Can you believe that this Wednesday, October 25th – marks the 5 year anniversary of the launch of Windows XP?  5 years!  Wow, no wonder things have been pretty comfortable and cozy on the help desk front – work with an OS for that long and you’re bound to know it inside and out.

But alas, progress marches on and we’re in for a whole new learning curve on the desktop (or more accurately, our users are in for a whole new learning curve, and we’re in for a completely revamped traning ciriculum)  

First, IE7 RTM’d last week – and there’s a bit of a learning curve there as well (honestly, how many of you cussed like a sailor the first time you tried to install a self-signed cert?)  I’ve been running the beta for several months now, and have become addicted – especially with the full-screen functionality when using web apps.  And I will admit that yes, IE is not only my primary browser, it’s the only browser I currently have installed.  Sure, I’ve read Vlad’s rants – but what can I say, I actually like IE  (yeah, I know – I’m sick & twisted). 

With IE7, Microsoft has been pushing out tons of add-ins, and free little applications, all using the Windows Live branding.  One of which being the Windows Live Writer, that I am actually using for the first time to compose this post.  So far, I have to admit that I’m impressed with this.  If you want to take a look, you can get it here – or read Vlad’s thoughts on it here  (after all, we all know that Vlad has a clear-cut opinion on EVERYTHING    )

And then we have Office 2007.  Of course, with what I do on a daily basis, Office for me is pretty much defined by Outlook, with Access and FrontPage (oops, SharePoint Designer) being a distant second & third . . .   I’ve also been running the Office beta for several months – and was totally sold until a few hiccups with the Beta 2 Technical Refresh (B2TR) – which resulted in Outlook crashing when I tried closing it, and getting a corrupt OST every time I opened Outlook . . .  this has been resolved – but more on that later.  So far the built-in RSS capability in Outlook, combined with the new kick-ass shared calendars view, the To-Do bar, and ease of adding Exchange accounts (users only have ONE choice to make – then it automatically detects the username, email address, and finds the Exchange server on the LAN – no more having to walk users through typing in the internal FQDN of their Exchange, blah, blah blah . . .  (at least, it worked that slick on a domain PC on the LAN)  Of course, there’s much more to Office 2007 – but those are the tidbits that affect me on a daily basis

Finally, our biggest change right around the corner is Vista.  Again, I’ve been running beta builds for quite some time – but admittedly on my home PC that I rarely ever use for anything besides the occasional web browsing.  Well, I was a few builds behind, and decided to take a serious plunge into the Vista experience – so I reinstalled my primary machine (Acer TravelMate C314XMi tablet) with the Vista RC2 bits yesterday . . .    I did download & run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before starting the process – which was great for identifying what hardware and software I might have issues with.  So far, I have to admit that based on my previous experience with various Vista beta builds, I am very impressed.  The installation was painless – with all of the required information being entered up front, and the rest of the process being completely automated – reboots and all. 

After having lived through the migration experience from Win98 to 2000 Pro, and then from 2k to XP – I’m still scarred from application incompatibility, and driver issues (most notably a glaring lack of drivers) . . .   But, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Vista.  So far, I’m only having a couple hardware issues – most are pretty insignificant, but one – while not necessarily a show-stopper, is close.  My integrated Intel 2200BG wireless adapter is not cooperating.  Vista includes drivers for this wireless adapter, and it is installed, and when enabled it detects available wireless networks.  However – it refuses to connect to any secured network (WEP or WPA-PSK) – and while it will connect to an unsecured network – the connection only holds for ~5 minutes until it’s dropped and the adapter reports that there is no signal for that network any more.   Tad bit annoying . . .  especially since I only ever work wirelessly at home.  But on the flip side – my Verizon Wireless aircard works flawlessly.  As for the minor hardware issues – my function buttons to enable / disable things like WLAN & Bluetooth, or shortcuts to email, web, etc. are not working – neither is the On-Screen Display for these buttons, or my generic function keys (so I need to figure out how to disable NumLock when I’m in a remote assistance session  )  And finally, while my sound worked – Vista kept complaining that the audio drivers were not compatible with Vista – so I downloaded the Vista beta drivers for AC’97 audio from Realtek’s website – and I’m good to go.  (Of course, dealing with Realtek’s slow download site was a bit annoying in itself – almost 2hrs to download 26MB)

What really surprised me was that there were drivers for our printers here at the office.  Granted, they aren’t anything overly special or bleeding-edge – but again, I remember the issues obtaining print drivers in the past.  Adding our HP LaserJet 4200tn was a snap – I entered its IP, and Vista did the rest – queried the printer, determined the make/model and selected the appropriate driver and voila!  Now, it wasn’t quite that simple installing our Okidata C5150n color laser – Vista tried querying the printer – but wasn’t able to get the info it needed – so I had to select the driver the old-school way.   Now, the driver list didn’t include a driver for the Oki C5150n – but it was available via Windows Update – so all is well.

On the application front – so far just about everything is behaving itself.  Naturally, Office 2007 B2TR is playing very nicely with Vista – but the latest versions of other necessities like Adobe Reader, Java engine, Flash player, etc. all installed and ran without a hitch.  Notably, some of the little things that I use and depend on daily are working without issue.  The AutoTask for Outlook add-in installed and is running perfectly (which is a huge relief since that would have been a show-stopper for me if it didn’t) – and the AstTapi driver (that let’s me dial out from Outlook using our Trixbox phone system) is working nicely as well.

A few applications required a workaround to cooperate – most notably the Firewall Client for ISA 2004, and the connectcomputer wizard for SBS 2003.  You can get the details on getting these to work over at Sean’s blog – here and here . . .

The only application that is throwing me a bit of a fit is QuoteWerks – which is throwing an error when it tries to log in to its back-end SQL database – so I can’t really do anything . . .   but if I absolutely need to access a quote, QuoteWerks is installed on our Terminal Server – so I can get to it there. 

Finally, performance-wise – I have to say that this machine boots up and shuts down WAY faster than it did with XP Pro – and overall performance seems to be right on par, if not better than XP Pro. 

So, here’s to change !