Aero Glass: One "Hot" Interface?

I spent the vast majority of 2006 working 12 hours a day to pick apart, explore, and, often, enjoy Windows Vista's inner workings. I must admit, however, that I didn't spend much time with its Macintosh-inspired "Aero Glass" interface until the final product appeared in mid-November. After Vista's release to manufacturing (RTM), I thought, “What the heck,” and put it on my Acer Ferrari 4000 laptop. After all, the laptop met Aero Glass's fussy requirements, and I'd seen several Microsoft speakers at this summer's TechEd run Aero Glass on Ferraris. Aero Glass exploits a notion in video hardware called "3D." That descriptor doesn't mean that the video card can instantly render a full-motion animation of the DeathStar, texture and all (although some can); instead, it means that so-called 3D cards understand that even though your video screen presents a 2D face to the world, the Windows GUI has always been built on a bit more than two dimensions--call it 2.1 dimensions. Ever since Windows 2.0, the OS has used overlapping windows--program windows that sit on top and obscure the windows "underneath" them. Thus, if you have Microsoft Word open and filling most of the screen and you open a Notepad window that overlays some of the Word window, then Windows must perform a bit of computation. It must draw the Word window and the Notepad window, then determine which Word pixels sit below the Notepad pixels and therefore shouldn't show up on the screen. Even if you've never thought about this GUI reality, you've seen the effects of making your already overworked CPU figure out which pixels overlay other pixels, a process technically called "clipping." Try to open a small window that’s running an animation or video, then drag that window around your desktop. You'll see it leave unsightly "skid marks" behind. Those are an example of bad clipping. Aero Glass puts an end to bad clipping by requiring a separate chip in your PC, a graphical processing unit (GPU), that handles the clipping for your GUI. The GPU makes for smooth click-n-dragging, and I guess that's not a bad thing. However, most GPUs also perform other functions such as fading, translucency, and shrinking--all lightning-fast. Microsoft decided to let Aero Glass showcase all those features, which leads to silly time-wasting features such as the tiny iconic representations of running programs that you see when you press Alt + Tab in Aero Glass, the silly Venetian-blind effect the interface offers, and the "lights up!" look when your desktop appears. I realize, it's all a symptom of Mac envy, but it seems silly to me. But, I thought at first, just silly. But after I'd run Aero Glass for a few days, it dawned on me that the interface was more than just silly; it was bad for my PC. My Ferrari is equipped with a 2GHz Turion processor, which AMD rates to run at--believe it or not--up to 95 degrees Celsius. But most of the time, it ticks along in the high 50s or mid-60s. (I use the free utility Speedfan to monitor its temperature.) When running Vista with Aero Glass, however, my system immediately cranked itself up to 91 degrees C ... and stayed there. My response? Simple: I shifted Vista over to its excellent and flexible vanilla SVGA driver. The Ferrari idled back into the 50s and my blood pressure abated. Look, I don't have enough systems to make any general statements about the effects of running Aero Glass on all Vista-ready laptops. But others have told me similar stories about their systems, and there's no way I'm going to run an OS that keeps my laptop nearly hot enough to boil water. Vista's pretty neat, particularly if the word "security" has significant meaning in your organization, but baking laptops just plays hell on that total cost of ownership (TCO) thing. So let me offer a suggestion to folks testing Vista for a corporate rollout: If you're thinking Aero Glass is the way to go, before you roll it out, do a temperature check on your system.
Happy Holidays!

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