Mo' Betta Vista

The Vista search function is easily worth the price of admission. I was worried there for a while because for years I've been using an indexing system I developed to keep track of my hundreds of backup and archive DVDs. A very simple and elegant solution of assigning each DVD a number, and using a simple directory dump to a text file for each one. Then, any time I needed to find an archived file, I simply do a search of my index folder set to search within the text files' contents. The results would show the archive numbers my search term appeared in, and I could simply open those text files (if more than one appeared) to check their contents to see which one had the file I wanted.

This worked in Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. So I was worried that the new searching methods might break this system. Au contraire! It's even faster and more efficient now! Microsoft has clearly recognised the importance of searching in modern day computing, as had Google with their Desktop Search and other companies with similar products, and having it built into the OS is quite a boon. The old way, I had my Indexes folder in my Favourites, so I would go Start>Favourites>Indexes, then hit Ctrl-F to search that folder. Results would come up in a few seconds. Now, I can search directly from the bloody Start menu, and results come up instantly. A tap of the Windows key is all it takes.

As if the speed wasn't enough, let's say I'm not sure whether a given file has been archived already, or is still on the hard drive somewhere. Old method, I'd try searching the indexes first, and if I didn't find it there I'd search the whole hard drive, as slow as that would be. New method, I do that same search from the start menu that I just mentioned, and it shows both indexes containing my search words, and any matching files on the hard drive. Instantly. And we're talking about a nearly-full 290GB drive.

And the ways you can sort and organise your search results or just folder views with virtual folders/saved searches, view filtering, and tagging makes this a dream come true for keeping my massive quantities of files manageable.


Windows Vista review

Despite me being a neophile, I'm generally cautious about adopting new tech. I like to wait a while and see the reviews and give it a little time for any flaws to be shown, etc. With some software, I've been known to stick with an old version for many years if I find the new features and abilities don't warrant the increased memory requirements or interface bloat (Photoshop), or if I find no useful new tools for my purposes at all (Flash).

Similarly, I was very slow to embrace Windows XP, since Windows 2000 had been serving my purposes very well for a long time, and it was very stable and secure. It still is, in fact. One of my machines still runs it, and I've been using that one as a secure file server. In fact I didn't so much "upgrade" to WinXP as I just failed to uninstall it on the new machine I bought several years ago on which it came. I did plan to change the OS to Win2K, just never got around to it because WinXP did the job well enough, and eventually I got used to it and came to appreciate some of its newer features.

With Windows Vista, it happened the same way, just much sooner. My former main computer (an HP Pavilion a510n with extra RAM, extra hard drives, and a Radion 9800 All-In-Wonder) had failed on me a few times -- each time I was able to recover it, of course, but this time I decided it was high time to get a new computer that could run the newer games nicely, run my existing software faster, and run some of the newer software that required the SSE2 instruction set, which my old one didn't have.

I went to Fry's and picked one that met my budget and seemed to have most of what I needed. They were all Vista-equipped, of course. I had mentioned a month or two previously on the Anime Studio forum that I was looking into getting a Vista machine, even after seeing all sorts of posts warning about draconian DRM, incompatibilities, irritating features, clandestine file deletions, and a total lack of support for games. It sounded ridiculous, straining credibility, like an urban legend, or propaganda. And at least one review I'd read from a much more credible source completely contradicted the scaremongering. So I bought it anyway, brazenly ignoring the warnings.

The computer (an HP Pavilion a6010n running Vista Home Premium) came with a measly 1GB of RAM, which was less than I was using with WinXP, so I took advantage of a special Fry's was running and preemptively bought an extra 4GB. I knew I'd also have to get a new video card, since the onboard graphics would be insufficient for my purposes, but I decided to wait until I'd had a chance to try it out.

So I set it up, and spent the next few days getting acquainted with the new OS, adjusting settings to my liking, and deleting all the unnecessary bundled crap new computers always come with, like trial versions of MS Office (OpenOffice does the job well enough, and it's free), demos of games, dialup provider signups, etc. Also proceeded to install all of my most used software and utilities, especially with an eye for any possible problems or incompatibilities. Everything ran fine. The graphics were slow, as expected, so I went shopping shortly thereafter for a graphics card that's more than I need at present, which will hopefully last a good while. I went with a DirectX 10 Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS.

Next step was to get my data from my old computer onto the new one. So I stuck my old hard drive in as a slave. I knew I'd quickly regret having to stick with IDE for the last hard drive I bought, since the old machine didn't support SATA, and sure enough, this motherboard only had 1 IDE controller port, which meant that I could only add 1 of my old drives, while leaving in the also-IDE DVD burner. Not too important, since this computer comes with a generous 290GB drive (actually somewhere around 300, but there's the usual recovery partition taking up about 8GB. I'll probably end up repartitioning it eventually to reclaim that space).

While I had my new computer's guts torn out, probably perplexing Richard when he happened by to see me operating on the thing, I also swapped the power supply for the higher wattage one in my old computer (also an after-market addition) to better accomodate the additional drive and the power-hungry video card.

It took a number of hours to copy all the data from the old drive to the new into a temporary folder to let me sort it all out as I have time. I began by copying over all my e-mail and Firefox settings and bookmarks and the preferences and game saves from any other software I needed. The rest I'll work on gradually.

The next day I removed that drive and installed my larger storage drive which I intend to leave in there. I'll eventually patch up my old computer, get it running again, and use it as my file server, retiring the older computer currently occupying that space.

So far, everything has migrated fine. All my data is intact, and every program and game I've tried has run fine. Some of it I didn't even need to reinstall, just copy the program folder from the old computer into its new permanent place.

The computer connected to the network automatically of course; internet was no trouble. But I wasn't able to see my file server. It took several more hours of research and experiment to determine it was the fault of the Norton Internet Security that came with the computer, blocking all file sharing access, both incoming and outgoing. I set up some trusted identities and computers, and it was all fine.

There are a few things I still need to get used to and try out, like the new method of searching it uses. My old system of CD and DVD indexing still works with this version, but I might be able to use it to search faster and more efficiently, because the new search supports booleans. There are several web pages devoted to the new search system that I still need to digest.

Some things in the interface are slowing me down, though, like the "smooth scrolling" in the file windows that doesn't turn off even though I ticked the box that says it turns it off. That, and the "classic folders" that doesn't seem to work either. I'm waiting for an official TweakUI for Vista that'll allow me to do that and the other things I liked to do in XP and previous versions.

And Favourites isn't in the drive windows anymore. In previous versions, it existed in both IE and Windows Explorer, because they were essentially the same thing. Since I use Firefox, not IE, I was using my Favourites folder for links to my most frequently used folders. Just be in such a folder, pick "add folder to favourites" in the Favourites menu, and that folder would be instantly accessible from any drive window I happened to be in, or right from the Start menu. In Vista, it seems they've decided it should only be in IE. Not even keyboard shortcuts will conjure it in a drive window. It still exists in the Start menu if you enable that option, but it behaves differently than it did before.

Also, the links in the right-hand panel of the Start menu (or is it called a Windows Logo menu now?) no longer have icons beside them -- they're just plain text now. Those icons were useful to more quickly locate the option I wanted. And I can't find any way to restore them. The icons exist, I know this because if you hover over the text links, the icon slowly fades in to replace the user avatar at the top of the menu. Very useful, Microsoft. Not.

These interface annoyances I predict will either be resolved through tweaking software over time, or I'll adapt to the quirks, or find new ways of accomplishing my tasks efficiently in the new OS. All in all, my verdict is that all the scaremongering and rumours about Vista that I've heard have been either entirely baseless, or easily resolved.


Contest entry

A little cross-blogging here, since I also posted this on the main WR site, but hey. For fun and practise, I did this very short animation for a small contest. I call it "How Not to Pass Through Airport Security: Righteous Indignation", in keeping with my more recent propensity for long titles. The audio is from the movie Penn & Teller Get Killed. (I recommend clicking that little "full screen" button for it.)