More noise than signal

Vista: still Windows, hence still broken.

I’ve been moving slowly over to MacOS X systems lately, in large part because my MacBook could easily defeat my antique Wintel PC in a cage match and still have energy left to humiliate Ken Shamrock. Once you get your head around the Mac user’s strategy of largely relinquishing control and conforming to doing things the way Apple thinks you should be doing it, it all works rather splendidly. The inveterate hacker part of my hindbrain rankles at it somewhat, but the older I get the more I appreciate something that ‘just works’ with out the endless fannying around that characterises most Windows experiences.

Anyway, the time came to drag my PC into the modern age, largely because I want to play Bioshock. One minor spending spree later and I have a deliciously dinky Shuttle case, 2GB of turbo-nutter RAM, one not-quite-turbo-nutter-but-with-capacity-to-plug-one-in-later Core2 Duo and a nVidia 7600 based graphics card. Nifty. The hard drive, a 500GB beast, for this was repurposed from the existing machine.

Now, here’s the thrust of the piece. When you plug a drive into a Windows XP machine, as the old machine was, and go through the ritual of formatting and assigning drive letters (which itself is an asinine process, but that’s another rant for another day), the default option is to turn it into a ‘dynamic disk’. I wager most people when faced with the options of ‘dynamic disk’ and ‘basic disk’ will have no clue whatsoever as to what the difference is. Certainly I did not. On doing some subsequent reading before writing this, it’s certainly the better technical option. Excellent. No problems, then.

Well, apart from the fact that you cannot install Windows Vista on a dynamic disk, for reasons that seem to be clearly mentioned precisely nowhere. I assume XP is similarly afflicted. No problems though, as the disk was already emptied of everything it ought to be a simple-ish matter of the Vista installer program re-partitioning and reformating the drive into something it can work with.

Except it can’t do that. It just sits and stares back at you with cold, disinterested eyes. It’s not going to install, it’s not going to reformat, it’s not going to budge. You can try to stare it down, but you’ll lose. What an excellent way to introduce yourself, Mr. Vista! Truly, “the Wow starts Now”. Or rather doesn’t. Start. Now. Or at all, without help.

How to progress past this sticky wicket? Delving into my archive of arcane resources I majick up a disk containing Ubuntu 7.04, which happily boots a functional OS straight from a DVD and can run the GNOME partition manager software. This can be used to delete the dynamic disk and leave it in a raw state that Vista can work with. Excellent, now the otherwise blissfully smooth install can continue. Should you find yourself in this situation, the gParted live cd will be a less hefty download that can achieve the same ends.

While I’ve barely used it, initial impressions are that Vista does seem overall a more pleasant OS experience than XP, but I’m not seeing anything to justify the £70 list price of a shiny new copy of Vista Ultimate or any of its myriad derivatives. It’s a little more cohesive, but still nothing like as unified as the MacOS X it’s imitating. It’s a little better, but seemingly not by much more than a nicer skin and a sidebar. It’s not that there’s very little ‘Wow’, it’s that there’s very little new that’s the issue here.

The real thing that gets my goat here isn’t the money it costs, or the seeming lack of advancement over the aged Windows XP. It’s that for something that’s claiming to be the best and most intuitive Windows ever to issue forth from Redmond I had to boot into Linux to install the fecking thing. If this is something that open source, zero cost to the punter operating systems can do, and have been able to do for years, is it too much to expect the same capability from the company that’s by far the biggest dog in the yard?

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