Windows Vista, R.C. 1

You can download for free the first release candidate for Windows Vista.

I did so last night to try to see if Banana Bay would work alright under Vista.

Some observations:

It took a long time to download – it’s about 2.5 GB, and took about 2 hours or so for me to download on my fast cable connection.

I went to install it on a ~3 year old Windows XP machine. This machine has decent specs – AMD Athlon XP 3000+ CPU, GeForce 5700 video, and 1 GB RAM.

I wanted to install it to a hard drive partition and keep my old XP install around. This machine is not my primary, and had no important data, but I still wanted to keep XP on it. The Vista RC 1 expires on 5/31/07, and I didn’t really want to be left with a PC with an expired OS (yes, I could reinstall XP later, but that’s a pain).

I tried the option to install Vista onto a partition, but although there were some vague indications from the language in the setup that I could do this, in fact, it seemed that your drive would already have to be properly partitioned for this to work. Although my hard drive was probably only about 20% full, I couldn’t find a method to partition it as part of the Vista install, and didn’t want to invest hours and/or $$$ finding a 3rd party drive partitioner.

So I opted for an overall ‘Upgrade’ – i.e. replace my XP install with Vista, but keep my programs intact.

It didn’t like one program I had installed (Norton), but after I spent 20 minutes or so removing Norton (what a pain), I got Vista to start it’s install/upgrade process again.

It ran ok for about 3 hours, then stalled in the last of the 5? stages it listed (finishing installation?)

I let it run overnight, but when it was still dead this morning, I rebooted. After some more complaints from Vista about an incomplete install, I went the 3rd route, and chose the option that amounted to ‘blow away everything on the drive and give me a clean Vista install.

This took only about an hour, and succeeded, mostly…

Once Vista fired up and prompted me for my user name and the like, it seemed pretty solid. Internet access worked right off the bat (I didn’t need to enter any settings). The OS seemed solid, except that it was running at 1024 x 768 resolution. I have a Dell 2005 LCD monitor, and it’s native rez (and my preferred rez) is 1600 x 1200. Unfortunately, Vista would not let me bump the rez past 1024 x 768. The problem is that it apparently couldn’t identify my monitor, possible because the PC is not directly connected to the monitor, but rather, goes through a KVM switcher (allowing me to hook 4 PCs to the same monitor, keyboard and mouse).

It wouldn’t let me manually specify the monitor – it just had the generic default monitor configuration.

I was able to find a switch for ‘Hide modes that this monitor cannot display’, which was checked by default. I unchecked it, which gave me some more, higher rez modes to select, but they were all widescreen modes, like 1980 x 1080. I ended up leaving things at 1024 x 768. Maybe I’ll fight this battle another day.

One of the first things you notice with Vista is that it pops up a LOT of warning dialogs when you change just about any setting. I suppose this keeps newbie users out of trouble to an extent, but it’s annoying to a savvy user. I could probably find a way to switch into administrator mode and cut back on this, but I wanted to experience the OS as most users would.

As for the actual OS – it looks very cool. I’m surprised to admit this, since I thought the default XP look (candy-coated) was awful, but the default Vista look is very nice – better than Mac OS-X in my opinion.

I went to install my game, which runs quite well in Windows XP, and is very vanilla (does not even use DirectX, but rather, the more basic Windows functions of Waveout for sound, and BitBlt for graphics). I got a few semi-scary warnings when I went through the install process. This is going to scare inexperienced users away from games and such by smaller developers. You can address it to some extent by digitally signing your installers, but that’s expensive, cumbersome, and somewhat oriented towards larger developers, IMO.

After the install and the various warnings, I went to play the game.

It all played fine, except the sound was very ‘skippy/stuttering’. Usually this means the sound buffers are too small. I recompiled the game with bigger buffers, and that resolved the problem, but at the cost of much higher sound latency (i.e. the lag between when you, say, press a button, and when you hear the appropriate sound). I added some debug code and determined that I was filling the buffers at proper intervals. Then I added some more debug code to see if the buffers were ever ‘running out’ (which would cause stuttering).

To do this, I called waveOutGetPosition, which you can use to see if the buffers have data in them. In theory, this function is simply a ‘read-only’ function – it tells you something about the state of audio playback, but should not actually CHANGE anything about audio playback.

And yet, once I started calling this function, the stuttering went away. I confirmed this by adding a switch by which I could, in game, toggle this function call on and off. I do not know why calling a query function such as this appears to affect the way that buffers are refilled, and it makes me uncomfortable that, at the moment, the ability of my game to play sound correctly in Vista appears to depend on this oddity, but that’s the way it is.

Otherwise, I haven’t spent too much time using Vista. I will say that my initial experiences with it leave me rather skeptical that this it will really be ready for prime time in the next few weeks (I believe the final is supposed to be seeded to corporate customers in November, and to be pre-installed on consumer PCs in January). We’ll see, but a multi-month slippage in release dates would not surprise me. I doubt they will have a version good enough that I’d want to make it my primary OS come January.

Edit – One further note: Since I set this Vista machine up about 6 hours ago, its hard drive has been chattering most of the day, even when idle. Hopefully this is just a one time indexing thing or something like that (though the machine is now clean except for the OS and my game – shouldn’t take too long). If Vista is always active and pounding on the hard drive even when you’re leaving it alone, that could become very annoying very quickly.

Edit 2 – apparently R.C. 1 is NOT brand new but has been around for at least a little bit. R.C. 2 was apparently recently leaked and is better, but is not available at the site above. So, if this version I’m looking at is several months old, it’s more believable that Microsoft could hit a final in a few weeks with a decent version.

One Response to “Windows Vista, R.C. 1”

  1. Duck Hunter Says:

    Thanks for this post, Phil. It was very informative. As the time gets closer, I’ve been watching more about Vista.

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