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Computing At Chaos Manor:
Special Report

Upgrading to Vista
Alex Pournelle, Tech/Knowledge, acp@t-k.com
Copyright 2007 Alex C. Pournelle

One man's observations about Vista upgrades
(and why he's waiting), with replies from the Advisors

The Vista Upgrade Advisor says my HP Pavilion zd8110us laptop (1G RAM, ATI MOBILITY RADEON X600 with 128MB RAM, 100G HD, Pentium 4/3GHz) is ready to upgrade to Vista, and will run the euphoniously-named "Vista Aero Experience".

(You can check out your own computer with software from this link; Cnet and others also have their own tester tools.)

If I DO upgrade, it will be to Vista Ultimate, the most capable version of Vista. Gag me, but Microsoft has released five, count 'em, five different versions of Vista, plus they come in both 64- and 32-bit variants. True, they are subsuming the tablet and media center features, and "Ultimate" can apparently federate with Windows Active Directory networks, so that's perhaps less messy than it appears. For most power users, and any road warrior, I believe Ultimate is going to be the only (and most expensive) choice.

Still: Pity the poor support schmuck who hasn't made this his life's work to understand (which is most of us). The "upgrade shock" will only be surpassed by the "upgrade support shock" wave as it hits the Neds of the world. It's all different, at the least, from that which came before, so, disruptive.

I'm not doing it today, but I'm seriously thinking about upgrading, since I need to learn Vista Real Soon Now. I suspect I'll lose the Windows Media Center Edition functionality (because the external box that came with my laptop won't be supported), but I've never used it.

Of course, if I could, I'd upgrade to (say) a 17" Mac and run both Vista and OS X, but short of a real budget, or a sudden change in the Apple PR department, that ain't happening.

Interestingly, many of the printers for which I have installed drivers are listed as 'unknown' as to their compatibility with Vista. I wonder how far back the support for 'vintage' or 'legacy' printers goes in Vista? I also wonder how many client printers (and other obscure devices) will suddenly be rendered obsolete? The Windows Marketplace (http://www.windowsmarketplace.com) doesn't make such a search easy, and pretends to know nothing from H-P earlier than a LaserJet 6P. Considering that we have an LJ 2 in constant use, as do our clients, this could be a problem. Even more annoying: The Microsoft Technet site has bupkis I can immediately find for a printer compatibility list. (To be fair, this may be forthcoming.)

Note: While Vista introduces a new driver model ("LDDM", the Longhorn Device Driver Model"), it also supports legacy XP/2000 drivers. Dan Spisak says that all printer support from XP will appear in Vista, and the above is just a problem in Microsoft's presentation. Support for other, more obscure devices, may be spotty.

Why upgrade to Vista?

I suspect that, even with a 3GHz P4 I'll want to double the RAM complement, simply to ensure greater speed--I do tend to have a gazillion windows open, and I may be switching to Outlook whether I want to or no.

Why not upgrade?

I probably won't switch to Office 2007 before late 2007, because:

Of concern, the Conexant modem and TI integrated FlashMedia controllers are unknown to the HCL (Hardware Compatibility List--clever acronym, because this really is the acid test) currently. Until I can make sure those work, I really am not going to pull the trigger. I need my built-in modem and digital media readers. I'll probably make a system image first anyway, in case I need to rewind the wayback machine. Then, I'll run the upgrade on a copy of my original disk, just in case.

HP doesn't list anything about compatibility with this machine and Vista, though since it's 20 months old (and about 28 past its original sell date) that's hardly surprising. It IS surprising that this machine is listed as being OK for Aero Glass. I know, it's just "Aero Experience", but I'm going to be typing "Glass" a lot. The naming Microsoft chose is l-a-m-e, but it's better than "Aero Experience Level 1" or "2", which made it sound like you had to gain experience points by slaying the Bugblatter Beast of Traal to be worthy of the bitchen' transparency features.

On my machine, applications listed as incompatible with Vista:

Software with minor compatibility problems:

I suspect I'll wait until at least February 2007, so as not to be quite the bleeding-edge learner. I also suspect that there will be a general hue and cry in the blogosphere from people whose oxes were gored by performing such an upgrade, whether or no it was a good idea.

Randy Rose, of CalTech and AEA in Pasadena, says that CalTech is unsurprisingly testing Vista, and he mentioned the same minor incompatibilities. They've found no major showstoppers, save for Cisco's VPN client, which he knows they use but he hasn't tested under Vista. That seems to mirror the wider community's experience: Minor problems, nothing which immediately was unacceptably broken for this early in the process.

What will I tell my clients? Wait. None of them need Vista right now, and if they urgently did, I'd say to buy a machine with it pre-installed. Anyone with laptops containing sensitive data should be piloting the BitLocker technology, today, before they hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal. BUT: if they rely on any old printers, "old" being defined as "older than the millennium", they need to proceed carefully. I suspect the generic Vista printer drivers can be tortured into supporting their device, but probably not its more advanced capacities. And even current printers mayn't be supported thoroughly, particularly for multiple trays, double-sided, stapled, etc., by their mfrs immediately.

Ironically, as I was writing this note, the Vista Upgrade Advisor crashed on my computer... Irony for breakfast and lunch, as usual.

Any of you upgraded yet?


Good points.

At the corporate level here at work, the support folks are testing Vista Ultimate (finally). Current problems are lack of wireless drivers for our encrypted wireless network infrastructure, and problems with older Novell/NDS clients (we're a couple versions behind there) and probably GroupWise (not current there, either). I expect the wireless driver problem will be fixed Real Soon Now.

At the personal level (home), I may try it out on a fairly new eMachines system. That system is mostly idle now. I need to run the Upgrade Advisor on it first to see those results. If that passes, I'll try the Vista Ultimate (corp copy) on that system. An upgrade first, then a full-blown 'fresh' install.

On my laptop (IBM Thinkpad T42): probably not yet. Too much productive stuff on there, including my home wireless connection.

As for Office 2007: at corporate, we've just gotten everyone upgraded to Office 2003 Pro. The support folks are not very enthused about the probably initial extra support load that it will need. I personally think that there will be some demand for Vista and Office 2007 when they are fully released (and promoted); I see some A/B-level folks wanting both. So the support folks will be dragged (kicking and screaming, probably) into support of both. I've suggested that the support folks should be testing both in preparation for that demand. Hasn't happened yet.

Office 2007 at home? Not yet. No real need at home at this time; Office 2003 is working just fine.

...Rick Hellewell...

As with Win2K and XP, I'd expect a lot of possible hassles for early adopters who aren't buying stuff based on those vendors making the same early effort toward support. We've seen so many in the past that seem completely surprised by new OS releases as their phones start ringing non-stop with customer's questions.

What I'd suggest for the sake of the learning experience as to what might happen in upgrade installs, is to get a second hard drive you can clone from your slabtop. More expensive than burning a set of DVDs for an image but you can trade out the drives in just a few minutes if an 'interesting' event takes place on the machine you need for work. Your HP is old enough that you may be able to get a good price on a larger capacity drive, which you can probably use anyway.

You know I always prefer a clean install whenever possible but it would be interesting for the experience, especially for something we get paid to do.

Eric Pobirs

You're completely right: Customers always think it's like the past never happened, and somehow the Windows upgrade path is smooth. 95 to 98, 98 to 2K, 2K to XP--none of them have been, it's very unlikely the next one will be. Still and all, Be Prepared should be our marching song, just like the Boy Scouts.

Good point--I should get a large(r) hard drive to stick in this thing for Vista testin'. And, soonish, so I can have something profound to say. In the meantime, I think Bill R. at work is the designated stuckee for a new, Vista-equipped desktop. I'll talk to you and Dan about that and get it going after CES.

"Slabtop"--well put! It IS rather like a slab of granite, and about as heavy, innit? I think I'll use that. (The Pavilion zd8000 series is about 9 lbs, with a 17" screen; even the power supply weighs a kilo! The new H-P desktop-replacement laptops are a lot lighter.)

Mark Minasi has since replied to my essay saying he has no real problems with Vista, other than VMware, due to be upgraded Real Soon Now. He's all over Vista, unsurprisingly, since I'm sure a new spider-killer book will fall out of his writing factory within the next few months.

Tentative conclusion: As we head to CES, where Microsoft is promoting the "Wow" of Vista, the early data suggests Vista new-installs will be relatively straightforward. I've not seen any data on upgrades, but that should start changing Real Soon Now.

Alex Pournelle, January 6, 2007