Microsoft recently released the so-called first "Release Candidate" for the next version of Windows, called "Vista." The geek that I am, I had downloaded previous Vista betas with the intention of installing and using them, but some how I never quite got around to it. However, with the RC1 release, I decided to give it a whirl. My home machine's OS was waaaaaay overdue for a reinstall anyway, so I thought "what the hell."
So, the sucker for technology punishment that I am, I spent this past weekend installing and playing with Microsoft's new wonder-child and all I can think is that Microsoft must not understand the term "Release Candidate" the same way I do. To me, this term means that the software is pretty much done and Microsoft just wants to see what other little bugs might be left lying around in the code. Apparently I'm either incorrect in my understanding of the term, or Microsoft truly does wish to inflict massive pain upon the computing population. Let's just say that I got intimately familiar with the install key over the weekend, as I tried maybe 10 times to install the damn thing. Like I said - a sucker for punishment. But dammit, I WAS going to get the fool thing installed.
Now, I've been following some tech news reports that claim RC1 is a GREAT improvement over past betas. All I can say is that past betas must have been REALLY crappy, 'cause RC1 is, in my opinion, a big steaming pile of digital mess.
It all started when I booted off the Vista RC1 DVD that I burned from MSDN downloads. My machine is a fairly vanilla rig with an older but immensely popular ASUS P4P800 SE motherboard, complete with a 3.2GHz P4 and 2GB of RAM. No problem there, except my two 200GB hard drives are configured in a RAID 0 array using Intel's ICH5R matrix raid chipset. And here is where my tale of woe begins.
Intel's matrix raid storage technology is now several years old, fairly mature, and fairly popular. But Vista has no idea what it is. Booting off the Vista DVD revealed no available hard drive partitions available. Grrrr..... Okay, no big deal, I have the stupid driver disk that WinXP needed when installing, so maybe that will work (I will say that Vista's storage driver installer is MUCH nicer that WinXPs 1985 vintage user interface when installing this kind of stuff). So, in goes the disk, Vista reads it, highlights the driver, I click "Continue," it reads the disk for a few seconds, then.....KA-BOOM!!!! ... a lovely STOP error (or BSOD error if you prefer) greets me. I haven't had a STOP error in I don't know how many years. It's nice to see that Vista has brought them back - I was starting to miss them.
So, I thought my disk was bad. Vista now lets you load storage drivers off USB drives, so I downloaded the latest drivers from Intel and tried again. This time, the lastest Intel drivers don't support ICH5, only ICH6 and higher. Took me a while to figure that one out. Back to Intel's site, download ICH5 compatible drivers and try again. KA-BOOM! STOP error.
Cursing like mad now, I consult the great oracle of wisdom better known as the Internet. Apparently Vista can't boot off the DVD and load these drivers. You have to start the install from an existing WinXP system, in which case the drivers will load fine, provided they are in the ROOT of the drive on which they reside. Okay, this is just absolutely insane. This is 2006 PEOPLE, not 1986!!!
So, cursing even more now, the install starts now that Vista can see my hard drive. Wee!! It's finally installing! So, Vista claims it is copying files. Seems to be taking an awfully long time. Gets up to 82% complete....and stays there for about 45 minutes. At this point, I break some furniture. WTF!!!!! Now I can't blame this all on Vista - I suspect the media was bad, but still, after 45 minutes the damn installer should now that something is not right. Good grief.
Next attempt, I mount the DVD image in XP, bypassing the media problem. I am really starting to hate the 25-character install key at this point. But this is the last time I have to enter it - Vista finally installs! Hellelujah! Now we're off to the races!!
Whoops! Not so fast. After Vista is installed, it immediately downloads an update to Windows Defender, the new anti-spyware tool. Cool, the network is at least working, or so I thought. I try to surf the web - no go. I go to Microsoft's site - it works fine! But it's the only site on the web that I can get to!!! This is insane - I've never seen this kind of behaviour in 15+ years of working with computers. Consulting the great Internet oracle, I discover that Microsoft FUBAR'd the drivers for my network card and I have to install the old XP drivers to get it to work properly. But once I do, it does work fine.
So I use if for a few minutes. Release Candidate, you say, hmmm? Actually, most of it works fairly well, sort of. Aero glass is neat, but not a killer feature by any stretch. But there are some serious problems still lurking. For one, there is no driver support yet for the world's most popular sound card, the SoundBlaster Audigy 2. Apparently, if you pray to half a dozen tech gods and install some Creative drivers in the right way while standing on your head, you can get 2.1 sound working. I just recently bought a nice set of Logitech Z-5500 5.1 surround speakers. I'm sorry, but I'm not settling for 2.1 sound. Then, I try to install the driver software for my new Logitech QuickCam Fusion. Sorry, that won't work either. Again, praying to the tech gods while standing on your head will get you SOME functionality, but not all. Next, I open up a folder containing some video files. Ooops, I guess I should have known better. Windows Explorer crashes. I stare in disbelief. Release Candidate my ass!! Once I reboot, I try to play an AVI file. The new Windows Media Player just gives me sound, but no video. Come on, guys, you have GOT to be kidding me, right?
The last problem I had could be a deal-breaker. You see, I have an ATI Radeon X800XL video card. When ATI was building these cards, apparently the only cooling fans available were those used for the air intake on jet fighter planes. So this card makes a lot of noise. In XP, this is no problem - you can download ATI Tray Tools and step down the RPM speed of the fan to a decent level. On Vista, ATI Tray Tools barfs. I can't control the fan speed so now my machine sounds like it's getting ready for take off. I didn't even try to capture video off the card yet - that should be an entertaining walk through a digital minefield.
So, if you're thinking of trying out Vista now that it's got "Release Candidate" status, think again. Me, I think I'll wait for Vista SP1 before I test these waters again. Sorry, but I don't really need to experience Windows 95 growing pains again.