Search Woes, Administration Problems, and More
Search Instantly Anywhere (As Long As by 'Anywhere' You Mean 'Where Microsoft Thinks You Should')
We're certainly glad that Vista finally uses indexing to radically speed up searching. And we're ecstatic that we no longer have to watch that damn dog scratching himself while XP performs an interminable search of the hard drive.
But Vista's default search is instance #3456 of Microsoft trying to nudge you into using the computer the way it thinks you should, not the way you want to. By default the OS indexes only the folders found in your user-name folder (like Documents, Pictures, and Music). That's because the folks at Microsoft seem to think you should use only their generic folders for your data. If, like lots of people, you store important files outside of the user-name folder, you're back to stultifyingly slow searches.
Fixable: Go to Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Indexing Options and choose the folders that Windows should be indexing.
Who's in Charge Around Here?
You might think you're the boss, if you're running Windows as an administrator. But when you try to run certain commands from Vista's command prompt, you'll learn that in Vista's eyes you're still a peon. Vista will say that you can't run the command because you don't have the proper administrator rights. Huh?
Fixable: Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and choose Run as Administrator. Finally, you'll be master of your domain.
Vista's Sidebar, a transparent panel with widgets (Gadgets in Vista-speak), is pretty, and if you have enough screen real estate, it can be quite useful. But so far the selection of Gadgets is sparse, and some of the applications themselves are feeble. As an example, take the Feed Headlines applet that displays news from RSS feeds.
We've yet to meet a pair of people with exactly the same preferences about how they want to read blogs and news feeds. Some like to see lots of headlines from lots of blogs, others want to limit the field. Some people must have updates every few minutes, others are happy to wait. But the Feed Headlines gadget is almost completely uncustomizable. You can't resize its window, even if you pull the Gadget out to run on your desktop. You can display headlines from one feed or every feed you've subscribed to, but not a selection of your feeds. And you can't tell it how often to update the headlines. The app doesn't report how often it checks for new headlines, but our experience indicates that the answer is "not very often."
Fixable, eventually: Independent developers are already writing new Gadgets for the Sidebar, and eventually a smart coder will build a much better feed reader. But it isn't here yet.
Where, Oh Where Are My Network Places?
Previous versions of Windows had the Network Places link prominently displayed in Explorer and in the Start menu. Adding locations to Network Places was a pain, but once you did, it was a handy way to get to just the network folders and drives you used most often.
Vista's equivalent, the Network link, seems to be based on the idea that more is more. On our machines it shows every PC, printer, and server on our network, from 172.18.0.137 to WXU-8250, 95 percent of which we never want to access. And Vista frequently goes out and repopulates that list when you click the link, a process that on our admittedly crowded network here at PC World takes over a minute.
Fixable: You can replicate the old Network Places. Create a folder (call it, oh, we don't know, Network Places, perhaps) and put inside it shortcuts to the network locations that you most frequently need to access. Simply drag that folder into Explorer's left panel, and it'll be available when you need it.
Vista: Game Off!
Just to recap: Vista took five friggin' years to develop, and yet graphics card makers still didn't have their drivers in shape for the launch of the OS? We'd expect that the early Vista drivers wouldn't be the fastest around--ATI and nVidia have been tweaking XP drivers for years, after all--but the number of games that are flat-out unplayable is just ridiculous. And we're talking popular games here, too: Unreal Tournament 2004, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, to name just a few.
The problem has even spawned a possible class-action lawsuit by nVidia-equipped gamers upset that the DirectX 10-ready GeForce 8 series boards they spent hundreds of dollars on won't even run older games on Vista.
Fixable, eventually: Patience is the only fix for these issues. ATI and nVidia will iron the problems out, and hopefully everyone will be playing in a DirectX 10-accelerated world soon. Until then, it's time to break out your old XP disc and start dual-booting.