Migration to Vista x64

About a month ago I made the migration to Windows Vista x64. A little back story first — I tried Vista Business soon after it was released. I hated it, most apps had terrible compatibility (even Microsoft’s own apps), and it didn’t feel very fast.

But recently my Windows XP install was yet again beginning to decay. This happened every time I reformatted. Usually after a few days (or even hours) of setting up my typical XP environment, it started exhibiting strange bugs, slow downs, and random problems. For example, the entire user interface would randomly stop working and I’d have to reboot. Clicking the ‘Start’ button would freeze the taskbar for about two seconds. Some USB devices wouldn’t work until they got power cycled. Killing things in Task Manager would always have some ridiculous delay (which I think is a general problem in XP).

These problems got so predictable that when my hard drive died in March, I decided up to upgrade to Vista again, and take another plunge at the same time – Vista x64. So far, I don’t have many complaints. The user interface is slick and responsive. I’m using Aero which says a lot — I never used Luna on XP. The organizational changes, for the most part, aren’t really much of a problem for me. I switch between the “Classic” and new control panels frequently to adapt.

UAC is not a problem, and in fact I like it after some tweaks. I disabled “Secure Desktop” (which is an extreme annoyance) and disabled confirmation for Administrators. I run my primary account as LUA (limited user account). Typing in the Administrator password to install apps is no big deal, I’m used to this from administering Linux boxes. On a few occasions I’ve seen the box pop up from suspicious programs that shouldn’t need Administrator privileges — on XP, these would have gracefully executed with no chance to inspect them.

Application compatibility has improved since a year ago. While most apps aren’t x64-native, a few were — 7-Zip, Ventrilo, MySQL, Perl, and a fair number of Microsoft apps. Some aren’t for decent reasons. Firefox, Internet Explorer, Media players and the like are often dependent on third-party libraries which don’t have x64 ports. You can’t mix 64-bit and 32-bit code in the same process.

I did have a few 16-bit Windows games which no longer run (x64 dropped the 16-bit subsystem). I even had one very esoteric program with a 16-bit installer. I wasn’t too broken up about losing those though, and VMWare will suffice if I ever need to run them.

As for driver compatibility, I did have one issue. My XP system had two GeForce cards, a 5200 and an 8800. On Vista (or at least, Vista x64) the 5xxx series and lower is no longer supported by any of the new nVidia drivers. The 5xxx series is only supported up to ForceWare 96.85 and the 8800 requires much later versions (the latest is 169.35). I tried to install both drivers at once and ended up with a nice blue screen, which is pretty understandable. Out of pure luck I had a GeForce 6 in another machine so the problem was easily resolved.

The one thing I do not like about Vista is its Explorer changes. The new Explorer is pretty bad. I removed the new organizational changes almost instantly (and I’m glad Microsoft allows for those to be reconfigured). However, it changed my favorite hot-keys and left no revert mechanism in. Every time I use backspace I expect it to go up one level, and instead it treats file browsing like web browsing. There’s a new shortcut for this (ALT+Up) but now it’s confusing when I go back and forth between operating systems.

Vista’s Explorer makes it difficult to right-click files that aren’t selected, because it requires hitting the exact name text, rather than the row the file is in. If you miss this, you get the folder’s context menu and you might not realize it right away. The new dialog for “Copy/Replace” is great, except for one major detail – you can’t use the keyboard. I haven’t been able to find a key combination that will automatically select “Replace.” Enter, strangely enough, just cancels the dialog. This is really annoying because I’m a heavy keyboard user and I’m overwriting files a lot while debugging.

It also automatically sorts new files. This seems pretty cool at first until you drop a file in a folder and watch it get sorted into a completely different location than you visually plopped it.

Back to application compatibility — some people still don’t get things totally right. A few apps failed to create Start Menu/Desktop shortcuts. Some did so, but created them with Administrator privileges (which is annoying because then I can’t remove them). Some apps almost get the right idea. For example, mIRC uses “Application Data” instead of “Program Files” now, but it uses “AppData” to store log files. That’s kind of strange, since they’re user-readable documents. “AppData” is a hidden folder and shouldn’t be used for things like that.

My favorite changes in Vista? Task Manager’s “Kill” function seems to actually work. “Documents and Settings” has been changed to the much more palatable “Users”. Symlinks now provide a bit more functionality over XP/2000’s “Junctions.” UAC makes me feel more in control.

That’s enough ranting for today — your mileage may vary.

Edit: Twisty suggested I try TAB+Space which ended up working. Huzzah!

12 thoughts on “Migration to Vista x64

  1. BlueRaja

    1. That’s funny; I install and run tons of software immediately after installing XP (right now: Pidgin, Nod32, the freeware version of Kerio, MySQL, DaemonTools, VMWare, ad infinitum), and it usually takes several months (and many useless programs installed) before I see performance degrade to the point that it’s unbearable. In fact, ever since I got this new laptop, which has enough RAM to disable the swap file, it’s been running as good as the day I bought it. What kind of shit are you installing that it’s so unstable?

    2. In the copy/replace dialog, using tab doesn’t work? (I don’t use Vista)

    3. Hasn’t auto-arrange been an Explorer feature since pre-Windows 3.1?

  2. dvander Post author

    1. Maybe it’s a combination of the tools I use, I don’t know. I just know that it happened to me.

    2. Tab doesn’t work unfortunately because the “Enter” key can only select “Cancel.”

    3. I don’t know, has it? Windows 3.1 didn’t even have Explorer (it had “File Manager”). I don’t have a problem with the old “Auto Arrange,” the problem is that Vista’s seems different. For example on XP, if I deleted a file from my desktop, it would shuffle the icons below it up one unit. On Vista, it will reshuffle all of the items by a preset criterion (like Name or Size). That’s pretty annoying since it means I have to choose between my files get sorted against my custom layout, or having empty spaces from deletions in the file grid.

  3. Nican

    Here are a few notes on my experience on Windows Vista Premium x64:

    I originally had 2GB of memory on my computer, and with no program running, Vista would use about 600MB of memory, and sometimes the computer would have full memory usage. After a year I bought extra 4GB of ram and now Vista start using 1.5GB, but the computer is running a little better.

    Widows has a nice feature to let you choose the size of icons in folders, but sometimes, random folders change the icon size, and I am not sure of the reason.

    Windows defragmenter has no showing of how much there is complete, and when I run it, the process does not stop until I restart the computer (3 days running, and it did not finish, and I can not kill the process). I was reading on-line that it is better then windows XP because it can actually save hard drive space, but I find it quite annoying.

    I disabled Windows Defender real-time scan to save computer speed, since I am not the kind of guy who find a spy-ware every month.

    There is one update called “Microsoft XML Core Services 4.0 Service Pack 2,” with does not want to be updated. I tried searching for an answer, but I did not found anything.

    I updated to Windows Vista SP1. I did not see much of a performance difference on my computer. The only nice thing now is that sometimes my video board would start making more noise, and the computer would freeze for some 2 seconds. Now that does not happen anymore.

    I am not sure if this is Windows Vista problem or not, but if I leave Firefox open for too long, it start to hug memory like crazy. I downloaded Firefox 3 beta, and it stopped using so much memory.

    I do like the the search bar on the start menu, and the fact that you can click on any posterior folder on it, and a few other things.

  4. dvander Post author

    Firefox 2 is kind of well-known for eating up memory.

    I’m using 4GB of RAM as well — I was afraid to try Vista on anything less (which is kind of a bad sign).

  5. BlueRaja

    Bailoface: I was going to suggest using space, but I guess Twisty beat me to it. Does shift+click still work in Vista (similar to Mac’s “Apply to all” checkbox), or did they finally wise up and add a button for that?

    Nican: That’s probably due to Superfetch, which means the OS is doing its job ;)
    It appears that the task manager does not differentiate between memory used by Superfetch and memory used by running applications, though, which seems to me to completely invalidate the point of the graph…

    PS. Does WordPress allow html-tags in comments?

  6. dvander Post author

    BlueRajaface: They added something to the UI to replace shift+click and I agree that was very much needed. Not sure about WordPress, I barely use it beyond making posts.

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