My new computer with Vista-64 arrived yesterday, and now that I’ve got the majority of my data copied over and programs installed, I’m compiling my thoughts on both Vista and the 64-bit environment.

The first thing that I noticed is that you need to be careful to look for the 64-bit downloads for the software that you’re installing. I ended up downloading and re-installing things several times after I ran a program and realized that it was running in 32-bit mode.

How can you tell if something is running in 32-bit mode? Open up task manager and look at the processes tab, in the image name column look for a *32 after the name of the file. If it’s there, then it is running in 32-bit mode. I’ve also noticed that programs that run as services, such as backup and AV programs, run their configuration applications in 32-bit mode, but if you look at the all process tab, I’ve found that the underlying engine that actually does the scanning or backing up runs in 64-bit mode.

Here are some of the programs that I use regularly and their 64-bit status.

  • Firefox – The 64-bit version is called “Minefield” You can have this and Firefox installed simultaneously, and they share extensions, preferences, history and cookies. This is convenient so you don’t have to maintain two separate copies.
  • JungleDisk – You’ll need to download the 64-bit version of JungleDisk. Every part of the application runs in 64-bit.
  • Adobe Flash – Flash is not yet supported in 64-bit browsers, both Minefield and Internet Explorer. The good news is that it runs just fine in the 32-bit browsers running in Vista 64.
  • AVG Anti-Virus – The free version of AVG runs in 64-bit mode. Note that only the scanning engine does this, not the front-end configuration application. Also, there’s no need to dig around for a different installer, the 64-bit one is included in the normal Windows installer download.
  • PicasaPicasa does not yet have a 64-bit version for Windows. I have had no problems running the 32-bit version, however.
  • GIMP – The GIMP has an experimental 64-bit version. The installer actually requires you to check a box that reads “I promise I won’t bother the developers if I can’t get this to work” before it lets you install it. I haven’t done a lot of work in GIMP yet, but I have yet to run into any problems with it.
  • VLC – The free Video Lan Client (VLC) does not have a 64-bit version yet. I have had no problems running the 32-bit version, however.
  • Itunes – Itunes has a 64-bit version, you’ll need to do some digging to find it through Apple’s site. Here’s the link to Itunes 8.1, the newest available at the time of this post.

As for drivers, I was able to locate 64-bit drivers for my printer, scanner, bluetooth adapter and video card from their manufacturers’ without any problems. All of this hardware is under 3 years old. I would expect some problems finding updated drivers for hardware that is older.

Although it got a bad rap to start, I’m quite impressed with Vista overall. Some of my favorite features that I’ve found so far include:

  • Start menu search – Open the start menu and start typing. Windows will immediately show you what matches your search from both programs on the start menu and your documents folder. If the one at the top of the list is the one you’re looking for, just press enter, otherwise select it from the list on the left side of the start menu.
  • Windows Flip 3D – Instead of switching between windows using Alt-Tab, try Win-Tab. If you’ve got Aero Glass Enabled, you’ll get a cascaded preview of each open window to flip through. A nice effect, and it can help locate the window you want when you’ve got a lot of windows open.
  • Aero Glass – The top-of-the-line theme for windows. It includes translucent window borders, minimize and maximize animations and glowing window controls. Normally I’ve immediately turned off all of the eye-candy on a new install of XP, even reverting back to the Windows 2000 style taskbar, but Microsoft got it right this time. The animations and other eye candy do not seem to effect the performance, and with a decent graphics card, are actually handled in the GPU and not in the main processor.
  • User Account Control – Although many people are annoyed by just how often this pops up, I find it an excellent tool for securing your computer. The theory behind it is that any time a program wants to make changes to a protected area of the system (install a program for example) Windows will alert you to this and require you to enter the password for the administrator account. This is an excellent way to keep malware from installing itself automatically in the drive-by download fashion. It’s unfortunate that so many people turn it off.