What’s worse, my computer isn’t fully functional. Before I installed Vista, I downloaded and ran a beta version of the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft’s website. According to its scan, my personal laptop, a Compaq Presario purchased mid-summer, was fully compatible with the 64-bit version of Vista and even capable of running Aero. All my individual bits of hardware–the wireless card, the video card, the sound card, everything–were good to go, the Advisor software said. But once I installed the 64-bit version of Vista, my speakers would not work. Turns out that the sound card in my machine is a bit older, and no one has yet built 64-bit Vista-compatible drivers for it–not Hewlett-Packard, not Conexant, not Microsoft. I realize that Vista is still in beta, but based on my Web searches, there are a lot of people with this particular problem–and it’s been discussed in Vista newsgroups for months.
The usual workaround for something like this is to find third-party drivers; however, every driver I’ve found so far either has “known compatibility issues” with Vista and won’t run it or is “unsigned.” This means the software doesn’t have a digital signature issued by Microsoft verifying that it was tested with Windows for compatibility. Microsoft insists that unsigned drivers compromise Windows stability and security and has decided that it will not allow users to install any unsigned drivers with the 64-bit version of Vista. (This is apparently still an option with the 32-bit version.) After more than eight hours of work, I still can’t hear anything from my spiffy 64-bit enhanced PC–not even the distinctive chord that chimes each time Windows boots. Based on my Web searches, finding 64-bit driver support for older hardware, including wireless cards, sound cards, and modems, is a dicey proposition. Microsoft needs to step up to the plate here, as do computer makers selling machines with 64-bit chips, to make sure users who invest the money and time in upgrading to Vista get at least as good an experience as they have been getting from XP.
I’ll spend more time with Vista over the next week, exploring its features for my magazine review (which will appear in the January print issue of Technology Review) and trying to get my sound card to work. But as soon as I’m done, I’ll revert to Windows XP on my personal laptop. As chock-full of new features as Vista is, few of those I’ve tested manage to surpass, or even equal, the Mac OS X features. Almost none look as though they would significantly change my daily computing routine, particularly since few software makers have announced 64-bit versions of popular programs, which minimizes any real benefit to running a 64-bit operating system.
Come January, I’ll take a careful look at the support HP and Microsoft are providing for older components, and I’ll think pretty hard about whether it’s worth investing my time and money in making the XP-to-Vista switch.