We think the overall quality of this $399 Windows Vista Ultimate edition is not deserving of final release candidate status, and we expect to see at least one more interim build, or perhaps even another release candidate, soon.
If our installation process is any indication, Windows Vista RC2 is not yet ready for prime time. Our initial installation--a clean install on a clean partition on an Acer TravelMate 8200 laptop using a disc provided by Microsoft--took much longer than installations of previous build releases on the same machine. Windows Vista RC2 build 5744 required slightly more than one hour, whereas previous installs have trended toward 40 minutes or less. A second install of build 5744 improved only slightly, taking 50 minutes. Although many will simply buy a new PC already preloaded with Windows Vista, the sluggish installation is a step backward for those planning to upgrade.
At this late date, there should be no new features within Windows Vista RC2; however, there are a few new "fit and finish" additions within this release. There's now a Windows Vista Demo package that includes basic videos on how to use e-mail, the Internet, and files and folders (which are handled differently within Windows Vista), as well as how to send items to the printers, secure your PC, and set up user accounts. The videos also come with a transcript if you'd prefer to read instead.
In previous builds, we've been able to load our familiar Windows XP applications on Windows Vista with little difficulty. Not true with Windows Vista RC2 build 5744. We use TechSmith Camtasia to create and edit CNET Reviews videos, but unlike previous builds, within Windows Vista RC2 we were unable to display the playback, making edits impossible. A compatibility dialog box advised us that we needed the flash.ocx file from Adobe Flash, which is not included within Windows Vista, but after installing that, we were still unable to use the video playback. While Microsoft is giving software developers 90 days (more or less) to ready developers' products for a mass release of Windows Vista, we were surprised to find that lack of compatibility was a major issue in this release candidate.
Missing within Windows Vista RC2 is the Program Compatibility Wizard from Windows Vista RC1. This wizard helped fool older applications into thinking they were running previous versions of Windows. With Windows Vista RC1, we were able to run a Windows 95 game demo with only 256-bit graphics within Windows Vista with no glitches. It seems odd, given that program compatibility is a major headache for users upgrading to a new OS, that Microsoft would suddenly drop this feature.
We were also surprised to find within Windows Vista RC2 some unresolved issues left over from the May 2006 Windows Vista beta 2 release. Under Windows XP, our Acer TravelMate 8200 enjoyed a comfortable 3 hours, 20 minutes of battery life--more than enough to watch a DVD of any major motion picture released these days. Under Windows Vista beta 2 build 5384.4 running Aero, the battery life dropped considerably, to a mere 2 hours. With Windows Vista RC2 build 4755 running Aero, battery life improved only slightly--to 2 hours, 15 minutes. For all the press about how Windows Vista will be good for laptops, we remain skeptical, given that battery life is an important feature. We also had problems with our Windows Vista laptop going to sleep and not waking up. Our experience in Windows Vista RC2 was much improved from that of Windows Vista beta 2; nonetheless, this issue should be fully resolved by now.
We also found that our Windows Vista RC2 Aero graphics system experienced occasional annoying glitches. For example, whenever the Windows Vista User Account Control feature kicked in, specifically when our desktop darkens in its Secure mode to ask us to obtain the system administrator's permission, we still see a jagged lightning bolt across the darkened screen. We reported this Windows Vista RC1-introduced anomaly last month, but we found that it hadn't been fixed in RC2. Also, we found other numerous minor graphical glitches introduced with this build when our screen graphic elements-- and even program icons--occasionally failed to display properly.
Windows Vista provides a vast landscape of features, some of which we haven't yet had a chance to test in this build, but by merely scratching the surface, we were considerably less impressed with this build than previous builds. Given that Windows Vista includes Internet updates as part of the installation process, Microsoft has said it might release the existing code to manufacturers and patch Windows Vista systems remotely upon installation and activation. Again, the flaws apparent in Windows Vista RC2 aren't dramatic, but they're annoying. If we bought a new Windows Vista computer today, we'd be disappointed; if we upgraded, we'd more than a little frustrated. The version we tested is expected to sell for $399, but we demand much higher quality from Microsoft than what we're seeing today.