Windows Vista vs. Windows XP, Conference in Las Vegas

April 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

Introductory paragraph goes here.

Current Topics:

  • Gaming - Wii  
  • Windows Vista vs. Windows XP  
  • Should You Upgrade To Windows Vista?  
  • The Conference  

Gaming

No Gaming this month. I did manage to test some games on my laptop with Windows Vista. Performance was bad, and led to reinstalling Windows XP, which we will get to in a moment. Hopefully I will get back to gaming next month. I miss it.

Oh, wait... I bought a Nintendo Wii. I was at Target while my wife wanted to look at the iPods. I saw some Wiis in the cabinet and decided to buy one. I like it a lot. It is great for the casual gamer. I really like the bowling game. It seems very realistic. Well, it is realistic how the ball and pins react. What is not realistic is how easy it is to curve the ball. In fact, it is more difficult to through it straight. Regardless I love the game. My high game on the Wii Bowling is 227, which is better than my real life best score of 196. However, I can play five or six games in a row on the Wii that would take quite a while on a real lane, and be very tiring. Just waiting for your ball to come back takes up so much time in real bowling.

The tennis is a lot of fun as well. I don't like that you can't play singles. You have to play doubles. You can choose to control one or both players on your team. When you control both players it is a lot of fun, but I would still prefer being able to play singles games.

I was disappointed in the baseball. I would put the Wii Remote in my left hand when batting (I am right handed). This was more like really swinging a bat. I had great form and follow through. But my son was beating me by "swatting" the remote like he was trying to hit something on a table. When I used the remote like that it was much easier to play baseball. Definitely not realistic. Plus you only throw the pitches or swing the bat. Fielding is all automatic. Not too much fun.

Boxing is hokey, and I have not even tried the golf yet.

The tennis and bowling games are worth the cost of the entire Nintendo Wii. I do not regret the purchase, and that's without any other games. I want a good racing game, and will probably get Need For Speed Carbon some day... when it comes down to under $30.

Buy the way... I have not see a Wii at Target in the month or more that I came across mine. They are still hard to find. I guess I was lucky, though I wasn't trying. My brother-in-law went on eBay to buy one for $300 locally. It was his kid's birthday present so he couldn't wait any longer. And that was after a week and a half calling a bunch of stores every day. Yikes!

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Windows Vista vs. Windows XP

In the beginning of March I made the leap and loaded Windows Vista on my laptop. I wanted the upgrade to Vista to be complete in time for my Las Vegas Conference on March 14th. One of the things I was going to do was use the Media Center part of Vista to watch movies on the plane and in the airports.

Because I wanted to test it, I did an "in-place" upgrade to Vista. What is an in-place upgrade. Well, it is simply upgrading your current Windows XP with Windows Vista. You actually install Vista on top of XP. This means that you will be able to run your existing applications without reinstalling them. Well, that's the theory. The upgrade complained about some software and had me remove it. After removing the software and starting the install over again it gave me a much longer list of possible problems. Since it did not require that I uninstall them I left them and forged ahead.

The install took all night. Well, it may have. After about two hours (and over an hour with the decompressing of file sitting at 23%) I went to bed. It was waiting for input in the morning.

Sure enough Vista ran pretty well. However, all was not perfect. One item that Vista warned me about caused problems, and would not uninstall. Vista should have put that item on its first list of things that must be removed. Before doing the upgrade I downloaded as much software from Toshiba as I could. It was only after I had trouble with a couple of items that I read Toshiba's instructions and they told me to remove the program that gave me fits.

Oh well, it was just an experiment. Overall I didn't think Vista was performing up to it potential. I installed DreamScene and StarDock's DeskScape for animated wallpaper. It seemed to drag my system down. I could not figure it out. It would use only 2% resources some times and as much as 47% other times.

After I did enough testing (including getting Outlook 2000 to work) it was time to wipe the hard drive and install Vista from scratch. This went much smoother that the upgrade This install took a little more than an hour and a half to reformat the hard drive (it is a 200 GB drive) and then the install took about 30 minutes. The laptop did run noticeably smoother with a clean install. However, game performance was still spotty or bad. The animated wallpaper was also still slowing the system more than it should.

Movie playback was mostly good, with the exception of the volume. I could not hear dialog in a movie on the airplane. I tried everything. My co-worker was watching with me and we had to switch to hit laptop to hear anything. His laptop gave up after 5 minutes due to a bad battery. It wasn't worth all the trouble. We ended up turning on sub-titles so we could follow the plot.

I also had trouble getting Halo and FarCry working. I decided to look on nVidia's web site for its latest Vista drivers, but found that they don't list anything for my "Go 7 Series" video card. I wonder what they gave Toshiba to put on Toshiba's web site?

Overall I was disappointed with the graphic and gaming performance. Add to this the lack of decent volume for movies and I was itching to return to Windows XP. If for no other reason that to test a movie and how loud it would be under Windows XP.

I did just that. I wiped the drive and installed XP Pro. Unfortunately, XP Pro does not come with a codec to play movies. (A codec is a piece of software that codes or decodes the algorithm in compressed movies. All DVDs are compressed with MPEG2, and require a codec to decode it.) Toshiba does not put the codecs it supplies on its web site. I assume they pay for it and don't want to make it available for everyone... including non-Toshiba users. I went through a couple of things trying to get movies to play. In the end I had a codec that worked, but not in Media Player.

I was frustrated with the movie thing and the install/uninstall crap trying to get movies to play in a barely acceptable fashion that I decided to try Windows XP Media Center Edition. Surely MCE would have codecs built in. Well, I had to burn MCE to disc (it goes on two discs). I installed it and I plugged my movie into the drive and MCE choked. It was able to determine the name of the movie (which was better than XP prior to the codec issue). I guess Microsoft leaves the issue of the codec to the manufacturer to install. After all, Media Center Edition is not available for retail consumption.

I found a much more pleasant codec when trying to get MCE to play movies. I decided to go back to Windows XP Professional one more time. This time loaded with the knowledge of which codec worked the best, in Media Center and Media Player. Also, by now I was an expert at picking the right WiFi driver for my laptop (I was able to download 4 WiFi drivers that were possible for my laptop).

At that's where this story ends. I wiped the hard drive one last time. This time I am going to load only what I really need. I am not going to install a ton of old games (though I will still use Halo as a test bed for performance), and a battery of applications that get little use. I will install applications on an as needed basis. This means I will not install Dreamweaver unless I decide to maintain my web site with it. I will also skip Photoshop and stick with tried and true Paint Shop Pro 8.

Hey, I did find another place to adjust volume when running MCE. Sure enough it was there in XP as well. You are not going to believe this but there are 4 places you can adjust the volume you hear in Windows XP:

  1. The physical volume knob on the laptop - This one makes the most sense.
  2. Volume Control Applet - you get to this one simply by double-clicking the speaker in the taskbar. It is also called the Master Volume in some places.
  3. Volume slider in Media Player - or whatever application you use, which is reasonable.
  4. Speaker Volume Applet - This is buried in the Control Panel. I clicked on Start, Control Panel, Sounds Speech and Audio Devices, Sounds and Audio Devices. This brought up the Sounds and Audio Devices Properties dialog box. On the Volume tab is a button for Speaker Volume. I clicked that and found a place where you can adjust the speaker volume with a separate slider for the left and right speakers.

That's crazy to have four places to adjust volume. I have the three in software all turned up to the max, and I use the knob on the front of the laptop to control the volume just fine.

I suspect that there is such a place in Windows Vista that is similar. Maybe it is this that I needed to find to hear a movie on a plane. I did test it and found that the volume seemed higher, but I could not do side by side comparisons, and I don't have anything that can measure sound levels.

On the bright side of Vista. Even though I have converted back to Windows XP from Windows Vista I still like Vista. I have it running on my desktop and love the animated wallpaper in that environment. My desktop seems to be working with Vista graphic better than my laptop, even though my laptop has superior hardware.

I look forward to when nVidia gets good drivers out for Vista and the Go 7 Series of video cards. I will try Vista again as soon as they do.

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Should You Upgrade To Windows Vista?

If you have the hardware then it is a nice upgrade. And I mean a really good graphics card with proper drivers to run Vista properly. However, there is little to nothing in Vista that you need. The parental control feature is nice for my desktop, since it is a shared computer. I also like the animated wallpaper, but that is exclusive to Vista Ultimate. It is not good enough to justify the cost of Ultimate over Home Premium.

I really like the User Access Control (UAC). Everyone else seems to hate it. Why? I want to know if something I click on is going to try and install something that I don't want. I think the UAC is one step too short. If you are logged on and you are an administrator UAC will run programs at regular privileges. If it needs to elevate your privilege it will ask you. But it does not ask you for your password. I think it should. What if you went away from your machine (or just let your kids use it with your ID). Something could try and run and the person sitting there is going to blindly click continue. This could not happen if you were asked to re-enter your password.

Other than that I don't see any compelling reason to upgrade to Windows Vista. I can tell you this much... do not get Windows Vista Home Basic. Without the Aero Glass look of Vista Home Premium you are taking a step backward. Vista Basic is a good deal uglier that Windows XP. If all you care about is the eye candy there are things you can do to make your computer look like it's running Vista.

So, should you get Vista. No!

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The Conference

I attended a conference in Las Vegas in the middle of March. I am not going to pain myself with retelling the story of my loses and the conference itself. You can read that here. I will tell you a little about the things I saw.

I walked to a few different casinos... though you couldn't tell some of them apart. I stayed at the Monte Carlo. It was nice, but not spectacular. It needs an upgrade. I enjoyed my room at the OMNI in Dallas a lot more. I did catch three fountain shows at the Bellagio. We took a cab to the Wynn. My father-in-law told me their buffet was excellent and they have a Ferrari dealership inside. I was not in the mood to spend $10 to go inside the dealership so I just looked through the window. The buffet was $34, and more than my coworkers and I wanted to spend.

I walked it the Venetian. That was really nice. MGM Grand didn't impress me, even with the real lion. We walked "through" Paris and came out of Aladdin. It was kind of neat looking.

Overall I didn't get to see enough. Time was limited. I would like to go back with my wife and a larger stake to play with at the poker tables. If I was there purely for leisure I wouldn't mind getting into a poker tournament. But I didn't have time during my two days to do that.

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Conclusion

That's enough for this month. I have issues that came up just before posting this that are going to mean lots of work next month. Also I want to look into something to increase eye candy on Windows XP... just for fun.

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