A look at Windows Vista

Is it worth the upgrade?

Windows Vista has finally arrived. This operating system has been in the works since 2001 when Windows XP was released. That’s over six years of development, more than any other Microsoft operating system ever released. Over the course of its development cycle, Vista has seen various features stripped from it, revamped or slightly toned down making users question whether the full product would even be a worthy upgrade from XP itself.

It’s been a long road for Microsoft but they’ve finally reached their goal. A robust, strong operating system that is hopefully fit to handle future technologies, as well as the vast amounts of digital media that users store and work with. Under the hood is where all the power lies. Windows Vista is totally re-written from the ground up, giving Microsoft much greater flexibility in the way the OS behaves, and how it can handle upcoming technology. Security was a major concern with Windows XP and as an Operating system (OS) it was rather secure, but exploits were still being found on a daily basis, and while most of these wouldn’t affect your average user, it did outline that security was a major issue and something that we all need to take very seriously.

Microsoft has made Vista a lot harder for outsiders to tamper with. I shall expect exploits to still exist though – no OS is 100% secure obviously, but thanks to better updating features in Vista, it’s easier for Microsoft to deploy updates and it’s easier for the customer to obtain them too. It has various features that do make things harder for web based code to hook themselves into the OS and thanks to ASLR, attacks on certain areas of the OS can more or less be completely stopped.

Do you need to upgrade from Vista?

Most users are already using a version of an XP operating system and have been for a number of years. It’s the most popular operating system around, and it does its job incredibly well. I’ve used it since 2004 without any serious issues, and it has served me well for the most part. Many users will be now re-iterating my last sentence above. For most users XP is still good enough to stick with for another year. After all, it’s hard to sell a vastly improved product to a person who has an already proven one with a good track record.

Going back a few years, it would have been easy to sell Vista to us end users, after all we want security, a lovely easy to use graphical interface, and of course stability. However Windows XP has most of this already, so the temptation to upgrade to Vista is somewhat lessened. Microsoft took so long in bringing Vista to the fold that almost every XP user out there has become dependent on the OS for their daily activities. So much software has been written for XP that it has surpassed Windows 98 in becoming the most solid Microsoft operating system there is in terms of software and hardware support. Vista will now have to take over from this, it has to be ready to handle the next generation of security exploits too, something XP is struggling with right now on its own without the help of third party security applications.

I am not going to convince people to upgrade; I will only re-iterate what I have observed in the past. Eventually you will have to anyway. Gamer’s will no doubt make the transition to Vista quickly because DirectX10 is only available in Vista. XP will be limited to Direct X9, which means by Q3 of 2007 most XP gamers will face having to move to Vista as newly released games come shipped with Vista only Direct X10 enhancements.

What about everyone else? Others will make the transition when Vista becomes cheaper to purchase, although it’s pricing is no different from Windows XP’s variants. Some are waiting for the first Service Pack (codenamed Fiji) to arrive. I’m not a gamer, but I am into digital media quite heavily, I enjoy the watching videos, as well as encoding media that I record via my freeview TV tuner, I am a heavy web user and I want the underlying security that Vista gives me, lastly I have been wanting to see Windows re-written years ago and at last I can see this in action.

I’ve wanted the Windows GDI engine re-written for a very long time now, as even the Windows 2000/XP engine was still horribly poor and dated. How many times have you dragged a non responding window across your desktop only to see it repeatedly paint copies of itself before you terminate the application? This no longer happens in Vista, as everything is now rendered in hardware, via your graphics cards GPU rather than in software like previous operating systems had.

So let’s take a look at some of the highlights that Microsoft Vista offers us.

Start Menu

The Start menu in Vista has been completely redesigned to offer a better experience to the end user. XP’s Start menu wasn’t exactly user friendly once the OS had lots of applications installed, as the Programs menu would span the entire screen in some cases and look very messy. Now, the Start/Programs menu no longer spans half your screen, should you have too many applications installed.

Instead, a hierarchical icon driven menu system keeps everything contained within the confines of the Start menu itself. The bottom of the start menu now contains an Instant Search bar. Here, you can type the name of any content you wish, and the results will appear instantly. The search criteria can be virtually anything – Vista will look through Email, folders, documents and instantly display the results. For instance typing in ‘moocow’ will instantly display any files containing that keyword, and furthermore typing in ‘config’ will bring up MS Config amongst other entries. So launching programs and searching for specific content is already much faster and efficient compared to Windows XP.

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