Asta la Windows Vista?

The verdict is in: yes, Vista does suck.

After buying a new computer, and finally getting a machine whose hardware actually worked, I had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the new Windows Vista Home Premium Edition operating system that had been pre-installed on my system. Well, maybe pleasure is a bit of an exaggeration. While I did enjoy the clean images and sounds of the OS, and the keen new desktop images, I soon ceased to feel pleased.

It seems that with this new version of Windows, Microsoft has decreed what we have long suspected: that they know what you want better than you do. In essence, they have locked down all administrative functions to new users; yes, I understand that the casual user can completely hose their system by making a simple mistake or deleting a single, crucial system file. And I agree that, for these users, the less that they can get under the hood of the operating system, the better. However, when I assign “Administrator” rights to a user, I would expect that that user would gain administrative privileges (or is that just a silly assumption?).

In Vista, that’s not the case: even an “admin” can’t perform certain administrative functions, run applications that haven’t been “blessed” by Microsoft’s monopolistic requirement that only applications with drivers recognized and signed by Microsoft can be run uninhibited on a Vista system. Again, I get that this is partially a move to keep newbies from running very bad things on their systems, and to keep malware like root kits from getting installed unknowingly. In that sense, it’s a good thing. However, as an admin of a machine, if I decide that a “third-party” application is both appropriate and safe in the context of a system, I should be afforded some mechanism by which to allow it to run properly. In Vista, at least in the Home Premium version, there is no such mechanism, and these applications either don’t run properly or die quietly with no warning.

Microsoft claims that there are several methods of doing this: the dreaded “Cancel or Allow” dialogs, right-clicking a file and choosing “Run as Administrator,” and assigning the “Run as Administrator” privilege to the application binary itself are all supposed to allow these “unsigned” applications to run. But these just don’t work. In fact, I’ve found that they still don’t work even after “disabling” the User Access Control system that is supposed to regulate this stuff.

Even when the “UAC” isn’t running (or isn’t supposed to be running), the third-party apps that I want to trust and be able to run still don’t run properly. A few examples of these well-known, widely-used, and completely legitimate applications are the WinRAR archiving program (now that’s a malicious program), the QuickPAR archive recovery and repair manager (look out: malware alert!), and the excellent testdisk data recovery application. All of these are great applications, and all of them are presented by Vista with the facade of being permitted to run at some level or another, yet all of them fail to run properly. The other distinction: none of these applications have been blessed by Microsoft to have had their drivers signed for Vista.

So does that mean I shouldn’t be able to run them? Vista allows me to install them, and then cripples them, sometimes without any notification at all. Of course, trying to get any answers from Microsoft or from Gateway (OEM distributors of the copy of Vista that came with my machine) has been a painful tug-of-war, with each referring me to the other and claiming ignorance of the issue. Does that make sense, for an operating system that finally enables us to “easily accomplish your favorite things?” Well, I can certainly agree that Windows Vista can “change the way you use your PC at home”: in my case, my PC has become pretty much unusable.

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