Week in review: Visions of Vista? Buyer beware

Microsoft's release of the consumer version of its new operating system raises the ultimate question: Was it worth the wait?

Week in review: Visions of Vista? Buyer bewareAfter many delays, Microsoft finally released the consumer version of Vista to yawns and trepidation.

The Vista launch itself was a quiet affair in a midtown Manhattan CompUSA store (the chain had organized midnight events at several of its stores), where it seemed like there were just as many reporters and camera crews as there were customers hoping to take home a copy of Vista.

Indeed, there was more to the late-night event at CompUSA than Microsoft's new operating system. The store had offered up a smattering of impressive deals on tech gear and peripherals--including Bluetooth headsets, Webcams, printers and monitors--designed to complement to the Vista launch. But it was quite clear that the majority of the people waiting in line were eager to capitalize on the slashed prices and had no real interest in Vista or Office 2007.

Microsoft may be glad to finally get Windows Vista out the door, but consider the PC industry the second-happiest bunch. After years of waiting, PC companies presented the new operating system to their customers this week. Some, like Hewlett-Packard, designed new systems specifically for the operating system, while others, like Dell, simply rolled the new software onto its existing lineup of products.

It wasn't much of a stretch for the PC community to get behind Vista. Many companies had been making plans to unveil Vista systems in the fourth quarter of last year--until last March, when Microsoft delayed release of the operating system once again.

While Vista is a leap forward in terms of security, few people who know the operating system say the advances are enough to justify an upgrade. Many say that is no reason to dump a functioning PC running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and shell out $200 to upgrade to Vista.

"As long as XP users keep their updates current, there's generally no compelling reason to buy into the hype and purchase Vista right away," said David Milman, chief executive of Rescuecom, a computer repair and support company. "We suggest people wait until buying a new machine to get Vista, for economic and practical reasons."

While many CNET News.com readers debated the value of Vista's security, one pointed out that there is a basic security step available to all PC users.

"Regardless of what OS you're running, you're an idiot if your computer is directly connected to the Internet," wrote one reader to News.com's TalkBack forum. "You can buy a consumer hub/firewall (which will also network your home computers) for about $30, and it's more effective than any software AV/Firewall."

But beyond its improvements in security, there apparently is no guarantee that Vista will run on your PC. Microsoft offers Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor 1.0, which scans computers for Vista readiness, indicates which of four versions will adequately run and makes upgrade recommendations, should hardware need help.

CNET and other tech sites also offer free tools to analyze a PC's Vista readiness and version compatibility. Still, such tools won't absolutely certify that consumers will be able to run the version of Vista they pay for, analysts say.

Another point to consider: while Microsoft's tool, and others like it, provide a general indication of whether a computer is Vista-compatible, they do not let users probe to see if specific features--such as Vista's new graphical interface or BitLocker drive encryption--will work. Microsoft's list of requirements for optimally running Vista Ultimate, the fullest version, or other versions, is long and detailed.

Executive comings and goings
With the debut of Vista comes the departure of Microsoft's Windows chief, Jim Allchin. Vista hit store shelves on Tuesday, and one day later, Allchin, as promised, retired after 16 years with the software maker.

It's not yet clear how Allchin's latest product will affect his legacy. While early reviews of the operating system have been lukewarm, Allchin said he is confident that time will show Vista to be a significant improvement over previous versions of Windows.

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