Digital World: Vista on the barricades

It's not the International Geophysical Year via Donald Fagen, but the year of Vista, via Microsoft.

October 10, 2006 10:36
Digital World: Vista on the barricades

parallels 88. (photo credit: )


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Tall, gleaming skyscrapers, clean streets, and spandex jackets - one for everyone. And, of course, super duper high powered speed demon computers with oodles of memory. It's not the International Geophysical Year via Donald Fagen ( he-nightfly), but the year of Vista, via Microsoft. But. like the IGY and spandex, Vista may end up being nothing more than a beautiful dream for many users, at least for the near future - if my experience with the Microsoft OS of tomorrow is typical (and since I'm a typical user with typical computers, how could it not be?) If you search Google News these days for the term "Vista," you'll inevitably come across a number of reviews about how lovely the latest test release of the new MS OS is. It seems stable, and the Aero graphics engine gives users a very pretty desktop screen to look at. I am sure that all these reviews are perfectly accurate and reflect the advances in Windows we can all expect when Vista becomes Microsoft's main offering. But after trying real hard to get Vista onto a series of computers, both older and more recent, it's clear that most home users, and even many businesses, are not going to be upgrading to Vista when it first comes out at the end of the year - and perhaps not even for a awhile after that. According to the Vista Upgrade Advisor that gets installed when you open the Vista disc image (still available for free from, if you want to try it yourself), you need at least 512 MB of RAM in order to run the most basic version of Vista. Compare this to the minimum 64 MB required to upgrade from Win2k to XP, which wasn't too great a burden for even the most common household PCs three years ago when XP came into its own. But 512 MB is more than the average user has on his or her PC - and that is a (bare) memory minimum for this installation. Most users buy "off the shelf" PCs, which nowadays come with a standard 80 GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM. So, right away, Vista is "priced" out of memory range of most average users. In order to get their computers Vistaready, they will have to shlep their PCs to the computer store for a memory upgrade or figure out how to do the upgrade themselves. And, while a memory addition is not all that expensive and adding RAM is not too complicated, chances are that unless the user is highly motivated, he/she will stick with their current copy of XP, the law of inertia being what it is. As I mentioned last time, I decided against installing Vista on the most likely candidate in my computer stable - an HP laptop - due to possible problems with drivers for important pieces of hardware (like the laptop's trackpad). And, after all, the Microsoft download site says very clearly that the Vista Release Candidate 1 installation "should not be used in a production environment or on a primary computer in the home" - both of which descriptions match the HP's function. Other computers that could be spared for the Vista install would have required an upgrade in memory and/or processor - and I didn't want to spend any money to provide a welcoming environment on an experimental operating system that might need to be removed due to buginess - besides the fact that the Windows 2000 OS installed on t h o s e machines seemed to be working just fine. My Intel Mac, though, seemed to have the right stuff for this project. With a healthy-sized hard driver (160 GB), a healthy amount of RAM (512 MB), and dual core Intel processors, this Mac was more of a PC than any other Intel machine I had access to. So why not install Vista RC1 on my Mac? Because, in order to do that, I would had have had to format my Mac's hard drive - no less! This was the strange request Apple's Boot Camp installer had when I tried setting it up on my Intel iMac. Specifically, the request came as Boot Camp was trying to set up a modest 15 GB partition on the Mac. With 72 GB of space free, you would think that setting up a partition would be child's play, but not for Boot Camp. "Some files could not be moved," the software ominously warned. In order to install Boot Camp, I was instructed to back up the contents of my drive, open the Apple Disk Utilty and format it, remembering to allow Mac OS X " file system journaling" (a recording system for the disk's file structure that allows easy rebuilding of a corrupt drive). A subsequent search for information about this request revealed that it was not at all uncommon, and that there was little one could do but comply if one wanted to install Vista. Now, I don't know about you, but where I come from, reformatting a drive, aka "nuking" it, is reserved as the most drastic cure for an ailing hard drive, and is not to be taken lightly. It certainly isn't something for dilettantes who want to install an experimental OS using a beta installation method to engage in, without investing chunks of time. Let me check the ol' Blackberry - just as I thought, I'm plumb out of "chunks of time," and if they expect me to back up all my work, track down my Mac installer CDs and start from scratch, and then download all system updates and upgrades again in order to partition the drive for an experiment that was looking more dubious at every turn - well, fuhgeddaboutit. I was just about to give up when I remembered Parallels, which several helpful readers pointed out could be used to install and run Windows. Parallels (http://www.parallels.-com/en/products/workstation/ma c), if you're not familiar with it, is emulation software that makes your Mac think it's either a Windows or Linux machine. You can run a "foreign" OS as an application, allowing you to switch back between Mac OS and the guest system running on the virtual parallels machine - unlike with Boot Camp, which makes you choose one or the other at boot time. Could Parallels be a solution? Downloading the latest version, which is Vista friendly (for system installers you can choose any of the Windows family, including Vista, which Parallels calls "experimental"), I installed and began the setup. I wasn't asked to reformat my Mac drive in order to allocate space in the Parallels setup for Vista - a very positive sign - but numerous install attempts on the Windows side produced a hardware related error. It took me a few runs to figure out that Vista was screaming for more memory to be allocated to Parallels instead of the 192 MB the emulator automatically assigns. Of course. Vista, remember, requires a minimum of 512 MB (which Parallels can furnish as disk based virtual memory), so it made sense that I was getting such errors. But attempting to reallocate 512 MB to the Vista install generated numerous severe warnings from Parallels, to the effect that I was taking a great risk by assigning more than 192 MB to the virtual machine (Only later did I come across this post in the Parallels forum at ucts/workstation/mac, which says that the minimum amount of physical memory for this install is 1 GB). Bravely, though, I forged ahead - only to be rewarded by an attempted install that took hours of my Mac's time before generating a "bad-pool-caller" error, related apparently to video drivers - a reminder to those suffering from Vista memory deficiency not to forget the OS's other main problem, driver incompatibility. Okay - I get it already - Vista is a club, and I'm not qualified to join. Vista is an exercise in computer snobbery, where the worthy will be weeded out from the hoi polloi. Personally, I think that if Microsoft is bent on setting up a computer class war, they are making a tragic error. All it may take is some hotheads screaming "Linux" on the barricades to perhaps unseat MS from its position at the top of the computer heap. After all, if you're switching already, why not switch to something everyone is qualified to use? The people, united, will never be defeated!

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