I’m in early this morning–6:30 a.m. My goal is to get the Vista RTM bits on my development machine before my regular schedule of meetings begins. I started the process yesterday but ran into installation issues. I managed to get my machine in a state where the upgrade installation had broken and was prompting me to reboot. Problem was, each time I rebooted the setup program started again and I got the same error–over and over. The net result is that I’ve lost several hours trying to work around the problem. Personally, I blame the Vista sound designer.
You see, yesterday I listened to an archived NPR story on the new Vista system sounds. My first reaction was, “Hey, those are cool sounds!” But then I thought, “Hey, I have Vista. Why don’t I hear those sounds on my machine?” It turns out I was still running Vista RC1, not the RTM bits, but since our IT department offers an upgrade option I figured it would be a simple fix. After a few minutes, though, the setup program appeared to freeze and the screen went black. After poking my machine a few times I figured something hadn’t worked right and cycled the power. Bad move. After further comtemplation I think what happened was that after the initial file copy process, setup rebooted my machine and the bootstrap code decided to use my second video card, a crappy nVidia FX5200, to which no monitor was connected. In fact, I had forgotten it was even still in my machine. If I had only though to plug my monitor into that card…
On the bright side this debacle has given me the chance to wipe the kruft from my machine and start with a fresh install. That’s probably a good thing anyway. It also got me thinking about how our customers will be getting their first taste of Vista, now that it’s publically available. In the old days (i.e., circa 1990) I remember OS upgrades being something I spent time thinking about as a consumer because back then you actually did “upgrade” your computer. That’s probably because hardware was expensive and you tried to improve it using new software and lots of tweaking. Anyone who remembers QEMM knows what I’m talking about! Today, most consumers don’t think about operating system upgrades. An OS is installed when they purchase a new machine and they never think about it again. By the time a new and better OS comes around it’s simpler and less risky to just buy a new PC and copy your data files over.
Soon, most OEMs will be offering Vista as the standard OS for new PCs. Dell has started and I noticed they are advertising a desktop PC with Vista Home Basic for as low as $359US. Of course, these low-end PCs aren’t the ideal gaming machines but they do have potential by upgrading RAM and adding a new video card. This has actually been a pretty common scenario for Flight Simulator customers over the years, especially those who use FS on a more casual basis. However, one problem has continually haunted us–wildly variable video card capabilities. Prior to the release of Vista and DirectX 10 it was nigh impossible for the “average” person to make sense of the disfunctional mix of card capabilites, memory, performance and driver versions. Exacerbating the problem was the propensity of OEMs to skimp on video chipsets in their budget machines. What would otherwise have been a fairly decent FS configuration would be hamstrung by an underpowered integrated video card. DX10 holds the promise of eliminating many of those problems with a consistent archhitecture and generally better card specs. (For example, I don’t think any DX10 card currently ships with less than 512MB of VRAM.)
Of course, the issue of video impotence is still a potential problem for new Vista PCs since most are still configured with DX9 video cards by default. Dell offers DX10-capable nVidia 8800 cards as standard only on its high-end XPS gaming rigs. However, if history is any indication DX10 chipset prices will drop rapidly as manufacturers reach high volume production and someday–hopefully soon–even lower-end PCs will be capable of running DX10 games. (I’m hoping to see “affordable” DX10 cards by late this year. Others, like id Software’s John Carmack, are less optimistic, pointing out–and rightly so–there’s not yet a “killer app” for DX10.) That’ll be good news when it happens since it will be something PC buyers won’t have to think about. It’s also good for us since supporting DX9 cards while trying to provide revolutionary visuals is becoming ever more difficult. In the future, games like Flight Simulator (and Train Simulator) will run well, with consistent visual quality, on all PCs. And we’ll be able to do even more cool stuff by focussing solely on one video API. Ah, isn’t simplicity grand?
Well, enough rumination. My Vista install is underway and my meetings are about to begin.