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Here We Go Again

By: Jeff Pasternack


Some might recall that November 8 was an interesting date in history: the Louvre Museum opened in 1793; Lincoln was reelected in 1864; Hitler survived an assassination attempt in 1939; JFK was elected in 1960; Ted Bundy botched an abduction attempt in 1974 and, in 2001, The TechnoPeasant Review didn't blast Microsoft for anything in an article titled What Won't Be Said About Microsoft.

Funny how things that I wrote then are still pretty much true today. Worms still crawl through gaping holes in IE. Most people who are infected by viruses become so by opening attachments that come through email appearing to be sent to us by our family members, friends and colleagues. The common tie between Windows and pumpkins is still the same: they both rely on patches.

I also stated that Windows XP would not increase system speed and that if this was the desired outcome, to simply buy more RAM. This proved to be very helpful in my own household just six months ago. I had Windows 2000 running on a Pentium II 400mhz with 256 RAM and my wife tortured me into accepting a gift of Windows XP running on a Pentium 4 2.0ghz with 256 RAM. In our rudimentary tests, which consisted of start-up time, time to open IE, Mozilla's Firefox, MS Word and Excel, both performed equally slow. Then I increased the Windows 2000 box to 384 RAM and it was noticeably faster than the XP box. Considering that the XP box has a Pentium chip that operates 5 times faster and is more than 8 generations newer, this is quite disturbing and it forces me to once again beg the question: why upgrade?

My wife and I probably represent the average computer user. We use productivity programs like MS Office and, email and web programs, digital photography programs and audio/video applications for viewing funny movie clips or listening to music. Then there's the security programs like Computer Associates' EZ Antivirus, Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and the Sygate Personal Firewall. I play a few games and we have broadband and that's about it.

Very soon, though, the Evil Empire and various minions will be pushing some expensive changes upon us. Windows Vista (formerly known as Longhorn) makes its heralded arrival sometime in the next two years and there will be a change from 32-bit computing to 64-bit computing. The new computers will have two chips inside (known as dual-core), gigabytes of RAM and loads of other upgrades. Suckers...ah...early adopters will plunk down $2,500 to $3,000 for the best performing boxes of the moment.

Which reduces me down to this tiny little set of questions about Vista.

  1. Will you be able to do your work faster or better? Probably not, because you can't type or think any faster. You might be more efficient if you alter the way you think about your data by taking advantage of the Virtual Folders feature. For example, you might store all documents or images related to a patient in a patient-specific folder. However, you might also want to store all medical records related to lobotomy in a lobotomy folder. Instead of having two folders with the same record, a Virtual Folder allows you to have the one document appear in two places. Another way to think about Virtual Folder is that it is like a saved search. So this feature might help you be more efficient, but its probably impossible to measure the improvement.
  2. Will you be able to communicate faster? No, because that's tied to your Internet connection.
  3. Will you be able to take more photos? No, because today's hard drives easily hold 200GB of data for $120 and even at a ridiculously high 5MB per photo, that's about 200,000 photos. Not even paparazzi have that many. Image and video editors rely on RAM as much as CPU speed, both of which will be hurt by Vista.
  4. Will your computer be more secure? Maybe, maybe not. Windows has something called a “command shell” that allows users to use text-based commands to accomplish tasks instead of clicking a graphic. This command shell, called Monad, was targeted by a virus writer in July, just days after Microsoft released it. Microsoft has since announced that Monad will not be included in Vista for perhaps the next three-to-five years.
  5. Will you be better able to view video? Ah, that's a negative there, too. As reported in the November 2005 issue of PC World, if you bought a high-end computer monitor or HDTV and use your computer as a media center, Vista won't play high-definition DVDs because the newly-bought displays aren't compliant with Vista's copy-protection schemes. Ouch!
  6. Will your already-purchased applications work with Vista? Maybe, maybe not. Vista will initially ship with 32-bit and 64-bit versions so that users with either 32-bit or 64-bit processors can use it. But as we learned with the change to 32-bit from 16-bit back in 1995, you'll probably need to re-purchase everything.
  7. Will you be able to listen to music of your choice? Yes and no. Vista is littered with lots of digital rights management components (DRM) to protect copyrights. Chances are that you'll receive a free pass with existing MP3s, but not so with ones you create post-Vista. Of course, if you subscribe to iTunes or other music services, you're probably already comfortable with DRM and know how you're going to be affected. Free music found at sites like, which has over 27,000 live concerts from bands like Grateful Dead, Keller Williams, Strangefolk and others, should be unaffected.

So what's it all mean? The longer you can hold out on buying a new machine, the better. Even though Microsoft and other vendors will soon be releasing a Vista-Ready sticker to go on computers that can be upgraded, this is a dicey proposition. Spending $50 - $100 on RAM today and waiting until the full 64-bit Vista is released on computers with 64-bit dual-core processors will probably be the safest way to go.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at