WHAT HO, VISTA

We installed the new Vista operating system in one of our computers, and Joy is having so much fun trying out all the new bells and whistles that she hardly wants to do any work. Bob, as resident curmudgeon, is displaying his famous shrug.

Despite the fact that installing Windows Vista violates the first rule of computing, “Never buy anything with a low serial number,” Bob was willing to do it because he didn’t want everyone to think we had fallen asleep at the switch. And Joy said it wasn’t that expensive. Discounters are selling the Vista Home Premium version, which includes all the main features, for around $75 through the Marketplace at windowsmarketplace.com

We installed Vista on a Hewlett-Packard Media Center PC that we bought for less than $1,000 a year ago. It handled Vista easily. We had trouble getting sound and networked, but after three calls to tech support, we did it. MicrosoftVista Home Premium provides 90 days of free tech support for Vista owners. The support technicians ranged from good to awful, but at least they were free. Now, to the nuts of the matter:

Everything really is plug-and-play this time. When we plugged in our Logitech webcam, the system automatically installed the necessary software (called a “driver”) for us. The system has the drivers for more than 12,000 components.

The bad news is that it won’t recognize all your old programs from Windows XP and earlier. The Hewlett-Packard Web site (hp.com) has a list of 27 incompatibilities, and you can find other lists with a search of the Web. Many more will undoubtedly crop up over the next few months, as has always happened with new operating systems. You may have to buy the latest Vista-ready version of your favorite program or go without.

Vista gives you a choice of doing an upgrade or a “clean install.” We chose clean install, which wiped out nearly a hundred programs we were trying out and were just as glad to see go. It kept all our data files, though. To Joy’s delight, her letters to her Aunt Dee, her recipes, notes, cookbook, etc., were all put in a giant folder called “Windows.old.”

There’s a nice sidebar that appears on the right side of the screen. It has a clock, calendar, news headlines and a bunch of other stuff you can choose to display from a list of “gadgets.” Just click on “gadgets” to see them.

At the end of the day, everything seemed to work smoother and slightly faster than it did in Windows XP. In other words, it’s nice; not necessary, but nice.

We Learn a Useful Trick

It turns out that the Vista operating system won’t open documents created with versions of Microsoft Word earlier than version 2007, which just came out. After all, if it did, you wouldn’t have to go out and buy the new version. (If this sounds too cynical, Bob recalls a line from actress Lilly Tomlin, who once commented: “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”)

But in the beginning was the word, as they say. So, if you download Open Office, which is free from OpenOffice.org, you can use that to read and edit all your older MS Word docs, or create new ones.

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