Vista--the LAST OS You'll ever Need (But wasnt' that XP?)
Written: Jun 21, 2007 (Updated Nov 18, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:The most graphics-intensive GUI available, Media Centers' clean interface, DVR, virtualization, searching, DX-10-capable.
Cons:Program incompatibilities, High-definition video restrictions, driver availability, & memory use.
The Bottom Line: Don't buy if new to computers, or unless you are certain your main, intended applications are stable enough. Only for computer techs, programmers, engineers, strict web-browsers, and the "curiously adventurous."
My computer was good to go--2.2Ghz AMD 64 3400 , a supposed Nvidia 256Mb PCI-e graphics card, and 1 Gb memory. I was good to go-happy with XP, but, as a tech, needing to get my feet "wet" with Vista. So I jumped in...
I actually got the academic upgrade version, on sale and at a substantial discount (from Academicsuperstore.com), but a PC Magazine article tipped me off that it could actually be used for a full, clean install (and I dual-booted with XP). Just ignore the warnings, and DO NOT enter your activation code/ID until you reinstall the OS (read on).
I had a 65Gb partition ready to go, booted with the Vista DVD, the packaging of which was so infernally constrictive that I had to consult a Flickr.com photo guide on how to extricate the disc ( http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=opening microsoft vista )and believe it or not, this was the hardest part of the installation). The installation seemed to practically stop (and I rebooted once, thinking it had) but, on my 2nd attempt, I left it alone, and it soon continued through the setup screens and completed--it just takes a really long time! When all was done, it booted onto the desktop, which took about 47 seconds for me, very quickly flashing by a screen to select the operating system to start--so quickly that I had to press an up or down arrow key to make it pause long enough to choose XP (I've since found that you can adjust this time in the control panel). This created a 30-day installation of Vista. And, although I haven't done so, finalizing the installation of Vista involves booting from the DVD again, and installing it as an upgrade to the existing OS. Don't activate or register Vista until you reinstall it--Microsoft has been very picky about how many times you get to reinstall Vista. You also have an option to extend your evaluation period for another 30 days, up to a total of 120 days. Just open the command prompt under "Start-->Programs-->accessories-->command prompt," and then, importantly, right-click on it and select "run as administrator," or you'll get an error). The command prompt link will appear in black in the search field, above. Then, type "slmgr -rearm" [enter] You'll then be asked to reboot. This is Microsoft-supported and legal.
If you have a partition with enough free space (and plan to dual-boot), you won't need to use a tool like Partition Magic or Partition Commander, both of which can resize, split, or create new partitions, regardless of the disc contents (and I swear by Partition Magic). If you do plan to dual-boot, you'll need to install Vista last, or XP won't start, due to changes in the root directory--this could probably be fixed by copying boot.ini, NTLDR, and a few other files from another XP installation, or editing the boot.ini file, but you might break your Vista installation. Alternatively, you could download Microsoft's (free) Virtual PC 2007 ( http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc/default.mspx ), which creates up to 4 virtual machines on top of Windows Vista, running any X86 Operating System, from DOS to XP, and some have even simultaneously run Vista and XP on dual monitors, from one computer--the other option is to switch back-and-forth among the different virtual machines, using 1 monitor. Performance won't be optimal, however, but you "only need" a 400 Mhz Pentium-compatible processor, 1 Ghz recommended." This, despite the spec sheet at http://www.newegg.com saying that my processor is not "capable of virtualization."
At first glance, Vista looks pretty, but one can't help but suspecting that it's a glossed-over XP, with the same familiar functions and programs. The Aero Glass interface is accessed via a tray icon in the lower-left of the screen, and instantly shows all the open windows in the much-ballyhooed 3-D, slanted appearance. Clicking on any of them instantly brings it to the forefront. Seems more like a gimmick than anything. However, I much prefer the look to Vista Basic editions, which look very generic and boring.
By default, you have to click on each item in the "Start" menu to get it to expand, and the new layer replaces the old, on a single-dimensional plane (except "Recent Items"). I prefer the start menu/tree of XP, which snappily (and logically) branches out to your target. Thankfully, it is available, as well as other customization options.
Shockingly, the "premium" edition doesn't include the full, "complete" backup program. Rather, it has a simplified version that only backs up files, folders, and settings. The Ultimate and Business versions have the more complete backup program, but mine seems to have acquired this functionality through an update. It can probably be downloaded from Microsoft, as well, mirroring the situation with XP Home edition. The familiar Sytem Restore is there, but it mysteriously stopped working for a while--all is well now. One other caveat is, in systems dual-booted with XP, each time you start XP, it will erase the recent restore points in Vista, presumably leaving you only with the first restore point (and how long before Vista "forgets" it?). That's why a reliable backup is paramount.
I have since found that, if you have dual-booted with XP (and if you have XP's System Restore monitoring the Vista partition(s)), you can do a System Restore from XP. Upon starting Vista, though, it will prompt you to insert the Vista DVD for a repair. I ignored that and continued. Vista checked the disc for errors, and continued to load. The only difference was the message "Vista has recovered from a serious startup error." That, and I've had to manually start the Sidebar from the "start" menu so far (I've seen that before, though, so it might not be related). In a pinch, though, you have this option.
My system seemed to navigate through Vista with aplomb--speedily. My claimed "256Mb" Nvidia 7300le graphics card is actually a 128Mb version, with a "turbo cache" that uses up to 512Mb of shared memory. It was designed for systems builders to enable the Aero Glass interface on a budget, but was later released for consumers as an affordable upgrade to Vista Premium-readiness. Nevertheless, the "Windows Experience" gave my graphics system a "3.2" out of a possible 5.9.
The Windows Experience index is, perhaps, the most amusing part of Vista. It seems designed to push consumers to buy more memory and peripherals, in order to get a better "experience." It's obviously had the effect of lowering prices--particularly for memory. It rates your graphics, gaming graphics, processor, memory, and primary hard disk. Your score is equal to the lowest of these scores. Curiously, my disk score was the highest, a 5.2. I don't remember sticking anything special in there--just the cheapest 120Gb name-brand I could find (a Maxtor); I think it solely rates it based on the available free space. It gave my gaming graphics a 3.2. Upon updating some drivers, it added an "unrated" next to the 3.2. The tool seems pretty useless, but one finds oneself almost addictively drawn to it.
Most programs I tried would not work with Vista--even the operating system's own ones. Neither Media Player (nor "Media Center") would play any of my mpeg or mp4 files--just the included video samples. It'd give an inane message that the program has "stopped," and giving an option to go online for a possible solution. I didn't try this, as I was not yet set up with an antivirus program. Several times, even Windows Explorer stopped working. I did briefly surf the web to download the updates, but it didn't cause these programs to work--the 12 updates did download and install rather quickly, however, over my basic Verizon DSL line. Most programs I tried to install had "known issues," and XP programs I tried to install were largely rejected, which will prompt you to buy Vista versions if patches aren't released. Also, Vista asks for multi-click "permissions" for some of the most mundane tasks, which gets annoying; this is defeatable, however.
Media Center deserves special attention. And I'll just run through the features, as I wasn't able to employ them yet. It basically adds Windows XP Media Center tv-tuner/DVR functions to Vista, when used with a compatible tuner. You could make a cinematic slideshow of your photos, with background music, as well (saveable), and copy recorded tv to dvd's. You could also view your music library as a "wall of music"--a mosaic of your CD covers.
Windows Photo Manager looked promising, but I experienced a peculiar problem. I added some pictures to the "My Pictures" folder, but only got a message saying that the folder, or a parent folder, was a critical part of the operating system, and to copy it elsewhere, or to the "My Pictures" album. I tried many different locations on the hard drive, and even importing directly from a dvd, but nothing worked. I found a few articles online of people having the same problem. One guy had to log on to Windows as a different user to get it to work (other than "Administrator). I look forward to building a slideshow with music, but it's just not working for me right now. I was able, however, to preview photos (directly from the picture-containing folder) with some interesting transition effects, including various frames, flips, and, most interesting, a "travel" theme--that was the most interesting, and a few others were kind of unique.
Internet Explorer was one of the only applications that didn't crash. It behaved as expected, and it's best feature is "tabbed browsing," as Firefox users have enjoyed for years. It actually has an extra tab sticking out, so you only have to do a single click on it to open a new tab, instead of hunting for the option through the file menu in a multi-click sequence in Firefox. I really miss that when I use Firefox (hopefully there is an extension somewhere that enables this). Curiously, though, they put the "reload" button near the upper-left corner of the screen--kind of an inconvenient stretch.
I have since managed to get a few more apps to work in Vista. Firefox, DVD Decrypter, and DVD Shrink work just as they did under XP, as do Epson Film Factory and Google Earth. And even though I only knowingly installed PC Tools Spyware Doctor under XP, in a separate partition, it has mysteriously appeared under Vista, downloading updates, running scans, and even successfully removing some threats. I believed the program was safe/non-spyware, but it's been kind of weird. Microsoft says you can use XP drivers (and programs, I guess) for the most part under Vista, but I've heard that drivers made for Windows Server 2003 (NT) might work better, since Vista is based on it.
And yes--Vista has "widgets," the familiar floating applets that are customizable and downloadable, that have long been available (for free) through Yahoo! and other companies (including Apple). You can adjust the opacity of the widgets, as well as any window, although I don't see the usefulness of this. An analog clock, as well as a link to "Headlines" defaults on the desktop, but I've added a slide puzzle, stock streamer, and CPU/memory gauge (all included). Thousands of user-created widgets will logically "follow." My favorite widget is the one that automatically starts a mini-slideshow of pictures ("Picture Pane?"), defaulting to the sample pics. You just right or double-click on them, to use them as backdrops, and they are lovely. The widget showing 4 headlines, scrollable through more than 60, is nice, too--making a truly useful desktop, right out-of-the-box.
I stuck in a regular DVD, but was told that there was a nefarious (my word) interaction between my monitor and/or software, and that I may need a DVD plugin. Specifically, both Media Player and Media Center also said that my Terminator 2: Judgement Day store-bought disc had region markings that were "incompatible with this player." However, a home-brew CD-video played beautifully, and the on-screen "heads-up"-type display works a lot better than the previous, smallish controls on Media Players. In addition, after various updates, I was able to play a backup of a DVD in Media Center. It seemed to lag, however, and the resolution was not impressive--probably due to the compression, and the high resolution of my display, as well as "low" memory.
After a little research, it appears that my DVD player, a Pioneer DVR-111D with altered firmware, won't play encrypted discs under Vista. Older DVD players, which don't have RPC-1 capability to handle region coding in hardware are "no longer supported" under Vista, and newer ones that have "updated" firmware that affects the RPC, and even some drives that have been moved from other computers, will likely experience what I have. I could revert to the original firmware, play my encrypted discs under XP, or just use my unencrypted backups. Also, AnyDVD automatically removes encryption, and works really well in making backups with DVD Shrink, and this is the solution that worked for me. I obtained another trial, and I was able to play the tested, encrypted DVD's immediately (and T2-Extreme Edition looks awesome!). Seemingly lacking is the ability to change the aspect ratio of videos, but Power DVD is a great, flexible alternative that permits this.
Games are the only near-term killer apps that could speed Vista's adoption, with the "Games for Windows" initiative, and the incredibly detailed graphics wrought by the Direct X-10 capabilities, which is, for now "Vista-only." The only stopgap will be affordable DX-10 capable graphics cards, but our stout, hard-core gaming community will, no doubt, step right up to the plate. Imagine how cheap a decent graphics card will become by then...
I tried a few of Vista's built-in games, and they seemed refreshing (the omission of an updated Pinball was lamentable, however). One has you building "cakes to order," which is making me hungry just thinking about it. A picture of an ordered cake is displayed, and a platter rolls along an assembly line, where you have to select the layers to build the designated one. A "master chef" chides you on. The graphics are colorful, and it's cute and addictive. I've also finally figured out that you have to go back and use at least 2 molds to make each cake, with at least one layer between them. There's a great 3-D chess game, with impressive graphics, as well as an addictive implementation of the old "slide puzzle," which is a widget that has to be manually added--very cute.
I've also had the chance to play with the "Readyboost" feature. In a nutshell, you can use Readyboost-designated flash memory drives to supplement the computer's memory, by caching smaller files, thus speeding up the overall computer speed. I purchased a 2 gigabyte drive--since I have 1 Gb of memory installed, I had to reserve only 1 Gb of the drive for the cache (technically, you should match the cache to the system memory, for optimum results, but I have since increased the reserved space to the max-1780 Mb and so far, so much better). This reserved space is unusable, even on other computers. To reach the Readyboost configuration, you right-click on the flash drive under "Computer," and click on the Readyboost tab. The rest of the drive is available for use as a regular flash drive, and this particular model also had a "U3" system, which functioned simultaneously with Readyboost. I've only done web browsing in depth, on this system, and I've observed that the speed of browsing is quicker, especially when opening multiple windows. That's enough to convince me that the feature is worthwhile.
Another nagging facet of Vista is the inability to browse beyond the desktops of dual-booted systems (this was my experience with XP), or vice-versa. Whenever I'd try to access the My Documents folder of the XP partition, it'd ask me to set up "permissions," but I was never able to do it. At other times, it'd just flat-out tell me that I "do not have permission" (ie. trying to browse Vista files from XP). My other system is dual-booted with XP and Windows 98se, and , for the most part, I can run the same program file from either OS, and completely browse the folders of each (both partitions are FAT32-formatted). I'm sure the proper way to set up permissions will "commoner knowledge," and, in a way , I guess it's more secure. Right now, however, it's just an annoyance.
Vista is not ready for prime time--at least, I predict, until the first great service pack. There are too many software incompatibilities and driver issues right now, and I don't see how it could be useful to the average Joe--just to those who only use Vista-targeted applications like Office 2007. With restrictions for playback of high-definition content, extending to having compliant monitors, it is rather elitist. It will prevail, however, as we inevitably upgrade to it, either by software, or just new hardware purchases, and the kinks will be worked out. In the end, however, I am back in XP, which works as usual, using familiar programs that are reliable and predictable, and finishing up another great Epinions review.
Update--I'm getting more and more comfortable with this OS, and actually finding myself missing it when I'm in XP, at times--I have "lived" in it for more than a week, without booting into my XP partition. I can feel the inevitability of a total switch--not just for me, but for everyone. Internet Explorer continues to work flawlessly, so if your main purpose is web browsing, then you're good to go. My just-purchased Epson Picture Mate was easily installed (by the OS, no less), and the driver actually gave me more paper output options (particularly for "borderless" printing) than the XP version (although I was still able to print borderlessly in XP). I also successfully installed a Versajette M300 printer, after some drama during which it'd stalled indefinitely--it completed after a restart. That seems to be a trend, because a Zyxxel wireless PCI card (see "Wireless on Steroids"--http://www.epinions.com/content_367597686404) that wasn't working before suddenly started working today, so it almost seems like the OS "learns" a device over time. However, a Microsoft wireless (notebook) mouse hasn't worked to date (although it works in XP, as I've just discovered). Yet another update--this mouse now works in Vista!
I've downloaded a few more updates, and video playback doesn't freeze as often, but viewing video and picture thumbnails in Explorer does tend to cause Explorer to close/restart at times. (Update--now, videos play smoothly, with no apparent problems, but components of windows still "stop working"--it just doesn't affect playback as often.)
I've found many XP programs to work fine under Vista, including DVD Shrink and the free AVG antivirus program. I'm using a Vista version of Slingbox Player successfully, and have finally figured out how to forward the port (for viewing over the 'Net). To its credit, the OS hasn't completely frozen up on me--I have always been able to close and restart one of the offending programs, and then continue with my work. I finally got Windows Photo Manager to work, but only through a non-administrator account. In my preliminary exploration, it is so-so, but, hey--it's "free."
High-definition video files-Blu-Ray and HD-DVD-won't display on a monitor that isn't HDCP-compatible. I haven't tried this, but it is a de-facto part of Vista. This is a wider issue, as any LCD/Plasma or hi-def TV with an HDCP digital output must work with components that meet the specification. Consumers hear "HDCP" and say "Wow!" but all it adds up to is a copy-protection scheme advanced by the super-rich studios that want to limit how the end-consumer uses their own property. Of course, you can still view regular DVD's through any video output, and to any display with the proper connector.
Working in XP recently, I had the urge to roll down and click on the "Aero Glass" feature, which is mostly cosmetic, but pretty cool. Sadly, I realized that I'm in an obsolete OS.
Update II-- It seems that this is the most user-friendly OS in Microsoft history, very helpful. Recently, my sidebar stopped functioning. So, not only did Vista inform me of this, but it said that "Google Toolbar" is the offending program, and offered a link to go online and find a solution. A few moments later, I'd downloaded an update, and the sidebar was back. That's a lot more helpful than those old messages--"Module XYZ has caused a general exception error at 0X0113302323--Click here for details," after which you'd be presented with even more cryptic information. And even though User Access Control can be bothersome, you feel secure knowing it's there, and it's less troublesome than a firewall (ie. Zone-Alarm) asking for permission for a program to access the Internet for the "umpteenth" time. You also have fewer problems to deal with down the road, and actually get used to it. A slick touch is the dimming of the screen whenever UAC is about to verify an action, which is kind of calming, after you get over the minor annoyance. Nice going, Microsoft.
I don't know if this is Vista's "fault," but I was able, on the first try, to copy 99.5% of a double-layer, 8.5 Gb DVD that, in many other computers (with several different DVD burners-LG, Sony, Creative, etc., and during many hours of attempts), running Windows XP Pro, I was unable to copy more than 51% of. The data strongly suggests (and I highly suspect) that it has something to do with improvements or modifications in Vista's file handling, because I have struggled with the duplication of this otherwise irreplaceable media (which is a copy to begin with, and appeared to have several micro scratches and pits, generating numerous "cyclic redundancy" errors on all prior attempts). This particular DVD recorder (and brand), the Pioneer DVD-111D mentioned above, was not used in the other attempts, and it has had several compatibility issues with media that has worked flawlessly with every other drive I've used.
There is a known issue in which certain Nvidia graphics cards interfere with a Vista PC's ability to recover from "sleep" mode. I use a 7300le and, sometimes, after a long period of leaving the pc idle, it'll automatically enter sleep mode. Upon trying to restart the pc, the display will either remain blank and show a "no input" sign, or show slightly diagonal colored rolling lines--in either case, the hard drive, fan, and indicator lights are all functioning, but the computer must be restarted. Nvidia acknowledges this problem, and is working on improved drivers. I upgraded to Nvidia driver version 18.104.22.16824, dated 4/26/07, and it happens less frequently. I still occasionally see the colored diagonal lines, after certain operations. The driver provides the plethora of adjustments Nvidia users are used to (finally!), and I now have a clearer, more vibrant and solid output to my HPL1906 LCD monitor than I get using XP. My review of this monitor, often on sale, is here--http://www.epinions.com/content_286420209284
It is worth mentioning that Vista is a memory hog. My 2 sticks of 512 Mb (total 1 Gb, 1 PC2700, 1 PC3200), is turning out to not be enough. Right now, I'm running a Slingbox, have Firefox open with 4 tabs, and it's using 42% of the cpu, and 82% of the physical memory with 61 processes running. The sidebar uses 19,000K of memory and 7% of cpu, with only one additional Widget added. I do have the video card running an additional output to a 2nd monitor, but you can feel the lag in windows opening, and responsiveness of programs. And this is with a Readyboost flash drive with 1 Gb memory allotted to assist. I'm recommending 2 Gb of memory for the equivalent performance of an XP Pro system with 512-1024Mb memory. Of course, faster memory, dual-channel, dual-core, faster processors, a better graphics card with more memory, your motherboard, overclocking, etc., will affect your performance, not to mention, any virus/adware infections, and programs (especially those working in the background). Remember--more and faster is better, but more is cheaper, as Vista's "hunger" is driving down memory prices, especially for newer, faster memory. Update--I swapped out the PC2700 for a PNY 1 Gb PC3200, for a total of 1.5 Gb, and things are FLYING now (even without Readyboost); the difference is DRAMATIC.
There are a few handy tips for increasing Vista performance. Turning off (auto-start in) Windows Defender & Windows Search Indexing; turning off unneeded services and programs that boot with Vista, and turning off automatic disk defragmentation, among other things, all help. The details on how to do these can be found at http://www.pctuneuptips.com/tips/vista_tweaks/?gclid=CKjupOCd240CFSEfYQod82CUdQ
A word on security... Using only the included Windows Defender, the free AVG antivirus utility (http://free.grisoft.com/doc/2/), and the free Norton Security Scan (along with other free software, from Google, here-- http://www.freeantivirusinfo.com/), I've only had one problem that I haven't been able to get rid of. That would be the "Trojan.Startpage," a "high-risk" trojan that apparently hijacks your startpage, but could possibly be doing other things in the background. Other than a possible slowdown, however, I haven't experienced that, or any other symptoms, so Vista seems pretty secure. I've also downloaded about 16 updates so far, and I hear Vista Service Pack 1 is due later this year, already in the hands of beta testers, amid a slew of rumors. Good news, apparently.
It is also well worth mentioning the more stable network connection I've enjoyed in Vista. Under XP, using the standard Verizon DSL (cheapest @ $17.99/mo), I usually end up losing the connection, after leaving my pc on overnight (the same computer)--especially after resuming from "sleep" mode, a known issue from earlier Windows versions. However, I have kept a stable connection on this pc, under Vista, indefinitely, and even after resuming from "sleep" mode. It seems I may've had some early troubles, but updates have apparently solved them. Less downtime=higher efficiency, and that's always a plus! Nice going, Vista!
Lastly, I've found a site with free Microsoft software, exclusively for Vista. There is quite a bit there, and it runs the gamut, including at least 8 applications that enhance the Vista experience on tablet pc's, the Origami Experience Pack for Ultra Mobile PC's, which enhances the experience via the touch screen, particularly with multimedia files; an XML "Notepad" editor, and many other Internet utilities, network tools that enable you see details about all your networked pc's, a curious program that displays details about your pc, including the IP address and version of Windows, on your desktop, multimedia tools, the backup program mentioned earlier, games, desktop wallpaper, drivers for certain hardware, developer kits for Vista and Media Center, and even a "Robotics Studio," to "create robotics applications across a wide range of hardware." Here's the link-- http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1844.entry
Although my review hints that you will be working, for "free," as a beta tester, it is a "party" (implying some fun, if you are so inclined), and you are the guest of "honor."
Another reviewer mentioned that Vista is slow at disc access. I can say that I just added a 320 Gb PATA hard drive to my system, and it took about an hour, and a reboot, to get Vista to do an NTFS format. I'm quite certain XP would've done it in about 7 minutes. It is now proposing to spend "1 Hour and 27 minutes" to copy 130 Gb from my external drive to this one over a USB 2.0 line. This quickly devolved to "1 hour and 21 minutes..."
At first, I thought that Vista didn't have a "search by date modified" feature, but a quick web search displayed that yes, it really is there--and a whole lot more! You just have to really, really dig for it. In Explorer, right-click over "view," and you'll see the many options. You can even have Explorer sort all the files in a folder into automatically generated pseudo-folders filtered (and labeled) by exact date, less-exact dates, size, and the usual options, by choosing "stack by." There is also a preview pane for viewing both pictures and videos. You can also perform all of the search functions right from whichever folder you happen to be in, as opposed to going through the "start" button. Lastly, there is also a "group by" option, which is like "stack by," but just puts them under captions, rather than in folders. Under each option, if you choose "more," a list of two-hundred and seventy (you read right--"270") details can be selected from to be displayed, from author, and artist; to 35mm focal length, attachments, webpage, and word count, even! That's some mighty powerful searching, but even more insight can be found here-- http://www.vistaclues.com/category/productivity/
A recent "odyssey" had me trying to install a Soundblaster Audigy 2 Gamer ZS sound card. I immediately downloaded the "Vista" driver from the Creative website, but it wouldn't complete. After some searching, I decided to download a particular, but older, XP version. This completed, but it wouldn't install the gameport driver. Initial testing yielded some hauntingly beautiful music, from both cd and mp3's, but, about a minute into any song, it would start to hiss, crackle, otherwise distort and, finally, completely stop. Some more searching verified Vista horror stories. I didn't have any issue at all with the Soundblaster Live! 24-bit card that had been there, but I decided to plug right along and try the latest XP driver. It worked, and I've been playing beautiful music all day (I just can't play DVD-Audio discs--the same thing was happening under XP, but I finally got that working)! That just goes to show you what a little perseverance can yield. Sadly, I still can't install the gameport. Hopefully, that'll work on my XP partition. Party on!
*************************UPDATE!!! November, 2009******************
Although I'm now using the vastly better Windows 7 Ultimate OS, I am still using (a trial version of) Vista on a dual-booted system. I ran past the 30-day trial, but found a way to still do the renew the trial, as described above. You enter the "reduced functionality" mode and-once in Internet Explorer-type "C:" in the address field, which will give you access to the file system. You then want to click through the links (or just enter in the address field) "c:\windows\system32\cmd.exe" You'll want to right-click on cmd.exe and select "Run as administrator" from the drop-down menu, or this won't work. It'll give you an error, but ignore it and proceed. Then type "slmgr.vbs -rearm" (again, don't forget the space) and press the <ENTER> key. It will say "Command completed successfully. Please reboot." Voila! You now have another 30 day trial, up to a total of 120 days. If you want, back up all your data, format your hard drive, and reinstall Vista for another 120 days.
Windows 7 rocks, but note that there is currently no way to upgrade from Vista 64-bit to Windows 7 64-bit, so keep that in mind as you consider upgrade paths.
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