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Some bumps on the road to Vista

Although there have been no reports of major problems, some people have encountered obstacles in moving to the new Windows.

Some bumps on the road to VistaWindows Vista has been in consumers' hands for about a week now and, while there haven't been a flood of problems, there have been a few bumps along the way.

Among the initial gripes are trouble installing or activating copies, as well as reports that the operating system isn't working quite as they expected. In addition to the sporadic reports of bugs and upgrade issues, other people are discovering that hardware and software incompatibilities are impeding their path to Vista.

Michael Cherry, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft, said he doesn't expect a lot of major bugs right out of the gate for Vista, but said that smaller hurdles like incompatible software or missing hardware drivers can still make the move unpleasant.

"When I buy a Mac, I'm like a kid at Christmas; I can't wait to take it home," he said. "When I buy a Windows machine, I wonder what kind of issues am I going to have to fix. Right from the beginning, I almost have buyer's remorse."

"This is where (Microsoft's) own success comes back to haunt them. Even a small error rate becomes a big number."
--Michael Cherry,
Directions on Microsoft

In many ways, Microsoft has been more ready for Vista than for any past version. More than of the software, meaning the company had a better chance to catch a wider array of potential compatibility issues than in the past. As for hardware drivers, there were 30,000 such drivers that shipped with Vista, more than three times the number that came with Windows XP.

With Vista coming nearly five years after XP, Microsoft has had plenty of time to try to get computer makers and the software industry ready for the new operating system. The company offered a design preview of the OS, then code-named Longhorn, six months before publicly unveiling a test version at the 2003 Professional Developers Conference. It has been working directly with the top 1,000 developers and invited many companies to come to Redmond to test their products in a secure building stocked with brownies and Xbox 360s designed to make the coders happy as they Vista-fied their products.

"In the pantheon of OS releases and Windows releases, I think we feel pretty good about the customer experience we've delivered," said Greg Sullivan, a group product manager in the Windows unit at Microsoft.

Still, there are key pieces of software, ranging from things like Apple's iTunes to virtual private network (VPN) software to disk utilities that still don't fully work with the new operating system. And plenty of hardware--items like printers and wireless cards--is missing a needed driver to work properly.

Activation trouble
For those who are making the move to Vista, one trouble area has been properly activating the new operating system. Cartoonist Mike Cope spent hours trying to get his Windows 2000-based system to move to Vista. Initially, he tried to upgrade from within Windows 2000, but that didn't work. Next, the Stoney Creek, Ontario, resident tried to do a clean installation of the software on his PC. The software installed fine, but when time came to do the product activation--a mandatory step with Vista--the process failed.

After reinstalling Windows 2000 and trying a few more things, Cope eventually found a loophole that solved his problem--installing Vista without activating it and then installing it a second time and going through the activation process. Because the software assumed he was moving from Vista to Vista, it activated successfully.

Still, Cope wasn't happy with the more than six hours he spent getting to Vista. "I should've bought a Mac," Cope said.

In theory, that method would let almost anyone install Vista using the upgrade disc rather than a full copy of the OS. However, Microsoft is not condoning such efforts.

"Microsoft is aware of that workaround and encourages all customers to follow the official guidelines for upgrading to Windows Vista," a Microsoft representative said in an e-mail. "People without a licensed copy of XP or earlier version of Windows that use this workaround are violating the terms of use agreed to when they purchased the upgrade version of Windows Vista."

While Cope eventually got himself to Vista, Brett Wasserman, a New York-based technology consultant, is still stuck on XP. He recently bought a Lenovo Thinkpad with Windows XP, making him eligible for a free upgrade to Vista. However, he has been unable to register at the fulfillment site for the offer due to a glitch with the site.

"This is where (Microsoft's) own success comes back to haunt them," said Directions on Microsoft's Cherry. "Even a small error rate becomes a big number."

The little things
For the vast majority who have upgraded their PC without incident, there are still little things that aren't quite as expected. Some MP3 players, for example, aren't properly being recognized. One person found that his Black Eyed Peas track, which displayed fine in XP, showed up in Vista's Windows Media Player with all of its metadata in Chinese.

Sullivan said that Microsoft is looking into the reports of problems as they come in.

"We know there will always be a few instances" of problems, Sullivan said. "What we are trying to do now is identify and resolve these as quickly as we possibly can."

Vista itself tries to solve problems when it can. For software that doesn't install properly, for example, the operating system can try again by changing some settings that often block otherwise compatible programs from installing properly. The software now prompts people to go online for updates as part of their installation, meaning that those who install Vista next week will have more drivers available than those who did so on day one. Microsoft has also added an update to Vista that improves compatibility for dozens of programs, particularly games, but also including other programs ranging from Microsoft Money 2006 to Adobe Systems Creative Suite CS2.

In some cases, software that doesn't work is an annoyance, but in other cases, it can be a deal-breaker.

"Take the case of the college student who uses exam software which runs (only) on XP--that individual can't upgrade," Cherry said. "Even for noncorporate users, there are these blocking programs that can get in your way."