Vista is so much less

Microsoft Vista is neither revolutionary nor evil.

On Tuesday, January 30th, Microsoft Windows Vista became available to the general public, after being available in final release form to business customers, as well as developers, since last November. My experience, through the steep part of the learning curve, and some frustration, has led me to the general conclusion that Vista is neither as good nor as bad as people say.

On the one hand, Microsoft, not surprisingly, tries to promote Vista as if it were the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not. This operating system is merely the next real effort since Windows XP. The current marketing points are: “Easier. Safer. More entertaining. Better connected.” Let us explore those for a moment.

Easier? As far as I can tell, this is mostly change for the sake of change. Some menus and options are hidden in the interface, which does not help at all. Besides, this is an operating system that takes a separate piece of software to figure out (maybe) whether or not a computer can run it and a comparison page just to be able to choose from the myriad editions available.

Safer? Well, a user can certainly do less on a Vista system without having to give administration permission for something to occur. In theoretical terms, such a computer is safer, but in practical terms, it makes precious little difference because many users do not understand the prompts, and those who do will tend to ignore them because they appear so frequently. Perhaps this is just a plan to transfer liability.

More entertaining? The games that ship with Windows were rewritten, so they are certainly better, though not nearly as good as our games. On the other hand, the last few generations of Media Player having been getting progressively worse, and this version is no exception. Net loss.

Better connected? To me, this is just a euphemism for “does not work very well, or at all, without an internet connection”, as well as a reminder that Microsoft can determine (and has done in the past) that a paying customer is not licensed and immediately deny access to their system.

My verdict is that there is no strong reason to upgrade, except for developers who will have to support users who do, and because of strongarm tactics, there will likely be many of them. For a normal computer user, though, spending $250 for “its 3-D user interface [sic] and speedy desktop search function” (attributed to Microsoft in an Associated Press article) would be a waste of money.

On the other hand, there are many naysayers who decry Vista as a major step backwards for gaming. Chief among these is Alex St. John (of WildTangent), who is also, from a former life, a Father of DirectX, so he certainly has credibility. He wrote an opinion piece on the topic, Vista Casts a Pall On PC Gaming, which really is a must read for game developers looking to support Windows Vista.

As sympathetic as I am to Alex’s position with regard to games on Windows Vista, and as truly appreciative of his stand for us independent game developers, I do not really see Vista as being either malevolent or massively detrimental to PC games. As with any new platform, there are decisions to be made. Either Game Explorer will be ignored as a failure, or it will succeed with few users actually invoking the Parental Controls. Games should have been made to work under LUA when Windows XP was released, and UAC, though cumbersome (and questionably effective), is not enough to get most users to turn it off.

My take on Windows Vista is that, despite many little annoyances, it is nothing much to get excited about, one way or the other. Our games already worked (unchanged) under LUA, and we made the decision, for now, to eschew the Game Explorer (hence, Parental Controls) completely. Ultimately, these games run the same as on Windows XP, but with nicer icons.

Now, for something less ordinary:

I just returned from seeing The Pink Floyd Experience at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts. This was my second time seeing a Pink Floyd tribute band, the first being The Surrogate Band, which started locally but has (rightfully) gained a larger following. There is little to choose between the two, both musically excellent, the former having a bigger venue and stage production (with the requisite higher ticket price) and the latter being in more intimate settings with awesome female backing vocals for The Great Gig in the Sky and, indeed, the whole of Dark Side of the Moon. Both shows are highly recommended.

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