Juan: ‘I have been waiting anxiously for your review of Vista. Since I own one computer with Vista, I would be in state of shock and in need of immediate emergency treatment if you found any positive thing to say about it. My advice . . .’

☞ I know, I know – Macintosh.

But if you have been using ThinkPads forever . . . and if you already know more or less how they work . . . and if you have all your financial stuff in a swell DOS program last updated in 1992 . . . Macintosh may not be the way to go.

So every couple of years I get the latest ThinkPad, hoping to upgrade before the hard drive on my old one gives out (though, yes, I make backups), and then the old one becomes a backup.

So far, it’s worked.

In that spirit, I went to the ThinkPad site and bought a souped up T61, complete with a four-year LoJack contract (so that if it were ever stolen, Interpol could batter down the door of the perpetrators, waterboard them into confessing, and get me back on-line with Web Boggle before you can say, ‘Why do you spend so much time playing Web Boggle?’).

That was September 21. By September 24, the LoJack disk had arrived – computer to follow shortly. It had had a promised ship date, at purchase, of ’10 days to two weeks.’

When two weeks had passed with no computer, I checked on the order. It seemed that, as a convenience to the consumer, they had tacked on an additional three weeks.

Being one to look for any silver lining, I called Lenovo (which had long since purchased the IBM ThinkPad business) and asked whether they could downgrade the T61 they were building for me from Vista to Windows XP.

In configuring my purchase, I had noted the ‘Lenovo Recommends Vista’ banners everywhere. But apparently, Vista makes your programs run a little slower than before. Not a feature I was looking for. And I began to sense there might be other difficulties for someone with limited time and skills to learn something new. (Nor had I seen the Vista clip I suggested you watch last week.)

‘You can’t do that now. The machine is already being built. I would have to cancel your order and have you place a new order, which would only delay it further. But you I can switch you to someone who can send you a disk you can use to downgrade when the machine comes.’


After The Usual Endless Wait On Hold (TUEWOH), I reached someone who said he would be happy to help – what was the serial number of my machine?

I explained that my machine was being built in China, but I had the order number, and I hoped that perhaps the disk could be sent now so that when the machine arrived, I could get right to work downgrading it.

‘Nope. Not without the serial number.’

The reason for this is that . . . well, there is no conceivable reason for this.

‘Call back when it comes,’ he advised. ‘Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

So on October 30 the machine did arrive and I did call back – 866-96-THINK.

I can’t reconstruct all the branching . . . at least I knew I was ‘an existing ThinkPad customer’ . . . but guessed as well as I could, and when I got to the question about whether I was calling about software or hardware, I guessed ‘software.’ Aren’t Vista and XP software?

After TUEWOH, I got a software rep who explained I should have guessed ‘hardware’ – he would connect me.

After TUEWOH, I got Jason, who, though very nice, was puzzled by the phone number associated with my call.

‘Yes, this is hardware support, but somehow they put you through to Lenovo Canada – you need Lenovo in Atlanta. I’ll connect you.’

After TUEWOH, I got George in Atlanta software support who couldn’t hear me unless I shouted. Everyone before and after George managed to hear me just fine, so either we had a bad connection or George was just having a little fun. It was so frustrating, I just hung up.

I called 866-96-THINK again, this time selecting the sales department, because they have a can-do attitude and pick up on the first ring – ‘yes, we can absolutely get you that disk’ – and got a cheerful referral to 800-388-7080, IBM Parts, which is an automated number that gives other numbers to call – I guessed at 800-426-7378, where I choose ‘hardware’ and was routed back to Atlanta where, after TUEWOH, reached Joseph, who asked for my serial number, which I proudly gave.

‘Hmmmm,’ said Joseph. ‘That’s not coming up.’

‘Well, but it’s sitting here right on my lap. I’m looking at it,’ I said, as I read it to him again.

Joseph said he understood, but it wasn’t in their system yet – no problem, he would transfer me to someone in ‘entitlement’ who would get it straightened out and entered in the system. I was put on hold for 12 minutes (I timed it) and reached a very nice woman who quickly got it straightened out and promised to have someone call me right back so I could – finally – get the free down grade disk.

‘Someone’s going to call me back?’ I asked. ‘Like – when?’

‘Oh, right away. I’m just entering this in the system and they’ll call you right back.’

That was at 2:15pm. After a couple of hours, I gave up and went out.

Maybe I would just stick with Vista. I had begun playing with it – under Vista, Solitaire now keeps track of your highest score and ‘completion average’ and, best of all, lets you right click a couple of times once all the cards are in order and you’ve won. This saves your literally having to move each card on to the proper pile one at a time – it does that for you. A great time saver. Anything to be able to zone out more efficiently.

I found an old-fashioned DOS-style command prompt on the Accessory menu, loaded Managing Your Money into the C:MYM12 directory I created (kids: pay no attention, I come from an entirely different era), and it worked fine. Almost. But the ‘almost’ was a deal-breaker, so I downloaded Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, which lets you set up Windows 98 off in a little corner of your hard drive. But Windows 98 asked me to insert my boot disk (which boot disk? huh?) . . .

. . . and right about then – 6pm – the phone rang and, yes, it was someone from Lenovo calling back because they understood I wanted the Windows XP Recovery Disk.

All I had to give them was $50 (I had thought it was a free downgrade, but eagerly proffered my credit card anyway), and ‘the disk’ was on its way.

And it came – 8 CDs, actually, along with a one-page instruction sheet, copyright 2004, that guided my through holding down F1 as Vista was rebooting . . . going into IBM BIOS Setup Utility menu to select STARTUP (‘check!’), then select BOOT (‘check!’), then select CD-ROM DRIVE (‘huh?’). That last was not one of the choices on the screen, but there were three that came close, so I tried each of them, but none of them worked. That is to say, when I inserted Disk 1 of the set they had sent, expecting it to by-pass Vista and start the process of reformatting the hard drive, I instead got Vista’s cheerful start-up screen.

This was my fault, as it turned out, because, basically, I am old and stupid. You are not meant to follow the instruction sheet literally in choosing CD-ROM DRIVE from the screen (you are supposed to select one of the three options that are close) . . .

. . . but you are supposed follow it literally in choosing the disk to insert, and DISK 1 is not the one to start with. Yes, it is similarly named to the one in the instructions, and, yes, it is Disk 1. But you are supposed to start with one of the others, which is conveniently packaged in a plain white sleeve like the rest. No ME FIRST sticker or anything like that, because, well, why make it easy?

Eventually, with help from My Wonderful Smart Friend, I figured it out (‘let me see your other disks,’ he said), and I have now successfully downgraded my Lenovo T61 from Vista Ultimate to Windows XP . . . and it was that simple!

In preparing this stultifying report for you, I had occasion to go back to the Lenovo sales site and note that they have added a new option (or maybe I just missed it the first time). For about double the price of their most expensive T61, you can now get one (starting ‘from $5,000’) that is just like the one I got, only with a smaller screen, a hand-sewn leather cover and 24/7 tech support promised by the fourth ring, ‘no menus and holding.’ Featuring Vista Ultimate, of course.

The truth is, for someone like me, the extra $2,500 for prompt tech support might actually be worth it . . . though a friend who likes Dell tells me that their tech support usually picks up right away, for free.


The word from Frank Schrader in West Milford, New Jersey (where once lions roamed in a drive-through theme park, and I got to write about them for New York Magazine, but I digress):

Since I haven’t seen what you will be ‘kvetching’ about I can’t comment on specifics. But my advice is to just hang in there, in the end you’ll like Vista. I’ve been using it for over a year what with beta test versions. At first I wasn’t thrilled and I’m an early adopter. But after using the release version for over 6 months and finding my way around, it’s changed the way I work and I love it-for one thing, no more screen full of desktop icons; instead I use the Search and list of recently used programs-now I can see my wall paper (except for the weather and clock gadgets I have in Windows Sidebar).

If I could suggest one piece of advice, it’s to use the Search whenever you can. It will find files, programs, web shortcuts, anything with text in it that you search for. Also for file management in Windows Explorer use the search, great for finding files that you’ve forgotten the names of. OK, a second piece of advice, I know you’re a busy man but get a copy of Windows Vista For Dummies and learn about the new features, there’s more to Vista than a pretty face.

Yes Vista has some quirks and some things I wish they had done differently. The UAC or User Access Control prompts that come up when you need to do something that requires administrator credentials can be annoying. But after you’ve got the programs you use installed they won’t come up as often and they do make Vista safer. It’s worth the few seconds it costs you.

There are pluses too. My favorite (requires either the Vista Business or Ultimate edition): the built-in Windows backup is the best ever.

A couple more things, I’m using Vista Ultimate on a computer that was 5 years old in May of this year. The video and network card were upgraded about 2 years ago for other reasons. I did add 512MB of memory for Vista (for a total of 1GB) and upgraded my sound card because there wasn’t a Vista driver for it. Also the PC was a pretty powerful machine when I bought it 5 years ago (I believe in futureproofing). Also, I’m pretty sure I’m an atypical user since I turned 67 in September, but if I can do it

One last thing, my son (who isn’t as quite as much as a techie as I am) got a new laptop about 3 months ago. He hated Vista initially but after some advice from me (pretty much what I’ve just told you) and sticking with it, he’s now a convert and loves it (I should say though that with a brand new laptop he had more driver problems than I did, but as Vista ages those things are being taken care of).

PS MYM 12 DOS (I have records back to 1987 and it still does everything I want) is working just fine under Vista with just 2 very minor glitches – I have to use a generic icon (doesn’t matter much, as I said I use the Search and just type MYM and it’s there) and it’s sometimes a little slow to back up to my second hard drive when I quit (I just hit F7 and then Enter and go on to the next thing though-not a real problem).

☞ No need to write in and tell me Frank’s crazy to like Vista. I have lots of those stored up for possible use later in the week. But thanks.


Hubert: ‘I also just recently got a Thinkpad with Windows Vista and had some troubles. I resolved it by: 1. Downloading & installing all critical and recommended updates from Lenovo: Start –> All Programs –> ThinkVantage –> System Updates. And then, 2. Downloading & Installing all Microsoft Updates here. I hope this helps.’


Dick Theriault: ‘Amusingly, the fastest Windows notebook recently tested by PC Magazine was a Mac. Click here. I have yet to speak to one person who doesn’t hate Vista – except for my neighbor’s wife, who states proudly that she knows diddly-zip about computers, but it’s pretty.’


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