Microsoft
The sleek, new Windows Vista desktop with a good view of the Windows Sidebar's nifty analog clock and RSS feeds box.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 1/30/2007 10:34:45 PM ET 2007-01-31T03:34:45

Microsoft's Windows Vista, the operating system replacement for Windows XP, has been a long time in the making.

It's been five years since Windows XP was introduced — eons in computer years. It also took a lot longer than Microsoft had originally promised. And a late January release means that nearly the entire computer industry missed the 2006 holiday sales season.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

But, Vista is finally here and it has some great new features. Vista changes the way you access your data and changes the way you find documents, music, videos, pictures and everything else you use a computer for. Be prepared to spend time learning how it works.

The operating system's new graphical look is called Windows Aero and brings Vista's look and feel into the 21st century. Think in terms of clean, clear and very user-friendly. There are lots of 3D effects and modern typefaces for the user. In its own way, it's Microsoft's answer to Apple's OS X. Vista's new interface is very, very slick.

A streamlined Start menu makes finding applications and documents easy. I wish, though, that they didn’t hide your computer's turn-the-machine-completely-off shut down button. It’s now buried in the right-hand scroll-out Start menu. Microsoft prefers that you put your computer into the new "Sleep" mode (that's "hibernate" in Windows XP) rather than shut down completely all the time. They say Sleep uses less power, helps protect your data and can wake up within 2-3 seconds. For short periods I agree. For long periods of non-use I prefer turning my computer off completely.  

The new Instant Search feature is located in every Explorer window and can help users quickly find information anywhere on the computer. The Search Pane lets you organize information by author, date, or type of document.

Windows Sidebar is a set of user-configurable tools that puts frequently used information (particularly RSS feeds) and tasks right on the desktop. I tend to ignore it — except for when I need to glance at the large analog clock. This feature is similar to Apple's OS X full-screen tool bar called Dashboard — only it sits to one side.

The completely new Network Explorer puts all network connections — like printers, other computers, and devices — into one centralized location. This is somewhat different from the controls in Windows XP, where each peripheral has a separate place. Network Explorer is one feature that has a definite learning curve. Once you understand the differences (like one icon for all live network connections instead of many in XP’s taskbar) the new system begins makes a lot of sense. In the same vein, the new Vista Sync Center helps users manage all their devices from a one place.

Depending on the age and complexity of your hardware — and which version of the new operating system you're trying to install — getting Vista onto your hard drive should take you about an hour. Beta installations took me anywhere from 40 to 75 minutes to get up and running.

I’ve been able to play with the final version of Vista that had been pre-installed on three different machines: a Dell XPS M1210 Media Center laptop, a very pretty, white Toshiba Portege R400-S4931 tablet computer running Vista Ultimate.  I also got to try Vista on a pre-production OQO model 02 handheld.

It would take seven pages or more to tell you everything new and different that I’ve discovered while using Vista but here are a few highlights:

  • Tablet PC functionality: This is integrated into most versions of Windows Vista. This is for hardware that lets you use it as a tablet computer.
  • Windows Media Center: This comes standard on Window's Vista Home Premium and Windows Ultimate. It provides a full entertainment experience, including live and recorded television, music, photos, and videos.
  • Improved Windows Media Player:  Sleek and cool, it worked well on my computers.
  • Power management: New power management features for mobile computers enable users to optimize battery life performance. I didn’t see much difference here, but Vista computers seem to get a very usable amount of time from each battery. It was difficult, though, to make a direct comparison to similar XP laptops.
  • Security: Windows Defender helps protect computers with regular scanning and the removal of spyware and other potentially unwanted software. I found Defender and the rest of Vista’s protection software very intrusive. Turning it off was no better — I would constantly get little pop-up warnings that I had turned off these programs and might be jeopardizing my computer’s security.
  • Games. There are the classic Windows games, plus several new ones including Chess Titans, InkBall, Mahjong Titans and Purble Place.

Overall, I found Windows Vista was a good operating system. In my tests, Vista runs faster on the new computers I’ve been using — definitely faster than the latest version (with constant upgrading) of Windows XP running on a year-old ThinkPad Z60t. I realize that’s like comparing apples and oranges — but Vista really does seem to zoom along at times. 

The test OQO handheld computer was loaded with both XP and Vista. Although I couldn’t run both operating systems at the same time, Vista seemed to open a few test Office documents a touch quicker than when I tried it with XP Pro.

Vista is a lot more graphic-intensive than XP and overall a bit closer to OS X than to previous version of Windows. Both are very competent operating systems and both will have their rabid supporters and foes. I'm not interested in getting involved in that endless discussion.

If you’re currently using Windows XP, you can’t go wrong with upgrading to Vista — but be forewarned: to appreciate all of the new features, you'll need a high level of hardware horsepower — lots of memory (think 2GB, 1GB minimum) and a fast, modern processor.  Otherwise, Vista will just be forced to disable some of the cool, new features that your computer can't handle.

Windows Vista is the latest, most up-to-date and most improved version of the Windows operating system. It will help you get the most from your current computer — and your next computer. But if you decide to stick with XP, have no fear — your next computer will have Vista installed on the hard drive. Soon it will be nearly impossible to avoid.

After using Vista extensively for the past two months, I found the new operating system to be stable and easy to use. Make no mistake, with all the new features there will be a learning curve when you first sit down and play. But that’s because there’s so much there.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments