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Location: United States

A New Yorker relocated to Florida. I have fifteen years in the IT industry, with stints in product management, database management, application programming... I've been a CIO, a consultant, a software evangelist... one of these days I'll write up a proper profile.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Windows XP With a New Face Does Not Equal Windows Vista

I had noticed the release of the Vista Transformation Pack from WindowsX and thought it might be a good exercise to apply it to a copy of Windows XP. My goal was (1) to satisfy my curiousity and see if it really did what it promised, and (2) to use a copy of Windows XP with a Vista theme as a "control," that is, to see how important Vista changes under the covers were... could it stand by itself if you could filter out the "eye candy" factor?

Here's what I found: Vista Transform is indeed for real. It makes a copy of Windows XP look real purdy indeed. The second thing I found, perhaps more importantly, is that a pretty XP doesn't equal Vista.

Here, by the way, is what Windows XP with Vista Transform looks like.

A Windows XP Explorer Window with Vista Transformation Pack
For the installation process, I took a spare PC and installed Windows XP with Service Pack 2. Because I had some reservations about the trustworthiness of the product, I kept the PC off the network. I created a system restore point, and started the install.

The install, after advising of all the changes it would make, provided five different install options that would change in varying degrees the current setup. These range from essentially just changing the theme to allowing you to add your own custom bitmap files. A normal first-time installation requires multiple reboots, and comes with warnings that you may have to run the install multiple times. I chose the most extreme option (having nothing to lose), which required rebooting and starting the install in safe mode.

There are three main features, once it's all installed: a Vista-like sidebar including gadgets, desktop and window translucency, and a change to Windows Explorer that places the HTML task pane and preview content at the bottom of the window, so it looks somewhat like Windows Vista's Explorer.

The sidebar includes a clock, memo pad, RSS Feed (limited to a single source), Google Search, slide show and "File Mirrors." Because I did not attach the computer to the network, I could not determine what feeds and what file peers the sidebar accesses.

Desktop and window translucency is delivered by Glass2K from Chime Softwares. The translucency is delivered even at 64K color depth. Graphics appear to experience a slight slowdown when the translucency is applied, but it is very pretty indeed.

The Explorer changes mvoe the task pane from the side to the bottom of the window. The first impression was that it looks like Windows Vista, though it does not have the same functionality.

Additional items such as skins, themes, and various bitmaps complete the product.

Vista Transformation Pack contains various bitmaps which may have been taken from Microsoft products. I therefore recommend caution in installing this product. I have a concern about the ownership of those files. I can only say that it appears to be virus free (according to my scan), and that the Windows XP restore utility appears to return the system to its former state.

Now... what did I learn about Vista?

Excuse the cliche, but Vista's beauty isn't skin deep. It's very clear that Windows Vista has tremendous internal advantages over XP. In looking at XP with a Vista skin, it drives home an impression that Windows XP was not much more than a theme upgrade to Windows 2000 until Service Pack 2. The single worst moment of using Vista Transform was pressing F3 to search for a file, and seeing the damn animated dog in the search pane. I kept looking for the search box in the start bar. I wanted to filter the Explorer views. The new organizational character of Windows Vista is a considerable improvement, and I just do not wish to go back. Putting a new look on Windows XP without adding any functionality simply underscored the fact that Windows XP is in its old age, in "operating system years."

Start Menu with Vista Transform
The two big features of Windows Vista are improved security and improved document organization in that order. This excercise simply drove that home. There is a link on the left of this page to a WinFS video demo ("Splashy Demo"). The demo has an emphasis on glitz, but the underlying message, which is finding and connecting information that lives on your computer and on the Internet, is something that many users will be sympathetic to.

I realize that Microsoft has to concentrate its Vista ad campaign's message on improved security. I do think, however, that a variation on the WinFS demo themes can provide a positive and compelling message for users to move to Windows Vista.

All trademarks are properties of their respective owners. Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries. This weblog is an independent publication and is not affiliated with, nor has it been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Microsoft Corporation.

4 Comments:

Blogger Adnan Farooq Hashmi said...

Very informative post. The Vista Search book is a bit addictive. I find myself looking for it even when I am using Windows XP.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Jorgen Veisdal said...

I agree. I really like the way you go deep into the material, but I agree with the feeling of that these Vista skin-packs often crack if you per example have some unusual buttons in an app.

I some times feel that dispite this that they feel better then the now boring xp themes, I'm so sick of them!

I can't wait for Vista though, to see what developers have in store with the new engine.

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Jorgen Veisdal said...

I agree. I really like the way you go deep into the material, but I agree with the feeling of that these Vista skin-packs often crack if you per example have some unusual buttons in an app.

I some times feel that dispite this that they feel better then the now boring xp themes, I'm so sick of them!

I can't wait for Vista though, to see what developers have in store with the new engine.

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before installing vista I had perfect sound - since installing - my speakers sound as if they have been blown - tried new ones - but still sounds the same - any ideas?

Julie

9:18 PM  

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