Making Your Move to Vista: What You Need to Know

Thinking about upgrading to Vista? We can help.

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Compatibility and timing

Microsoft has done several things to make hardware work better with Vista. One of our favorite features is the fact that it can now smartly search an entire CD, DVD or directories and subdirectories on your hard drive to find a specific driver, without requiring you to click into the specific folder. So you no longer have to guess or remember where that legacy hardware driver is.

On the other hand, hardware support in the on-DVD driver pack is definitely not perfect. About 70% of the drivers that we've seen Vista come up empty on are mainstream components, such as the SoundMax driver set and Linksys' PCI Gigabit NIC. (NICs in particular should have excellent support, since you can't get online to help yourself without them.)

Microsoft is claiming excellent hardware support; we think the company intends to rely heavily on Windows Update to deliver driver support. Because, really, it's no better than previous versions of Windows.

About software compatibility, that's still a wild card. The gold version of Vista hasn't been out there long enough to draw hard conclusions. We think you can expect issues with security software, utilities and many enterprise applications designed to run on older Microsoft operating systems. We've even been hearing rumblings about issues with IE7 and some enterprise Web applications.

For more information about hardware and application compatibility in advance of installation, download and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor on the machine on which you intend to perform the upgrade. You may not like what you learn from this exercise, but you'll be forewarned. We recommend that everyone considering Vista take this step.

Should you jump in with both feet on the first day Vista is available to you? Corporate IT professionals already know that would be patently absurd. XP works well enough for now. But there are reasons why large organizations might be interested in making the move. Perhaps your hardware is tired and needs an upgrade now, and you're planning to move to Vista. Perhaps you need the security or some of the other improvements. Test it right away. But you know the drill; hang back and let the first adopters make all the mistakes.

Home users have a different set of issues to consider. Need new hardware? Hey, let's be honest with ourselves, most of us can wait another six months. That would be our very best advice. If you're going to jump, jump into the higher end. The first wave of PCs for any new Windows is often a little lacking in the right stuff to run the operating system properly for the long haul.

Instead of an upgrade installation, advanced home users should consider installing Vista in a dual-boot arrangement or as a virtual machine in a virtualization utility, such as VMware. To virtualize Windows Vista, your utility must support ACPI. Working in this way has no downsides to you. You can buy it this way and test it for a while before making your decision about how and where to install it more permanently.

Related Stories:

Hands On: A Hard Look at Windows Vista

Buying a Computer for Vista ... and Beyond

The Skinny on Windows SPP and Reduced Functionality in Vista

Vista and More: Piecing Together Microsoft's DRM Puzzle

Top 16 Vista time-saving tips

Windows Vista A to Z

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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