07 February, 2007

Windows Vista review part 1: why I like it

The big news out of Redmond Washington is the release of Windows Vista. You heard the hype; probably read several reviews. I have also read these reviews and I have to say that looking at them on mass, it's very difficult to see just from reading them what the " must have" improvements in vista really are. This is particularly true because many of the features that are beneficial have been overshadowed by the shiny OS X style user interface. So today I thought I would share with you some of the reasons why I as a person with a disability feel vista is in vast improvement over previous versions of windows. Don't worry, I will also be discussing its shortcomings in part 2 of this review. For all you Mac fans, I will also be doing something similar for OS X in the coming weeks. So there's no need to feel left out. This should also alleviate any potential fears that I'm a Windows fan boy of some kind.… One other thing before we begin. Please don't write to me saying " I've had this problem or that problem since I upgraded." Problems and issues and shortcomings of Windows Vista are as I said, going to be discussed in the next part of this review.… Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the reasons I like Windows Vista.

As I stated in my introduction to this blog, I have cerebral palsy. This impacts my coordination and my fine motor control. It is therefore, very difficult for me to use a mouse for prolonged periods and using the keyboard is completely out of the question! Under Windows XP, I used Dragon Naturallyspeaking version 8 to perform all PC tests. I mean everything, from e-mail to program control. There was nothing I couldn't do with Dragon. There was however a big problem and it was not one that you may be thinking of. I feel I should say that I have been using speech recognition for years. I understand what the software is looking for and am therefore, very proficient in its use. That wasn't the problem. The problem I'm referring to occurs when something happens to Windows that necessitates reformatting the hard drive. Of course I know how to do that. My issue is that after backing up my data and going through the relatively painless process of reformatting my drive, I am then faced with my arch nemesis! He hates me, and I despise him! Every time we encounter each other I feel like the losing victim at the shootout at the OK Corral. Who is this terrible menace who plagues me? He or rather it is the Dreaded Product key. Why do I want to kick product keys and in particular, the Windows product key into a big hole and bury it under 6 miles of something that's brown and sounds like a bell? As any security expert will tell you, product keys are not a good form of security. Hackers know how product keys work and consequently, they are easily cracked. Not by people like us, who are just average users who are interestingly enough, just trying to use the software we purchased, but by others with more time on their hands. Of more importance to someone like myself, however, is that product keys make everything inaccessible. If you can install windows, you can use speech recognition to overcome physical limitations… Oh, but wait, in order to install Windows you have to be able to type the product key into the necessary fields. You then have to be able to use the mouse to click the necessary buttons to answer a bunch of questions before Windows will install. Funny, I thought the whole reason I had speech recognition software is because I Cannot Do This. One of the added little bonuses I got for arriving early, was a vision problem related to the muscles in my eyes. I don't know, maybe it was some kind of door prize for being the one millionth birth that year or something. :-) Product keys are always raining very tiny microscopic print. I don't know, perhaps Microsoft is fond of the old Monty Python sketch " the value of not being seen." In any event, under Windows XP, after you struggle for hours to get the product key in, answer other questions for installation and wait for the product itself to install, you then realize you have to do it all again to install your speech recognition software. So how does this relate to Vista? One of the reasons that Vista is so much matter is that the setup process is extremely simple. Yes, you still have to struggle with a product key, but after you do that there are about two questions and then windows is off on its own to install. No clicking numerous dialog boxes is necessary. Windows just knows what to do. And after the installation? If you go into control panel, a simple few clicks will set up the built in speech recognition software in Windows so that you can control your PC entirely by voice. Worried that Windows speech recognition won't work? Well, I'm using it right now to write this blog. It's simple, accurate with regular use, and most importantly, it's built in. That means that no product key is needed for installation of speech recognition software. Hallelujah! Now I hear you asking, " is it just for dictation?" No, Windows speech recognition gives you full control over the PC. The dictation experience itself is excellent and the system will learn from its mistakes provided they are corrected in the proper manner (not by keyboard). It's a basic speech recognition solution that addresses most of the average user's needs. As with other areas of Vista, I will be dressing its shortcomings in the second part of this review. Speech recognition isn't the only thing that makes Vista my must have operating system. There have been numerous improvements in other areas as well that address other limitations that are part and parcel to my CP.

One such area is in visual scaling. Visuals scaling is the ability to easily; stressing easily; and increased the DPI (dots per inch) of the screen. This enlarges all the fonts throughout the operating system as well as the screen elements without having to adjust these individually. This feature was available in Windows XP however, because Windows XP is not designed for high resolution displays or necessarily for wide displays, it was always terrible looking not to mention hard to find. In Windows Vista, you can simply right click on the desktop and go to "personalize" An item appears on the left hand side of the screen that says " change font size" you can increase the font size to any level you wish using the custom settings, but I have my display set to one of the default settings of 300 DPI. You must have a wide screen monitor to be able to do this and have a look decent. If you don't have a wide screen display, you can still increase the DPI to about 120 and windows will look very nice. The advantage of increasing the DPI over simply using the accessibility options is that by using the DPI adjustments in conjunction with adjusting your display size, you don't lose any of the colors of the interface. On the other hand, if you use high contrast under accessibility options everything becomes black and white or white and black, etc. You then lose all of the potentially helpful animations that are built into Windows now to help you see what's going on. If you need high contrast, by all means use it. If you just need bigger print, adjust your DPI and display size. Visual improvements can be found throughout Vista. The aero user interface is beautiful and is rightly compared with OS X. The transparency can be adjusted to make it easier to see through Windows that are on screen. All in all, I really like the user interface. Vista isn't just beautiful though. The OS is also smarter in settle ways.

The system provides numerous ways to interact with it. In addition to the aforementioned speech recognition, tablet PC functionality is built into most flavors of Windows Vista. This means that if you are unable to talk to the system because your voice is not consistent enough, there is another option beyond typing. Many new PCs are coming with touch screens so that you can take advantage of this tablet functionality. Windows Media Center is also now built into most versions of Windows Vista. Gone are the days when you had to buy a specialized PC in order to enjoy digital media. Although some extra hardware may be required, this is becoming very inexpensive in comparison to a few years ago. Maintains too has become easier. The system will be fragment itself without you scheduling it. Backups are performed in a similar fashion, once the operating system knows exactly where to back up to. Vista also has built in spyware protection. There are also many other improvements too numerous to list here. Overall stability has been improved dramatically. In my mind, anything I don't have to tell the system to do in terms of maintenance is a plus! :-) I have far more important things to do than to worry about maintaining my PC.

With all these great advances, you might think that Vista couldn't be any better. Don't be fooled into thinking that there aren't things that could be improved or that are missing from Windows Vista. We'll discuss those next time in part 2. For now though, I just wanted to give you some perspective on why I as someone with a disability couldn't run any other version of windows. I hope this proves helpful.

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