After five years of development and US$6 billion of investment, Microsoft has finally unveiled Windows Vista. The new Operating System has been written afresh from the ground up to get rid of the stack of legacy code that underpins Windows XP and, more importantly, Microsoft promises faithfully that it has put security at the top of its list of priorities.
The most obvious change from XP to Vista is the Aero interface which is clearly influenced by Mac OS X. Aero uses your DirectX 9 graphics card to add funky transparency effects to the windows and task bar on your screen, which means that the system requirements for Vista are relatively high. Owners of older PCs and laptops are likely to be restricted to Windows Vista Home Basic which doesn’t include Aero.
The desktop includes a sidebar that can be used as an RSS reader and can also display gadgets such as the clock. You need a widescreen display to avoid having the sidebar take up a significant amount of space, and we found it to be rather annoying and soon turned it off.
Inside Vista you’ll find Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Media Player 11 but of course you can already download those for Windows XP. In addition you’ll find a Search tool that is similar to Google Desktop as well as a revised version of the Windows Defender Firewall that now monitors outbound as well as incoming traffic.
One major change in Vista is User Account Control or UAC. This feature locks Windows down whenever it detects an action that might pose danger. This is superb for security but it can be frustrating in use as you’ll be faced with pop-up dialogue boxes when you install, run or remove almost any piece of software.
Another significant part of Vista is the inclusion of DirectX 10 which will be exclusive to Vista and will thus deprive Windows XP users of the ability to play the latest games. Or rather they’ll be able to play them but will not get the full benefit of their new GeForce 8800 graphics card. Nice one Microsoft.
Vista Home Premium takes over from XP Media Center and offers all of the media features that you want for watching TV and movies or for listening to music. Windows Vista Ultimate adds some sophisticated tools such as image based back-up, scheduled back-up, BitLocker encryption and Windows Meeting Space. These are all useful tools but you can achieve the same ends with existing software, most of which is free of charge.
In many respects Vista will be quite familiar to XP users so you should have no problem diving straight in when you buy a new Vista PC, however the cost of buying an upgrade from XP to Vista is prohibitive.
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