“Show Us Your ‘Wow’” is the marketing slogan used earlier this week as Microsoft unveiled the latest release to its popular Windows operating system, called Windows Vista. Windows Vista is the latest operating system update since Windows XP was released in 2001. It promises many upgrades as well as new features from its predecessor. Though Microsoft has just released its new crown jewel to the public, I have been using test versions of Windows Vista for several months. While what I’ve been using is not the finished product, I can tell you what I do know about Windows Vista and the noteworthy features that it entails.
The first difference you will notice is the change in the overall look and feel to Windows. Don’t worry; there is still a task bar at the bottom and a start button. The difference is quickly seen when you open a window. Instead of the blue, silver, or green themes that users have become accustomed to in XP, Vista sports a new and sleek transparent look. Microsoft is calling this visual feature “Aero Glass.” While it is tough to describe how it looks, it is very sleek. The start menu has also been refreshed; remember the days of ongoing menus that would spawn across your screen the second you clicked on “All Programs” in the start menu? Those days are over; now when you click on “All Programs”, your list of programs is neatly refreshed inside of the start menu. Click “All Programs” again and you return back to your normal Start Menu. On top of the new appearance, Microsoft has added simplicity to the overall system. Changing or altering any aspect of the system is far more seamless than in past versions of Windows. This is just a small piece of the new visual changes that Vista includes.
Windows Vista is more than just a slew of new looks and flashy design. Microsoft has added many new functional features and new bundled software. The first of these new programs that you will see is Windows Sidebar. Windows Sidebar is a program that sits on the very right of your screen and houses ‘mini-programs’ that provide small, yet useful, bits of information at any time you need it. These ‘mini-programs’, or Gadgets as Microsoft has named them, include everything from calendars to the weather, and even the latest news headlines of your choice. This feature alone will dramatically affect how you access information that is important to you. Microsoft is also changing the way you view and manage your digital media such as music, movies and photos. Windows Media Player has been updated, and a new program called Windows DVD Maker has been added, which allows you to create professional looking DVDs. Also added to the mix of media-oriented programs is Windows Photo Gallery. This program allows you to view, manage, and even enhance your digital photos. All of these new programs provide a simple, easy to use interface that still packs in plenty of features.
Despite all of these new sleek and powerful features, Microsoft managed to make Windows Vista very, and I mean very, fast. One of the coolest new performance features in Windows Vista is called ReadyBoost. ReadyBoost allows you to plug in a USB thumb drive and use the memory on the thumb drive to boost your computer’s system memory, increasing speed and performance. This comes at a cost; it has since been learned that only the latest and fastest thumb drives will work. If you want all the bells and whistles that Vista has to offer, you might find yourself needing to upgrade your hardware. Windows Vista demands some steep hardware requirements that include 1GB of memory, and a 128 MB video card.
When Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001, they released two editions, Home and Professional. With Windows Vista, Microsoft is making available four, count them, four different editions: Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, and Windows Vista Ultimate. If you are just checking e-mail, writing papers, and can live without the cool new “Aero Glass” effects then Windows Vista Home Basic will work just fine. In fact, if you own a laptop that is more than a year or two old, then it is more than likely only able to run Windows Vista Home Basic. Aside from casual users or those with older systems, Windows Home Premium will work and will be what most new computers will come installed with. Sticking to its name, Windows Vista Business will appeal to the business sector. Finally, Windows Vista Ultimate will serve as the all encompassing “ultimate” version of Windows that will pack in all the sleek features that Windows Vista has to offer. Pricing starts at $99 just for the Windows Vista Home Basic upgrade and ends at $299 for the full version of Vista Ultimate.
If you have used Windows XP long enough, I am sure you have been annoyed and sometimes haunted by pop-ups, spyware and viruses. Those who have had enough may be wondering if Windows Vista will be as troubled in this area as its predecessor. You may be asking yourself if you should run out and buy Windows Vista or to buy a new PC with Windows Vista preinstalled. I am not sure if any casual user who just wants to use their PC should run out and buy something this new and fresh. While it appears that Microsoft has made some substantial security improvements with Windows Vista, only time will tell after it has been on the market long enough for kinks to be worked out and hackers have had enough time to pound on it.
Regardless of what security issues it may encounter in the weeks ahead, Windows Vista is for sure going to be more stable and secure than Windows XP. The biggest thing about Windows Vista that stands out to me is its ease of use. This is a corner that Microsoft has struggled to turn in the past. As long as they continue to make ease of use and security the focus points, Microsoft is finally headed down the right road.
Volkswagon has long had a slogan that reads “Driver’s Wanted.” If the simplicity and ease of use in Windows Vista continues in future products, Microsoft may finally be able to consider the slogan “Users Wanted” – not “Technicians Wanted.”