Vista Overhaul

I've been meaning to re-pave my home machine for a couple of months now. It had a ton of stuff installed, uninstalled, updated, and so on... plus, as I mentioned previously, I'd been toying with the idea of pushing it up to Vista Ultimate. Well, after getting those hardware problems taken care of, I went for it.

It's actually been a pretty smooth process, though it seems like a re-pave takes longer each time I do it. And it's not just getting all those apps installed... it's also all the little settings, utilities, checkboxes, and customizations. It really does take a while to get a new rebuild to feel "comfortable".

One thing I've done for the last few years that does make this process a LOT easier is to organize my hard drives into multiple partitions. I've typically done this with Partition Magic, though there are are other alternatives that seem to get high praise. I keep all the stuff that I don't want lost in a rebuild on that second partition (seen as a D: drive). Under WinXP, I'd move the "My Documents" location with TweakUI (Vista has this capability built-in), I make sure to put SQL Server's data location over there, and obviously any development projects. It makes it a lot easier knowing that C: can be wiped clean and rebuilt without losing the stuff I care about.

I just wish there was a way to also back up all those little settings and customizations that get made over time (e.g., my preferred layout/view for file Explorer, various registry hacks, and customized views in Outlook).

Anyway, I had this drive partitioned already from the initial XP setup... so moving to Vista was pretty easy. I'd actually like to make my C: partition a little larger (D: has lots of free space) and I was excited to learn that Vista has partition resizing/moving built-in. It's under the Computer Management MMC plugin through Control Panel->Admin Tools. It turns out, though, that Vista doesn't let you extend a bootable partition (e.g., my C: drive) -- only shrink it. I'm sure there's legacy some reason for this, but given that it's a basic capability in 3rd party tools like Partition Magic and others, it seems silly that Vista won't let me. To make matters worse, I hear stories of people using Partition Magic to create NTFS partitions and then Vista can't read them. Not cool... but space isn't that big an issue, so I'm looking at those other options.

All in all, the process went smoothly and nearly all of my hardware had drivers installed automatically. The one exception was the built-in SD card reader on this laptop. The cool thing, though, was that Vista saw the problem and notified me of a solution -- updated drivers were available through Dell's site. Everything else installed and has been working well and performance is great -- the machine definitely feels snappier than it did under WinXP.

As a reference for the scores above, the machine is a dual core Inspiron (T2500 processor at 2GHz) with 2GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce Go 7800 (using Microsoft's WDDM driver at 1920x1200), and a 7200rpm Seagate Momentus drive. The display performance, in particular, has been great and Aero looks gorgeous with the bright TrueLife (glossy) widescreen display.

Vista's got a ton of UI tweaks, so maneuvering around has taken a little getting used to... and I have to admit to turning off UAC. Maybe I'll turn it back on now that most everything is installed and settled, but how many "Yes, I'm sure" buttons does a guy need to click? I'm still trying to get used to the newer Explorer UI and I wish I could get the Sidebar and its gadgets to Auto-Hide (the way the Task bar can)... but I really dig the ability to quickly search the Start menu.

Overall, I still feel like I'm settling in... but all my apps and tools are installed and things seem well. Now I'm going to go watch some fancy window animations for a while.