A reader recently posted a comment stating that I am making an assumption that anyone would “need this incredible pig of an operating system” and that “from an application standpoint, there is nothing in Vista that is going to make my word processor any better.” This raises some interesting points that I would like to address.

First, I agree that every version of Widows is more bloated and resource hungry than the last; just look at my hardware recommendations for Vista. This is because Microsoft tries to bundle every possible feature (whether or not it is useful, secure, or needed by the user) into the operating system. Also, no matter how much they alpha- and beta-test it, there is always a 6-12 month “shakedown” period for each new version before it is anywhere stable enough and safe for use. That is why I have recommended a wait before an upgrade.

Second, from strictly an application standpoint, as things stand now, I agree with the reader. However, as newer versions of applications come out that take advantage of some of Vista’s features, that may well change. However, it is not for the increase in functionality that I would recommend the eventual upgrade.

This brings me to the third point: why I do believe that people will want this operating system. There are some gems among the bloat that are worth waiting for, especially for the road warrior lawyer who needs to be productive away from the office as well.

ReadyDrive. I have often said that technology is moving towards solid state drives for permanent storage on PCs, signaling the death of the traditional hard drive, its moving parts, and its mean time between failures (i.e. your drive will eventually crash and burn, ye shall not know the date or time, so you’d better back up!). The larger USB FlashDrives get, the closer we are to that day. However, there has been an intermediate step taken: the hybrid drive. This is a traditional hard drive with a solid state drive attached. Vista has integrated into it technology called ReadyDrive that takes advantage of this hardware. This means that data used to boot your computer can be stored there and therefore accessed much faster upon startup. This makes for faster boots or “wake-ups” from power-saving hibernation or sleep modes by laptops. Frequently used applications can be stored there for faster launching of what you do most (there are those applications again, Dear Reader), along with frequently accessed data. Thus you will work faster and more efficiently. Unfortunately, systems with these drives are not yet available and won’t be for a few months. When they do, they will predictably come out on laptops first.

ReadyBoost. This is a technology like ReadyDrive that looks to use solid state memory to boost the performance of a PC. By plugging in a ReadyBoost capable USB flash drive with at least 230Mb of free space (up to 4 Gb), you can use it to augment system memory (RAM) without cracking the case and adding chips. This can be done with more than just flash drives. According to Microsoft,

ReadyBoost supports USB flash drives, Secure Digital cards, CompactFlash cards, Memory Stick over PCI, and PCIe and SSA busses, which effectively includes most internal card readers in mobile PCs. ReadyBoost does not support cards attached to external USB readers or devices attached to a USB 1.0 and USB 1.1 bus.”

It can also be used much the same way hybrid drives do ifthe system you get doesn’t sport one, thus speeding application and data retrieval.

SuperFetch. This is the feature that works with the other two to figure out what applications and data you use most and load it into nonvolatile memory, such as the solid state memory in a hybrid drive or the USB drive plugged into your machine. Because of the spin-up and -down time of a traditional drive, using solid state memory for this speeds performance.

All of these features not only increase system performance and allow you to work faster, but they save on power consumption, which is a boon to road warriors with limited life in their laptop batteries. This is because the solid state memory does not have the moving parts of a hard drive and thus draws a lot less power. A good white paper is available on these features from the Microsoft web site (Warning: Only for technogeeks who speak the language). Also, these features support my recommendation to wait for the upgrade, as PCs (desktop and laptop) come out with the hardware that really takes advantage of them (hybrid drives, ReadyBoost capable flash drives, etc.).

Another reason to upgrade to Vista is the improved networking and security, which I will get into in my next post.

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