With Microsoft’s Windows Vista appearing on corporate desktops, end-users are being faced with the task of mastering the intricacies of a new operating system. The Toronto-based author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Microsoft Windows Vista, Paul McFedries, recently spoke with ComputerWorld Canada senior writer Jeff Jedras about the Vista end-user experience.

Q: Compared to Windows XP or 2000, has Vista gotten any easier for the “complete idiot” to master?

A: I think so. There are lots of big and small improvements. It will be easier for relatively inexperienced users to find the files they want, to find the programs they want to run, and generally organize their information better.

Q: What are the top two new innovations in Vista that you feel will make a difference in improving user productivity?

A: One would just be overall performance. Since I moved to Vista on my main computer I’ve noticed it’s quite a good performing OS. It boots much faster than XP does, several times faster. It’s got much better memory management so you hardly ever see the dreaded hourglass. Also, so much of the day-to-day maintenance of the computer has been automated in Vista. People don’t even have to worry about it; things like the disk defragmenter run automatically and it scans for spyware everyday.

Q: In the enterprise environment specifically, how is Vista going to make a difference for the corporate end user?

A: Certainly finding documents will be easier. Our hard drives are getting so big now, and the old rule is data expands to fill the space available. Actually finding things once you’ve created them is a real challenge and Vista makes that easier. It’s got really nice search capabilities. It indexes all your documents and it’s really lightning-fast. You just need to type in a keyword and it will find any document that has that keyword, either in the title or in the actual file itself, all sorts of things.

Q: You mention you’ve seen performance improvements with Vista. Were you running a machine with the minimum recommended specs (512 MB RAM) or higher?

A: I’m running 2GB RAM. But I’m also comparing apples to apples in the sense that my old machine was running XP with 2GB RAM, and the change between the two was amazing. I work with a lot of large files and with XP it would do a lot of disk-thrashing and swapping out to disk to try to find the next bit of data. Vista does some of that, of course, but it doesn’t do near as much. It has more optimized internal memory management. If you watch the resources, Vista rarely goes up to 100 per cent, whereas XP would routinely. That’s when you’d see the hourglass icon and wonder why your machine is running so slow.

Q: We’ve talked about some of the things you like about Vista. On the flip side, are there some things they didn’t get quite right?

A: Nothing is perfect, of course. Something I don’t like which everyone seems to be talking about is this Aero Glass interface, or at least the transparency effect. It just drives me to distraction because I don’t really want to see what’s underneath the window I’m working on, I just want to see the window I’m working on. I’ve actually turned that off on my computer.

As a power user, I really hate that they’ve dumbed down so much of the interface to make it palatable for inexperienced users, without giving you the option of turning on a more powerful interface. It gives you very high-level options that are great for people that don’t want to spend a lot of time on [things like backup], but if you’re a power user you want to be able to tweak settings, and you can’t go in and do that. To me, that’s something they got wrong. It can’t be that hard to have two different interfaces, one for novices and one for power users. But they didn’t think so obviously.

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