Windows Vista RC2: Near-final OS more refined, but it's not perfect

Microsoft continues to tweak its upcoming operating system

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Stuff that just works

No previous 32-bit desktop version of Windows has shown the stability offered by Vista. I'm not basing that statement on comparative testing, which is impossible at this point. Months of real-world use and tracking reliable uptime will first be required. But the Vista code base, which took life from Windows Server 2003, is absolutely solid when properly installed. XP offered a significant stability improvement over the 9x-derived versions of Windows. Since Vista Beta 2, I've noticed an additional improvement over XP.

Boot times and the speed with which dialogs, menus, program windows and folders open under Vista are also better than XP -- as long as you have modern hardware with Vista-class video.

In all previous versions of Windows Vista, I had at least some sort of problem with the Media Center features. In RC2, finally, everything just works the way it's supposed to. There's no need to update the video driver to a beta Vista driver from ATI Technologies Inc. In fact, there were no glitches at all. I prefer the latest Media Center changes to what came with the XP iteration, although overall, the differences seem pretty minor.

In the three RC1-era builds I examined, a problem cropped up with Vista's new Sleep mode that caused my Dell Inspiron E1505 dual-core laptop to crash Vista. It would go to sleep and just never wake up, requiring a hard power down. Readers had also reported this problem relating to various laptop hardware and with earlier builds of Vista. I'm happy to report that the problem is cleared up in RC2.

Imperfect user experience

The User Account Control (UAC) security feature, which seeks your confirmation before it will allow various programs to run or dialog boxes to open, still rankles. Here's a list of just a few of the processes that require you to confirm your intention to make something happen:

Opening Disk Defragmenter, System Restore, Task Scheduler or Windows Easy Transfer; connecting to a Network Projector (twice); and these control panels: Add Hardware, BitLocker, Device Manager, iSCSI Initiator, Parental Controls, Advanced System Settings, System Protection and Remote Settings. While the control panel settings seem reasonable, some of the others do not. Also, why do the control panel's Windows SideShow and Tablet PC Settings show up on computers that don't have that hardware on them?

Finally, although file permissions problems related to UAC have been tweaked in RC2, people who install Vista in a dual-boot arrangement are going to find that some folders they created on their XP drives may not be accessible from Vista without complex security-permissions changes.

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