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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 30, 2007 at 2:11 PM

Launching Vista in my living room

When I looked out the window this morning, the vista was cold and foggy but it turned to sunshine soon enough.

My experience with the new Vista PC in my house was just the opposite. It’s a great system and I still believe Microsoft will do well with the product, but I had some troubling issues.

Instead of going to the New York events, I launched Vista in my living room Monday on a new system I borrowed from Hewlett-Packard (an all-in-one TouchSmart system with a dual-core AMD processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM, 256 MB Nvidia graphics card and a 19-in.’ widescreen display). All I needed was shellfish.

It took less than 15 minutes to have the machine up and connected to my home network. I set the system where my TV had been sitting, then moved the cable from the back of my DVD player to the coaxial input on the PC.

A few minutes later I had the Media Center configured and two weeks of TV listings downloaded — just in time to record “24.” At this point only two security warnings had popped up. Neither one required a password, but I was operating in administrator mode.

The media experience was nice. The picture and sound were better than they are on the 5-year-old Panasonic CRT that was displaced by the PC. Next I’ll try sending the content wirelessly through an Xbox connected to a bigger screen in the basement.

Recording worked fine until my wife insisted that we watch something else. Because the PC has only one TV tuner, you can’t use it to watch one show and record another. No sweat, I thought, I’ll just remember to buy one with two tuners if I take the plunge.

But I was less thrilled this morning when I tried to start my workday from the couch, using the wireless keyboard and mouse that come with the system.

After wading past the AOL promotional junk in the browser, I was able to log in to the Seattle Times e-mail system remotely. But I couldn’t compose any e-mails, not even one to tell my boss that I was staying home to fool around with Vista.

The Times uses a Microsoft Exchange mail server and one of its great features is Outlook Web Access. OWA lets you use Outlook from PCs outside the office by logging in through a browser.

But the Vista PC’s security was so tight, it wouldn’t display content in the notes field of e-mail contacts or let me compose anything in a message field. I could type an address and subject, but the message field was locked and displaying only a red X.

I fiddled with the security settings to no avail. I lowered the default security setting from “medium high” to “medium.” I also turned off the “protected mode” that the browser runs in out of the box. I fooled with different settings, and logged in and out, over and over, and couldn’t get the mail to work.

Perhaps I was being a dork and there’s a simple fix. I haven’t talked to our Exchange administrator — or Microsoft or HP yet — to diagnose the problem. They should be prepared for calls from dorks, though.

Vista’s slick networking tools made it a breeze to join the home network, but I wasn’t able to access media files from a laptop on the network running Windows XP Home. The problem seems to be with the firewall settings on the XP laptop — at least that’s how Vista diagnosed the problem — but it’s a little complicated to make the new work with the old. If all the systems were updated to Vista, it probably would have been easier, but that won’t happen for a while.

I’m sure there’s a way to change settings and make these things work. I’m hoping to spend more time today fiddling with the setup, but most people don’t want the hassle, even though Vista feels good to move through.

The experience reminded me that while Vista is a nice upgrade and may increase productivity, those gains will have to be balanced with the investment it takes to get systems configured and synced to old machines and applications, not to mention the cost of training workers to use the shiny new tool.

The worst part is that I couldn’t take advantage of Vista’s powerful display technology to watch last night’s recorded TV show in a little window somewhere on that big, bright screen while I was busy working from home.

Comments | Topics: Gadgets & products, Microsoft


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