Wait! Don't Buy Microsoft Windows Vista

Over the next few weeks, NBA star LeBron James will try to convince you to move to Windows Vista as part of Microsoft's massive ad campaign.

This is not a review of the Windows Vista operating system. I'm not here to tell you about Vista or what's wrong with it. For an opposing viewpoint, read Windows Vista: 15 Reasons to Switch.

And to help you make up your own mind, here's a list of other informative PC World Windows Vista stories and video:

This article is key reading for those of you who are about to download or purchase Windows Vista and install it on a PC. I'm here to talk you out of it. Just say no to LeBron James and Windows Vista--for now. Here's why.

1. Vista Is Incomplete

Microsoft is already planning its first service pack and seeking input from users on what to include. Vista probably won't be truly ready for prime time until that first service pack version, possibly later this year.

The hardware and software companies that make compatible products for Vista aren't all ready for the new OS. Many of those companies are scrambling to complete Vista drivers and updates. Most important, not all video and sound card companies are ready.

Audio and peripheral maker Creative publishes a list detailing the status of drivers for each of its many products. Most of their Sound Blaster Internal products already have Vista drivers available. Two of them have only a "beta 2" version of the drivers. Three of their older products say "No Development Planned." Most of their cameras and other peripherals have no Vista-specific drivers available.

On the Advanced Micro Devices site, you can find information about Vista readiness of ATI graphics cards (AMD and ATI merged last year). Most are supported by a Catalyst Vista Software Driver, which is in beta, and are plagued by a long list of published "known issues." It also comes with the following warning: "ATI does NOT recommend installing these drivers in systems used for mission critical operations or where productivity of any kind is a concern."

These two companies are on the leading edge of supporting Vista. Their partial readiness for Vista is symptomatic of the larger companies. Many smaller peripheral makers simply have no Vista support at all.

Some PC vendors, such as Alienware and Polywell, are aggressively pushing XP over Vista, because both say graphics and other drivers for Vista aren't quite ready for prime time.

Software, such as the security suites you may have already paid for, may not run on Vista, and some require updates that aren't ready yet.

Trend Micro, Panda, Computer Associates, and Symantec have all announced that they'll ship updated suites on Tuesday--just in time for the consumer availability of Vista.

Microsoft claims McAfee will support Vista, but hasn't said when. The company itself has not announced Vista support. And some, but not all, ZoneAlarm products will support Vista by next week. The smaller the company, the longer it will generally take for them to support Vista.

Gaming on Vista--and Vista's DirectX 10 graphics support--is awesome for gamers. But that's something you'll be able to fully take advantage of only later. The full gaming potential of DirectX 10 requires three elements: an operating system, supporting graphics hardware, and supporting games. The operating system is ready, the graphics hardware is partly ready, and the games are nowhere. Eventually, Vista will be the ultimate PC gaming platform. But there's simply no reason for gamers to rush out and buy Vista next week.

2. Vista Is Expensive

Microsoft offers three versions of Vista to home users in the United States: Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. You can buy any of these in the upgrade version with a discount, or the stand-alone version without the discount.

The cheapest way for current Windows XP users to get a legal copy of Vista is to buy the upgrade version of Home Basic, which is $99. But you don't want the cheapest version.

First, the upgrade version will require you to keep your Windows XP CD for years. You do have a Windows XP CD handy, don't you? Second, Home Basic just won't cut it for most people. It lacks the Aero UI and Media Center capabilities. Plus, you can't connect Xbox peripherals to Home Basic. For many, including yours truly, those are the three best reasons to upgrade to Vista in the first place.

Home Premium ($239 for the full and $159 for the upgrade version) is roughly equivalent to Windows XP Home. It's for nontechnical, nonpower users who employ their system for lightweight, personal purposes only. But if you're the kind of user who runs Windows XP Pro at home, you'll be happiest with Windows Vista Ultimate. It's got all the fun and goodies of Home Premium, plus the power-user features in the business version of Vista.

Are you sitting down? The full version of Windows Vista Ultimate costs $399. If you have an XP CD, and don't mind the hassle, the upgrade version of Vista Ultimate costs $259. Ouch!

(If you buy the Ultimate Edition, you'll be able to buy additional copies of Vista Home Premium at a cost of $49.99. For technical users, the ideal scenario for many will be Ultimate for you and Home Premium for the spouse and kids.)

The cheapest Vista is the copy that comes with a new PC because you get in on the reseller's steep discount.

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