Monday, December 03, 2007

Claus goes on the record: Likes Vista for the most part.

However, others remain unconvinced.... is late Sunday night and I probably am wise enough to know that making a post this late is asking for compositional trouble. But I can't leave this until next weekend.

The Net changes it's global opinion so quickly I need to get this down to be a noise-factor contributor.

So here goes.

(Takes deep breath, and begins...)

The Confession

Hello: My name is Claus. I'm an paid IT specialist, a college graduate (go Cougs!) and enjoy watching chick flicks and eating slow-smoked brisket.

I also like Vista.

I really do think it is a pretty darn-good operating system.

Yes, I know that's not a real popular position, but hey, I'm a bit of a rebel at heart.

I'm not ready to upgrade all my systems to Vista. I think XP is a very mature, speedy, fairly secure, and dependable operating system. It supports a bunch of devices, and has become quite consumer friendly. It needs frequent patching and maintenance. I look forward to getting Vista on any future systems I will purchase, but will stick with XP on all my existing ones as long as I possibly can. Not so much because I don't think they can handle it, but because the time and pain o doing an upgrade can't be justified in my mind just yet. XP is stable and dependable and works well. Which is why Microsoft probably has a problem with me as a bad technology consumer. I like things that work and are familiar.

That said about XP's role on my home Windows systems, Vista is pretty, has a fairly nice GUI interface, and performs sufficiently on most new hardware systems.

I don't think much about startup/shutdown times on my machines so I'm not ready to start complaining about how slow these events are in Vista.

Our Vista laptop came with 1 GB RAM. It can handle 2 GB max and I am glad to see the performance gain now that I have maxed it out. I can tell a difference. It does seem much snappier. I have disabled all the auto-runs I can for features I don't use, tweaked some performance settings, and defrag often. All this helps a bit. But most home consumers won't have the skill to do this on their own. I think all this work honestly speaks less about the work required to get this performance gains out of Vista than the fact I am a techie and like to fiddle and just enjoy doing these things on my systems.

I knew about Vista's seeming hunger for RAM when we bought dad's new Windows system. As such we got the best processor we could for enhanced speed, as well as maxing-out the RAM to the full 4GB possible from the get go. Instead of complaining about how slow Vista is on just 512 MB RAM, I just advise friends and family who ask to go ahead and get all the system RAM their system-board can support at the very beginning. If you start here, your Vista experience will likely be much more pleasant. Ready-boost is helpful, but definitely no replacement for real system RAM.

I run a modified version of UAC in Vista which usually rears its ugly head only when I run Firefox updates or when useful and desired applications wish to auto-start at system startup. I really could totally disable it based on my experience as an experienced IT support technician, but haven't as others use the laptop as well and I want to give it a long-term chance.

I'm torn with the security model of Vista. It seems to be almost too robust on the user-interaction level for a consumer system. I wish the security would be a bit less intrusive. On the other hand, consumer systems are prime targets for malware, viruses, trojans and other bad pc-mojo. They are the users who need this protection the most. Thus I am torn and remain ambivalent and conflicted on this subject. My professional experiences tell me this is good and valuable position for Vista to take. My casual home PC usage is a bit annoyed by it all.

Interestingly, both my wife, daughter, and dad love Vista and have never complained once about UAC or Vista's tougher stance. My daughter works on the Vista laptop under a limited-user account and has never once come to me or complained about UAC or lack of permissions. Lavie finds the new file/explorer arrangement in Vista a bit confusing but likes the pretty way Aero looks. While she prefers her own XP laptop over the Vista one, she hasn't (yet) asked me to change her Vista profile to the XP "classic" style. She has an Administrator account but hasn't run into the issues that I have with UAC.

Dad is a brand-new Vista user. He is comfortable with XP but really didn't scratch the surface of its capabilities. I was really worried, but he picked the differences up quickly and also liked the GUI design. His wife wanted the XP "classic" style and as far as she is concerned it is still just a XP machine in a different box. Smooth! Dad is just beyond happy that Vista works and is able to automatically download and install updates (unlike his corrupted XP system), surf the net, get his email, and do Word and Excel documents. The system is rocket-fast compared to his older one. Thus his Vista experience is so positive because I knew that by boosting the CPU choice higher and maxing out the RAM would make it fast and pleasurable to use.

I am looking forward to Vista SP1 when it comes out. On the other hand, I don't hold any expectations beyond hoping it adds stability (although I have yet to experience a BSOD or fatal system error with Vista), and fixes some secret bugs I haven't discovered and Microsoft hopes no-one ever will. If it adds new features, great. If it makes Vista "faster," even better. But our systems aren't too bad.

I also keep in mind that many software writers of major software, and especially security-related software--anti-virus/anti-malware/firewalls--were scrambling to get their products updated to run under Vista. Many still haven't released Vista versions yet. I'm sure that as these products get updated and their programmers and software engineers come to a better familiarity and understanding of the complex ways Vista works and secures itself, the applications' performances will improve significantly from the point at which they are at currently. I'm patient to a fault that way.

Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft made a REALLY boneheaded blunder by building in the Vista Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating. Americans in general and techies and consumers in particular like statistics. We like to compare things, our spouses, our weight, our PSA or cholesterol numbers, our cars and the MPG they get. Our interest rates get compared as do our standards of living. We compare our kids GPA's while hiding our own from our co-workers (unless it was a 4.0). By building in to Vista a way to rate the system experience based on hardware factors, Microsoft set itself up for failure. Consumers and techies now have an unlimited open-season to compare performance of Vista systems amongst each other. This is both a good and bad thing for them, and Microsoft.

My Vista system's WEI rating is a smoking 2.8. Yep. It sucks. My processor rates a 4.6 and the 2 GB RAM boosted up to 4.9. Graphics got rated at 2.8 and Gaming graphics came in at 3.1. My disk is rated 4.2. So because the lowest element is 2.8, my overall system gets rated 2.8. How lame is that? But now I can compare my rating with others, right? My Vista Experience must suck a whole lot more than someone who gets a much higher rating, right? Well, not exactly. Based on what I do on the laptop--playing with utilities, blogging, web-surfing, working in Office documents, some gaming, mostly sims, watching DVD's and listening to streaming radio stations--I think it performs quite outstanding. I'd choose it over my work-issued XP notebook in a heartbeat if I could. My personal Vista experience rating for it is quite high.

Why does everyone expect Vista (or any other modern OS, Mac or *Nix included) to be faster, more secure, and easier to use than the last iteration, and perfect (or darn-close) at the initial release? Today we are bashing Vista, praising XP and gnashing teeth and rending clothing. I think we were doing much the same thing back when XP got released, weren't we? Waiting for the first SP before seriously considering adopting it. Praising Windows 98, and mourning its passing. NT/Windows 2000 was floating around and was/is quite good, but never aimed for the consumer market. XP was the Windows Experience made real...only lots of folks thought it was over-hyped and under-whelming. Now we are pining for its slow transit into the OS sunset as a new OS dawns on the, forgive me, vista before us.

I will miss XP and will run it as long as I can on my older systems. I will get and use Vista on any new ones in our home. Apples are great and they may find a role in the Valca home, Linux rocks and is great, but still not quite ready for the masses (but it is creeping forward and Alvis and I love her Linux box).

So, thank you for allowing me to get this off my chest.

I am Claus, and I am an advanced Windows techie, and I like Vista for what it is. I look forward to seeing what it will grow into being in the coming years.

Just buy all the RAM you can put on your Vista system, get a beefy processor, good graphics chip/board and enjoy it. It will get better, I promise.

Other Vista-related thoughts this week

And there was this whole Exo - Vista team Squabble

Benchmarking group made available by the staff and engineers of Devil Mountain Software, Inc. recently made a tiny, almost insignificant post that kicked off a firestorm. Windows XP SP3 Yields Performance Gains. In it they ran their benchmark tests and observed noticeable (appx 10%) performance gains in a XP system between SP2 and SP3 RC1'ish releases. This caused some ripples of excitement on some tech blogs and among techies. The general public slept in ignorant bliss. It sounded good to me and my own non-scientific or benchmarked virtualized tests seemed to support this finding.

Only there was a problem. They linked to and placed their XP SP3 RC1'ish result findings on the performance gain against their previous post Vista SP1 a Performance Dud which seemed to suggest based on the proximity of the charts, figures and statistics that XP SP3 rocks while Vista SP1 sucked eggs. It was a small, short and bit-baiting post. It was fun to read and even better to link-to and post about in the tech blog-o-sphere.

Only the Devil Mountain gang had a bit of a problem: it appears that while they used the same exact hardware configuration for their Vista / Vista SP1 and XP SP2 / XP SP3 RC1'sh releases, and the same Office software within each OS version, they forgot that they used a different version of Office between the Vista and XP systems. This wasn't a problem at all, relative to the performance tests within each OS version. The problem creeps in when they loaded up the graph and placed the Vista and XP tests side-by-side.

Oh bother.

Instead of looking at each system's performance differences independently, the sharp-trap that is most human's brains interpreted the charts as being equally linked and cross-comparable, thus XP rocks and Vista still sucks. Maybe they did this on purpose, maybe it was an honest oversight.

As Mark Twain famously repeated, "There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Americans seem to really love falling for the last one, and bloggers and techies called out the for this error.

So did what any good tech blog and benchmarking group would do; they went back and retested and then provided a bunch of new tests as well: Update: Re-Testing Vista w/2GB RAM, Office 2003

And the results? Interesting!

Many of our members have requested that we re-test Vista SP1 with 2GB of RAM instead of the 1GB we used in our original tests. So, without further delay, we present our revised results table:

(nice pretty chart with 3-D blocks and big numbers deleted)

Analysis: By providing Vista (SP1) with an additional 1GB of RAM (that's a total of 2GB for those of you keeping score) we managed to achieve a "whopping" 4% improvement in OfficeBench throughput.

Note: We added the Windows XP (SP3) results to the chart to add further context to the Vista results. As before, all tests were conducted on the same Dell XPS M1710 system w/2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and DDR-2 667MHz RAM.

A few members voiced their concerns over the use of Office 2007 under Vista. They suggested we re-test using Office 2003 on both Vista and Windows XP. Here are the results:

(nice pretty chart with 3-D blocks and big numbers deleted)

Analysis: Moving from Office 2007 to Office 2003 definitely improved Vista's showing. Instead of being over 2x slower than XP on the same OfficeBench workload, Vista is now "only" 1.8x slower.

To quote Darth Vader: "Impressive...most impressive."

So while that seemed to clear up the Vista/XP/SP3/RC1'sh discrepancies for just about 98.6% of the both tech and culinary-arts blogging spheres, it caused wailing and distress in the Northwest corner of the lower 45 states.

(Statement of Disclosure: I just made all these statistics up by the way...and I took statistics classes in college for my sociology degree! Go Cougs! See how statistics work?)

Windows Vista Team Blog : The right time to assess Windows Vista's performance

See, Microsoft's Vista team got their panties in wad and decided to go public and bring the smack-down on the Devil Mountain gang's little old blog and posts.

I read the post, slowly, carefully, deliberatively. It is a really nice read.

The Windows Vista Team (Nick White) made some fair and reasonable points. And I will share my gut responses:

  • "Measuring the performance of an operating system is a tricky thing."
    • (CV-Agreed!)
  • ''s the right and necessary thing to do, because performance is one of many criteria important to customers."
    • (CV-Agreed! Along with deep price discounts, cool cases with Knight-Rider inspired blinky-lights, and a widescreen monitor.)
  • "Part of the trick of measuring performance is to time testing execution with the product cycle such that the results are as meaningful as possible for customers; this helps them make a better decision by making use of the full array of available information."
    • (CV-Don't many users already have Vista and won't have much choice in applying Vista SP1 to their systems?)
  • "...we commissioned a firm called Principled Technologies to conduct a study comparing Windows XP SP2 to Windows Vista RTM. That study found the performance measures of the two operating systems were within the same range for many tasks that home and business users frequently perform under real-world conditions."
    • (CV-which are what? Web surfing, on-line bill-paying, watching YouTube videos of cats, sending emails, printing pictures from their digital cameras, and light Office work?)
  • "...we waited to conduct these benchmarking tests until Windows Vista had reached the RTM milestone in the product cycle, as this allowed us to provide our customers the most meaningful data available at the time -- the data most likely to directly affect their decision to upgrade to Windows Vista."
  • " a general rule, we avoid sharing benchmark tests of software that hasn't gone RTM (i.e., final code)."
    • (CV-Can't say I honestly blame them for taking that position.)
  • "...publishing benchmarks of the performance of Windows Vista SP1 now wouldn't be a worthwhile exercise for our customers, as the code is still in development and, to the degree that benchmarking tests are involved, remains a moving target."
    • (CV-And "consumers" would instantly experience their eyes glazing over...techies and industry/enterprise IT staff might sit up excited and actually read and critically evaluate these results...good and/or bad and draw conclusions based on their industry experience and skills.)
  • "...there are a variety of ways to benchmark the performance of a PC. Different techniques can yield different results."
    • (CV-Agreed. BTW, my daddy's benchmark test is bigger then your daddy's.)
  • "Some benchmark techniques simply test PC hardware performance by running a series of tasks at superhuman speed. Such tests tend to exaggerate small differences between test platforms and consequently are used less frequently nowadays, replaced in favor of benchmarks running tasks at human speeds with realistic waits and data entry."
  • "Benchmarks that run at superhuman speeds often deliver results that don't tell the whole story. In fact, we made deliberate choices during the development of Windows Vista to focus on real-world scenarios affecting user experience, rather than focusing on improvement of microsecond operations imperceptible to the user."
    • (CV-Again, which are what? Web surfing, on-line bill-paying, watching YouTube videos of cats, sending emails, printing pictures from their digital cameras, and light Office work? Oh yeah, I forgot, playing solitaire. My bad.)
  • " Windows many operations can require additional processing time for work that is done for reasons that benefit the customer; these can include security, reliability or application compatibility checks conducted when a program launches."
    • (CV-I'm down with that Nick. Honestly!)
  • "When thousands such operations are strung together through automation, those few microseconds can have a cumulative effect on the benchmark result, causing performance to appear much better or worse than expected."
    • (CV-Like congressional pork-barrel spending and the national debt?)
  • "...tests like these only measure a very small set of Windows capabilities and so aren't representative of the user's overall day-to-day experience of working with Windows and running applications."
    • (CV-Like most users overall day-to-day experience really pushes the envelope of the operating system's full capabilities and limits anyway...)
  • "Methods like those of Principled Technologies that actually approximate the experience of using the PC, taking an OS through the paces of completing actual tasks at the approximate pace a user might click through them, tend to provide results far more useful to our customers. The typical Windows customer generally wants to know how his/her actual computing experience will change (read: improve) with an upgrade."
    • (CV-I kid you not. When I considered this, the image that came to my mind was of an old-folks-home with grandma clicking around the pc and a white-coated technician with a clip-board standing behind her...)
  • "..I can personally attest that I prefer to get my work done on Windows Vista SP1 RC bits."
    • (CV-and I can personally and fairly attest that I prefer to get my work done on the beach or in a Starbucks with a Windows Vista laptop running any release version. Really. I sincerely mean that. I like Vista. Remember, I went on the record about it!)
  • "IMO, the perceived gains in performance between SP1 Beta and SP1 RC code are significant."
    • (CV--and so will be the gains between SP1 RC code and SP1 RTM code, if the Excel chart maker have their way. I sincerely hope it will. And tossing extra GB system RAM sticks in every upgrade box won't hurt either...)
  • "...performance is only part of the story -- don't forget that SP1 also brings support for new types of hardware and several emerging standards, and further eases an IT administrator's deployment and management efforts."
    • (CV-You mean now I can get these stinking eight-year old dot-matrix printers we are still using in our corporation working with Vista now? Heaven knows no limits to Redmond's miracles!)
  • "We'll broaden the testing pool of SP1 RC bits soon (very soon), so when I post that notice here on the blog, you'll be able to put Windows Vista SP1 RC through its paces yourself. I think you'll find the experience worthwhile and satisfying."
    • (CV-are you saying you want inexperienced, non-technical consumers to download and install Vista SP1 RC on their systems since they are real-world Windows Experience benchmarker's and system analysts? Or are you now speaking to the system builders and benchmarking analysts? I'm getting confused again who you are addressing here.)

I honestly and sincerely don't disagree with any of the substance of what Mr. White said. It all seems Fair and BalancedTM (intellectual property of Fox Networks).

On the other hand, while I have not seen nor had access to the test methods and results used by Principled Technologies for their own benchmark tests and am sure they are quite sound and reasonable in their design and implementation, I am not yet willing to toss out the validity of comparing benchmarks from other tools, regardless of their method or speed IF the tests are ran on systems where all other variable remain constant and equal, are independently verifiable, and provide consistent and repeatable results. That's the whole purpose of benchmarking, IMO. and the Devil Mountain gang seemed a bit affronted by the Windows Vista Team gang's taunting of them in the middle of Deadwood in front of all the good citizens.

When Microsoft Attacks! -

We at the pride ourselves on having relatively "thick skins." After all, when you have the audacity to actually take a position on the issues - and then to back them up with hard data - you're bound to bring out the zealots on the other side. However, it's a rare treat when the shots sent our way hail from no less an industry authority than Microsoft.

(deletia of valid and strong points made by the Research Staff)

In summary, OfficeBench is much more than a simple "window-open, window-close" script. It is a sophisticated, version-independent benchmarking tool that executes reliably under almost any Windows runtime environment. As such, it is the only tool of its kind that allows IT organizations to accurately assess multi-generational performance across all versions of Windows and Office.

And that's why OfficeBench scares the hell of out Microsoft. For the first time ever the industry has the tools necessary to call the company to the mat for its bloated, CPU cycle-sucking ways.

Microsoft's response? Slam the benchmark! Try to discredit the author/source! And crank-up the FUD machine!

Sorry, guys! You can run, but you can't hide, from OfficeBench.

Oh, my. Time to put the young-uns in the loft, Martha. Close-up them shades. I hear a high plains drifter who moonlights as a pale rider coming into town.

Then something struck me (powers of observation like a trap) after I read the Vista Team Blog post and viewed the video evidence again more closely.

It was clear.

Remember the OfficeBench benchmark software I was looking for but couldn't find in my first benchmarking post?

Turns out I had it on my hard-drive the whole time and didn't realize it.

See, I had been impressed with Exo Performance Network site and their free benchmark tools I registered and downloaded them. Only because one of them was called DMS Clarity Studio, I didn't realize the OfficeBench tests were built into it now. But when I saw the video, it looked very familiar to me as being the one I had downloaded and tinkered with at work for a few minutes.

So I immediately installed the downloaded software at home this weekend and tried it out.

Yep there was the OfficeBench test running on my machine, just like in the video, but slower and more, well, human-like. IE windows opening and scrolling and clicking, Word, Excel and Powerpoint applications doing their thinks, eerily similar to what I do with them. Wish I could report how they turned out, but I wasn't interested in benchmarking my home desktop system. It works just like I like it and is a pleasure for me and my family to use.

Kinda like it would be icky to suggest benchmarking your spouse or child(ren) against the neighbor's. Some benchmarks you just don't run. You find peace and happiness and contentment in knowing it is your own and is familiar.

Anyway, my point is the benchmark software seemed to accurately match the description offered of it by the Devil's Mountain gang (Sorry, not gang but "Research Staff." I can't help but be impressed by how cool and Spaghetti-western sounding their company name is. "What outfit you with, partner? Oh!, Devil Mountain Software? My bad, let me buy you a look parched. Barkeep!"

My quest is over. I can sleep.

So, what can we conclude from all this?

For normal you, IT me, and the Jones next door who will be getting a new Vista system under their Christmas tree this holiday season? Not much.

Likely just, that users who install XP SP3 may see small to moderate performance gains on most (but not all) systems. User's (systems) that are brainless zombies of trojan hosting, spam spouting, root-kit hiding, petri-dish virus growing, and trojan hiding funsters may have their mileage vary slightly. Though I recommended it, installation of additional system RAM is not probably likely to prevent the performance gains from occurring anyway.

And that users who install Vista RC1 may see small to moderate to negligible performance gains on most (but not all) systems. User's (systems) that remain clean and protected via UAC and a more robust security design and are not likely to be brainless zombies of trojan hosting, spam spouting, root-kit hiding, petri-dish virus growing, and trojan hiding funsters may have their mileage vary slightly better, but not by much. Users who also accept my encouragements to max out their Vista system's RAM may indeed experience moderate to significant system performance gains, despite installing RC1 anyway.

I've bared my OS soul, kept Lavie up way past her bedtime, and will have a awful time getting out of bed in a few hours.

But I feel better now knowing the cow-punchers from Redmond are hard at work quickly bringing the Vista SP1 cattle down the Chisholm Trail to the stockyards and the Devil Mountain gang is shadowing their every move.

And everyone knows what happens after the cattle reach the stockyards?

Don't you?

I can smell the brisket already!

And I like brisket; XP SP3 or Vista SP1. Doesn't matter to me either way.

It's all good.

Could you just pass me some more RAM to put on it, there partner?

Thanks. Makes it all go down that much better.



Anonymous said...

Well written. Thanks for taking the time to write and post this.

From one IT professional to another ....


Anonymous said...

Been using Vista for about a month and a half now on a NEW machine with 2 GB of RAM. I like it, much faster and stable than my old (and now dead) XP machine. I could do without the UAC or at least make and option where it will remember my selections. I had no issues with hardware not working, but I just bought the monitor back in May and the printer a few days before my XP system died.

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