Friday, November 24, 2006

The All New Windows Vista

When Microsoft first started speaking about ‘Longhorn’ -a codename for its successor to Windows XP, it got everyone’s attention. Today, a bit more than five years after XP’s official summer launch, its successor, now renamed Windows Vista, is finally here.

Initially, priority will go to its volume licence customers such as Dell, HP-Compaq and Lenovo, followed by an ‘on-the-stands’ availability by January 30, 2007.

We have been keeping tab of Vista’s development thanks to Microsoft’s generous strategy of making a pre-release version of the OS freely available for a limited period of time to anyone interested in having a look at it.

Vista is available in eight iterations: Starter, Home Basic, Home Basic N, Home Premium, Business, Business N, Enterprise and Ultimate. We installed Vista Ultimate, as it is a superset of all the others.

Microsoft classifies machines into two categories for running Vista: ‘Vista-capable’ machines and ‘premium-ready’ machines. The former represent the lowest recommended configuration (1 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, a DirectX 9 class graphics card, and 20 GB hard drive).

However to run Vista without a hitch, you’ll need a premium-ready machine (1.5 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, a DirectX 9 graphics card with its own 128 MB RAM, and 40 GB hard drive). We suggest running Vista on a premium-ready machine, as this OS is a resource hog!

What’s new?
The most eye-catching aspect is Vista’ graphical interface, called ‘Aero’. The most demanding theme, Aero Glass, requires a moderately powerful configuration to run efficiently, and is stunning. Everything from the taskbar, the start panel to individual window borders is translucent. You can adjust the level of translucency from the control panel.

Minimising or maximising a window doesn’t result in it just disappearing or reappearing on the screen. Instead, you’ll see cool visual effects as the window moves either to the taskbar or to the screen. Switching through windows has been stylised as well. Now if you press the keyboard shortcut Alt + Tab to move through different windows in the taskbar, you’ll see a thumbnail image of each-this makes selection a whole lot easier. But it gets better: press the Windows key in combination with Tab and you’ll see separate windows organise themselves in 3D, allowing you to scroll through each in a cyclic order!

Windows Explorer looks and behaves quite differently too. Vista also redefines the idea of the desktop. Conventionally, the desktop was a place where you could place either files or folders.

But now there is a new sidebar where you can place customised Desktop Gadgets-small applets designed for a specific function. For instance you can place a clock, a calculator, an RSS feed viewer and so on. Vista ships with 13 gadgets but connecting to Microsoft online will allow you to download more or customise your own.

Even searching for a file is easier. After you install Vista, the OS will spend a few minutes indexing the files on your hard drives. So the next time you search for a particular file, you’ll get an instant result. The search can be accessed either from the start panel or directly from Windows Explorer.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this indexing service: sometimes the PC will run slower after you’ve added new files, as the system is busy indexing them.

The overall security and robustness of the OS has been increased. There’s a new element called the ‘User Account Control’. Any action requiring more than the default privileges explicitly asks the user, even if he is an administrator, for permissions. This, coupled with Windows Defender, an anti-spy ware program, will ensure that the machine isn’t overrun with viruses and malware.
Finally, you’ll find plenty of new and upgraded programs in Vista. There’s Windows Mail which replaces Outlook Express , Windows Calendar, Windows Photo Gallery (a photo management tool), and Windows DVD Maker among others. Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11 and DirectX 10 come installed by default as well.

Is it for you?
To put it simply, you only need two things going for you if you decide to upgrade to Windows Vista. One, if you pick up the Ultimate edition, be prepared to shell out $400 on the OS itself. We suggest you pick an edition that’s suitable for you. This way you will save money and unnecessary features won’t take up your hard disk space either. Two, you can’t afford to skimp on the computer’s configuration. We recommend you go for a ‘premium ready’ PC.

Or else, be prepared for Vista taking terribly long to do even the smallest of things. That said, Vista is definitely a much-required breath of fresh air. Hardware installations are quick and easy. Even the overall way you interact with the computer is intuitive and refined. If you can look past the hole it’ll burn in your pocket, there won’t be much to dislike about it.

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