Saturday, July 14, 2007

Developing on Vista - Part 3

Why Move to Vista?

Presenting at Victoria .Net SIG 12My initial shock at how few people are actively developing on Windows Vista has been tempered by the realisation that I am involved in a very different culture here at Readify, and also the knowlege that Windows Vista is not as revolutionary as it should have been.


The Readify Culture

At Readify we market ourselves as being "Technology Readiness Experts", and as such, we are always playing with the absolute latest technologies that are made available to us, often way before they are even released commercially, and sometimes even before they are stable enough to be used in production environments. This creates, out of necessity, a really vibrant culture of communication. We have a great technical mailing list where we are all avidly asking and answering technical questions, and discussing the ins and outs of the latest software we're grappling with. As much as I am excited to try out the latest things, I am also fairly risk averse. Being a part of the dynamic culture at Readify has given me the confidence to go out on a limb and install Vista, knowing that others have gone before, and that help is only ever an email away. I sometimes wonder, if I wasn't working for Readify whether or not I'd still be developing on Windows XP.

The act of installing Vista has also meant that my own knowlege and experience has increased exponentially, because I am the sort of person who likes to attempt to find the solutions to his own problems before sending out an SOS distress signal. This is why I felt confident standing up in front of a group of 50 or so of my peers and telling them that they can develop on Windows Vista.


Vista's Missed Opportunities

As with most commercial products, there are real world pressures on the development cycle that tend to drive product development a lot stronger than any utopian, computer theory ideal about how things should be, and Vista is by no means an exception.

For me there are two major features that were dropped from Vista because of commercial realities that would have made the imperative to upgrade even stronger. Firstly the fact that Vista was originally supposed to be a fully managed operating system, and secondly the new file system WinFS. I guess it's no use crying over spilt milk, but I do remember feeling a sense of dissapointment as these features were dropped from Vista.

Also in their haste to get Vista out the door, Microsoft released a product that in, my opinion, was not as stable as it should have been. It is only now with many updates installed that I feel Vista is finally starting to behave to my satisfaction.


So Why Bother?

I guess so far I really haven't been making that good an argument for people to upgrade to Windows Vista, and even less of an argument for people to use it as their primary development environment, and to be honest, we've had some consultants at Readify who after trying Vista have decide to go back to developinig on Windows XP. I'm no Microsoft Evangelist, and I wouldn't recommend that everyone use Vista just for the sake of having the latest and greatest, but I think that there are some very good reasons to make the switch.


UI Enhancements

There has been a lot of work done on the way users interact with the desktop environment and how windows are displayed to the user. Some of these features are merely eye candy, other features won't even work unless you have a decent graphics card, but if you do have the hardware, then the way in which you interact with the desktop will be enhanced, and you'll find yourself more productive for it.


There are some really simple ideas such as being able to click on the representation of your application after you press ALT+TAB which I always thought was missing from XP, and when I am forced to use XP at a clients site or a friends machine, I sorely miss.

Integrated Search

Desktop searching is nothing new to windows, but in Vista, Microsoft have made some significant improvements to the performance of the searc, and they've integrated it the OS. Probably my favourite feature of Vista is the fact that search is available from the start menu.

When you click on start (or hit the start menu key),  the start menu opens, and places the focus in the search text box. You can then start typing, and windows dynamically finds the best match in your Programs, Files and communications.

Vista Search

As you can see from the image above, you no longer have to remember where The Microsoft Office installer placed Microsoft Word, because you can just click Start, and type "word". You don't even have to wait for the search results to return. Vista Automatically places the best match at the top, and selects it, so if you hit the "Enter" key immediately after you type "word", Microsoft Word will start to run. This saves so much time looking for programs that you don't use often enough to place on the quick launch menu.


Better Security

As discussed in my previous post, I believe UAC is a step in the right direction, although a lot of people are frustrated with it, if people learn to live with it, and use it correctly,  it will benefit them. Given that ideally people should NOT have been running as an Administrator when they're only running user applications anyway, Vista makes it so much easier to run as a normal user, that I personally don't want to switch back to developing on XP as a normal user.


Better System Maintenance

There are a lot of system maintenance enhancements that generally go unnoticed (as all good features should). The fact that by default, a hard disk defragment is scheduled to run once a week, means that your hard disk remains optimized without you waiting perform a defrag. There are many such background optimizations aimed at keeping Vista stable and performing at it's peek.


A Word about Performance

Many people have quoted performance as a major reason not to upgrade (or in some cases to downgrade to XP), and this is a valid concern. It's true that older machines struggle with vista, and that things sometimes feel slower on Vista than on XP. My personal experience as been mixed, it started out OK, but as I installed more software, it did get to a point where it was a bit sluggish. I simply went in and had a look at all the services that were running and switched off any that I didn't need, and my laptop is quite responsive now. Also there are some really cool enhancements in Vista specifically aimed at performance. For instance, Ready Boost enables you to plug in a high speed USB 2.0 Flash memory device, to act as another level of caching before data is required from the disk.


Leading Edge

At Readify we like to be on the "Bleeding edge" of technology, trying out things before they are released to the masses. Not everyone is this keen to try out pre-release software, but whether you like Windows Vista or not, Vista has launched and it is here to stay. Yes there are some problems with it, but there will be improvements as time goes on, and hopefully some of the things we find frustrating now will be resolved in service packs. As IT Professionals, people will look to us for guidance, and we need to be able to direct them. I would strongly suggest that if you are thinking of upgrading your development PC that this is the perfect opportunity to take on Vista.



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