Ulanoff: Microsoft Windows Vista's Nine Most Annoying Features

Microsoft Windows Vista is gonna be with us for a long time. It's a fine operating system, so that's good news.

Still, riding shotgun with all of Vista's charms are its many little annoyances. Here are nine that stick in my craw.

1. Who Am I and Who Are You

Windows Vista tries hard to protect us from ourselves. One unintended consequence is that it will sometimes block actions that we purposefully generated — and not even recognize that we selected the option.

For example, I decided to try editing a Web page with Microsoft Word (Office 2007) and got a screen that said: "A Web site wants to open Web content using this program on your computer."

Then Vista showed the Office 2007 component and explained that the program will open outside Internet Explorer's Protect Mode. All this would be fine, if I weren't the person trying to edit the page.

2. Nested Ability to Change Date and Time

In Windows XP, I can change the date and time by clicking on the time in the System Tray and making changes in the pop-up dialog box.

In Vista, I get this really cool clock gadget on my desktop, but clicking its settings icon only brings up a window that lets me change the clock style and set my time zone.

That's okay, but when I double-click on the digital clock readout in Vista's System Tray, well, I can't double-click.

A single click brings up a calendar and another view of my graphic wall clock gadget. A link in this window offers to let me "Change Date and Time Settings."

Unfortunately, clicking on that takes me to yet another window where, you guessed it, I still have to click one more link before I can change the time.

And here's the real killer: When I select that option, the User Account Control springs into action, telling me "Windows needs your permission to continue."

I select "Continue" and finally, I can set the time and date.

3. Floating Features

I think Microsoft did some great work with the Windows Vista interface (and Microsoft Office's). Aero is truly inspired, but I really don't like how some features float in space.

The top of any maximized Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, Notepad and, essentially, any other Vista-compliant app is a borderless black bar that contains the typical Close/Minimize/Restore buttons as well as any app-specific elements.

The problem is that my eyes tend to cut off anything in that black bar. This leaves me struggling to access common/basic features. This isn't a big deal, but it's certainly annoying.

4. Little Has Changed Deep Down

This is good and bad. You can always drill down in Vista's settings to find familiar controls, but I have to wonder why confusing divisions among the settings for the Windows Desktop ("Color and Appearance," "Desktop Backgrounds," and "Themes") remain.

I wish Microsoft had dropped Themes. Opening any of the options in "Personalize appearance and sounds" opens windows that should be familiar to any Win XP user.

So clicking on Display Settings brings up the old-fashioned Monitor control window. This being the window where I control my resolution and color depth, I wish Microsoft had added Available Video RAM and a Recommended Settings button.

5. All Programs Confusion

I'm glad Microsoft simplified the nested, fly-out program folders in the Vista Program directory, which is accessible via the Vista icon menu (I still miss "Start").

Clicking on "All Programs" brings up a list of applications and then app folders. Each of the two lists is in alphabetical order, and the folder list does actually include nested folders.

Office 2007, for example, has apps under the main folder and then a subfolder for Microsoft Office Tools.

This last folder is filled with apps whose names scroll past the Program list window. There's no way to scroll to the right in this window. What happens if the folders go to a fourth level?

6. Lack of Serial Support

I have a couple of Wacom digitizing tablets. One, a USB-based Intuos, I usually keep at home, and another, an oldie-but-goodie serial-port–based Digitizer II, I usually use in the office.

I've used the Digitizer II with every Windows OS since Windows 95. Now, though the tablet is in perfect working order, Wacom isn't supplying Vista drivers. And Vista doesn't notice that the tablet's there.

Are there other serial-based peripherals being put out to pasture by Vista and third-party peripheral manufacturers? Tell me about them in the forums.

7. Driver Prep

This operating system has been under development for half a decade, yet some companies still aren't ready for its release.

ATI, for instance, has been providing pretty up-to-date and stable graphics drivers for all of its cards, including the Radeon X700 I have in my HP desktop.

Unfortunately, it's left out one very important piece: open GL support.

No, it's not something everyone would notice, but "Second Life" fanatics could be in for a rude awakening if ATI doesn't get its act together.

I assume a Catalyst update will be ready right around launch, but still, what the heck took them so long?

Again, let's start collecting a list in the forums of components and peripherals without adequate Vista driver support.

8. Questions With No Answers

Vista's Problem Report and Solutions is a great one-stop shopping center for reporting problems, keeping track of bugs, and resolving issues.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to have any real answers.

Of the three problems I reported — an issue with AutoPlay Media Studio 4.0 runtime, an outdated driver, and one program-incompatibility problem — none have been adequately solved.

The box notes that they've all been reported, but no solutions have arrived.

This smartly designed interface only makes Microsoft's inability to solve these issues more glaring than it was in Windows XP.

9. Game Switch

Vista's collection of built-in games still leaves something to be desired (I'd say the Purple Palace Cooking Puzzle game is an acquired taste).

Still, I'm glad Microsoft kept old faithfuls such as Solitaire — and, wonder of wonders, it finally added chess.

That game works as expected, but there is one small annoyance here: No matter which appearance settings I choose, the black pieces still blend into the black squares and pieces behind them, so I can hardly make out which pieces are sitting on which squares.

In one instance, for example, I couldn't see a black bishop in front of a black king. So instead of putting the computer opponent's king in check, my queen was taken by a hidden bishop. (Perhaps this will matter only to former Chess Club members.)

The good news is that I found no major issues with Vista, as these nine gripes are pretty minor. Overall, Microsoft should be feeling pretty good right now.

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