Yesterday, one Microsoft Watch commenter complained about not seeing enough love here for Microsoft products.
He used my colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols as example of enthusiasm properly placed. "Go to Linux-Watch and SJVN writes about Linux like it does things for him his girlfriend won't," the commenter wrote.
Linux enthusiasts are like that, aren't they? Mac fans are similar. I'm neither, nor am I a Windows hugger. It's just another tool to me, like the toaster or the television. But that's not to say I hate Windows either, as some Microsoft Watch commenters have suggested. I'm indifferent to computer operating systems, the same as I am to the software running my watch, DVD player or printer.
The most used applications on my computer are the Web browser, e-mail client and instant messenger. These program categories don't require any particular operating system. The next most used application is the media player, which right now is usually iTunes since it's available for Mac OS or Windows. I do use Zune software from time to time, and Windows Media Player, but only for Microsoft broadcast events.
Mmmm, maybe it's coincidence, but those are the four applications categories covered by Microsoft's United States antitrust settlement. Is that an endorsement of the consent decree's benefits?
I also use photo editing software—Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Nikon Capture NX, which are available for Mac OS or Windows, or Apple's Aperture on the Mac. The next most used application is on the Web: Facebook. I test lots of applications, however, for Microsoft Watch.
I can't say that Windows Vista does that much more for me than Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.4. My major application is the Internet, and the functions that matter most are provided by third-party software. Office isn't one of my major applications right now, because most of the writing is done in a Web browser; I use the blogging system's Web interface.
That said, there are some stand-out improvements on Vista over Windows XP. Nothing on my list is particularly new; Microsoft marketing and a zillion reviews have covered them. These features happen to be what move me most about Windows Vista, having used the operating system for more than 18 months.
1. Search. Vista's integrated search beats the heck out of the hobbled counterpart found in Windows 2000 or XP. Search is transforming, and so good it hurts some other Vista enhancements if really used. Microsoft invested a fair bit of resources into overhauling the file-and-folder system, making the organization of folders easier and more visual. But search is so good, I use it pretty much for everything. Why be a file clerk, when search gets the goods in a few clicks? Microsoft also made the Start Menu much better to use, but, again, search is so good I rarely launch applications from the Start Menu.
2. Windows Media Center. Microsoft's entertainment user interface may not be new, but now it's available pretty much to any consumer with a PC. I don't have much time to watch TV, but I do like the "Online Media" section (as I said, the Internet is my main application). I will sometimes watch MTV Overdrive at night. Oh, by the way, the Britney Spears MTV Video Music Awards performance is worse than what all the music critics claim it to be.
3. Networking. I'm a notebook user. Vista's improved networking detection and security feature, particularly wireless, gives me more confidence to use the Internet on the go. I wouldn't leave home without it.
4. Welcome Center. The concept works. Microsoft has placed important system information and common settings in one place. From Welcome Center, users can easily get to Microsoft or OEM partner offers and to System, the settings of which are smartly organized in Windows Vista.
5. Event Viewer. OK, so maybe most people rarely go here, but I do go fairly often. I like the visual and organizational improvements. Event Viewer is easier to navigate, and information is more easily decipherable by mere human beings.
6. RAW. Windows Photo Gallery supports RAW codecs from camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon. Unfortunately, RAW codecs were slow coming after Vista's launch and needed several revisions to work right. But now, they smoke, making my personal photography easier. Photo management is perhaps the one area where I do use folders, rather than just search. It's hugely helpful to be able to see and manage RAW files from the operating system.
7. Windows Update. Personally, Windows Update's stealth self-updating doesn't much bother me. I'm a believer in automatic updating. The offering of driver updates and connection to Microsoft Update are among the great enhancements. If I were a network administrator managing a couple hundred custom applications, Windows Update would appeal to me less. All consumers should flip on the switch however.
8. Windows Desktop. I find the new user interface to be more refined than Windows XP, and Aero's overall look makes for a pleasing place for work and play. "Show desktop" works for me, while the cascading windows feature—Flip 3D—is a snore. It was nifty to use once, but redundant for me because of the Windows toolbar. Maybe the feature would matter more if I mucked around more file folders, rather than applications connected to the Internet. What I need to get to fast is usually right there on the Windows toolbar.
9. Windows Sidebar. I don't play as much there as I once expected I would, but the few gadgets I use are important. Live Search is probably the most used. Sidebar is a handy location. I want to use Windows Sidebar more, but there aren't enough compelling gadgets. I really cling to using it out of stubborn belief that some day the selection of gadgets will improve. I would get more mileage out of nixing the Windows Sidebar and placing a few Yahoo Widgets in the same space.
10. Windows Mobility Center. The Vista Control Panel feature feels cobbled together. Still, it's handy to go to one place for wireless, display, audio and synch settings—not that I much use Sync Center. That feature needs to be primed for more devices.
I may never feel as warmly to Windows Vista as Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols does towards Linux. But Windows isn't a religion to me, nor is it a lifestyle choice. It's another tool.