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Computing Thoughts
Windows Vista
by Bruce Eckel
February 6, 2007
Summary
After telling everyone I was going to wait-and-see about Windows Vista, I ran into a problem.

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We are changing from Authorize.net (and its monthly fee, keeping the credit card charge if you make a refund, and constant little bank fees) to Paypal, which is vastly better: no monthly fee or other little fees, refund the credit card charge if you make a refund, and the only thing you pay is the credit-card fee, which is less than what authorize.net was charging.

In addition to this, Paypal has added a really nice built-in shipping system. You tell it how much your package weighs and how you want to ship it. It prints the label including postage, and automatically throws in tracking for domestic USPS, which it emails to the customer. If this had been around when I was trying to build my own system a year ago I would have given up sooner and "done the simplest thing" instead (I actually got very close, but ran into other unrelated issues).

Paypal uses Pitney-Bowes to create mailing labels. For domestic mailing they seem to generate a GIF or equivalent. But for foreign mailing, they use a Java Applet.

This is where I had problems, and adds to what I was talking about in the previous weblog. My father's computer is old, but he's been perfectly happy with it. It is a 500Mhz machine that runs Windows XP. Not blazingly fast, but it does everything at a tolerable rate. Runs applications, browses the web, including Flash applications.

Java is a different story, though.

The installation process was long and drawn out -- mostly it just took a long time. It's never something my father would do on his own, but Flash was on the machine and I think he just did that himself.

What's worse was the loading time of the Pitney-Bowes label applet. A two minutes at minimum. It worked fine once it was loaded, but the load time is the kind of thing that would make a lot of average users either think something was broken (I did) or just lose interest. The Pitney-Bowes applet had you download JRE 1.4, which is slower than 5 or 6, but I think the overall effect would be the same. It's great that it works, but the user experience is not something that makes Java Applets ubiquitous on the internet.

So here's the irony: it was Java that made me decide to upgrade my father's Windows machine. At first I was just going to upgrade the box, but I went to Costco and for 779$ they had a full system including 2.8Ghz dual-core pentium and 1 Gb of ram, etc. It became the easiest solution.

And it came with Windows Vista pre-installed. So I could use my dad as a guinea pig -- and by proxy my brother, since he won't be able to resist playing with it (he installs and maintains systems for small companies in the San Diego area, so he tends to prod at the internals).

The biggest thing you notice about Vista is that it's pretty. The Mac folks have their undies in a bunch (again) because it looks like Microsoft has stolen ideas from Apple (again), and that's almost certainly true (although I'll have more sympathy when everyone admits that Apple blatantly stole the core of their ideas from Xerox).

It has some nice features. There's a kind of program search thing where you type in the name of the program and it finds it and runs it. That's useful. It has significantly improved security, which is definitly a step forward. Nothing really dramatic. It's a pleasant upgrade of Windows.

BUT.

We started with this on my dad's old machine:

And with dual core 2.8 Ghz and 1 Gb, I was expecting this:

But instead we got this:

To achieve some added prettiness, Microsoft has managed to suck out most of the CPU cycles of that dual-core processor. Microsoft began touting the need to understand concurrent programming several years ago, precisely because of the onset of multicore machines, but Vista does not give the impression that the second core is being used.

However, it answered my question. I don't buy new machines very often, but I finally bought the dream box: a Zalman fanless case with fanless everything. You can only hear a little from the disk drive when it reads and writes if you listen closely. I've been slowly changing over to it, and one question I had was whether I should use that Vista upgrade coupon that came with the system. My dual CPU is faster than my dad's and I have 4GB instead of 1. And the prettiness is very appealing even now. But if it's going to suck down all those shiny new Ghz and Gb, seems like it wouldn't be such a step forward. And having it pre-installed is one thing, but I wonder if installing it myself could turn into a time-consuming nightmare.

Anyone have any data to the contrary? Will my apps (such as python programs) gain the speed of the new system despite the OS?

To pre-answer the usual comments: I make heavy use of Word, and OpenOffice doesn't support the kinds of things I do. So while I think Linux is great, I can't use it yet. And Word for the Mac is different -- unclear whether it's different enough that it can't do the things I need, but that's a serious risk. Most likely when I'm finally able to move from Windows, though, it will be to Linux (though for a laptop, I sure wouldn't might having that instant-on, instant-off thing that the Mac does).

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2007 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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