The Start Menu can be divided into 3 main areas:
· Program List: This pane is further divided into two subsections divided by a thin line. The upper section always has links to Internet Explorer and Windows Mail (earlier known as Outlook Express) and the lower section displays links to the last nine recently used programs.
· Search Box: The search box (Start Search) gives you an amazing instant searching feature. The instant searching allows you to find files and folders as you start typing.
· Right Pane: The right pane of the Start Menu is divided into 3 sections. The top section displays links to your personal folders like the Documents, Pictures, and Music etc. It also contains your current user account picture. The middle section contains links to the Search Results window and the Computer window which contains a list of the disk drives and other devices connected to your computer. It also contains link to the ‘Network and Connect To’ windows which provides access to computers and devices and the available wireless, dialup and VPN connections that you can connect to. The bottom section displays links to ‘Control Panel’ that lets you customize the appearance of your computer and add and remove programs. The bottom section also contains link to ‘Default Programs’ and ‘Help and Support’ options.
Instant Search – Searches files, folders and programs on your computer using Windows Search Service. Search results are displayed on your left pane of the Start menu. The search also lets you search the internet using MSN Search. You can also create Virtual Folders that constantly updates itself and displays a certain type of file containing a pattern of attributes you have defined. For eg: size, date, words etc.
Windows Aero – The Aero interface is quiet an impressive feature of the Windows Vista. It has a glass like interface and makes your windows components transparent or semi-transparent. Also included is the Windows Flip 3D that shows thumbnails/previews of open windows as shown in the figure below.
Windows Sidebar and Gadgets – The gadgets in Windows Sidebar is used to organize and manage frequently used tasks. If not visible, it can be opened using Start->All Programs->Accessories->Windows Sidebar. These gadgets gives you the ability to view personalized slideshows, calculator, current weather, automatically download Internet feeds (RSS feeds) so that you can see the latest news and so on. These gadgets can be dragged and placed anywhere on the screen. The figure below shows the sidebar with gadgets.
Security Enhancements – Microsoft has improved security better than ever, thereby making your computer safer from vulnerable attacks. If you have been using Vista, I am almost sure that you must have got a rather annoying dialog, that pops up to ask you for your consent before you try to perform an action that could impact windows, such as installing an application. This feature called the User Account Control (UAC) is designed to prevent unauthorized changes to your computer from malicious software.
Apart from the UAC, you also have the Windows Defender that offers you protection against spyware. Also, Windows Updates downloads and installs security patches in the form of updates and keeps your computer safe from the security holes that can be possibly exploited by hackers, thereby causing some serious damage to your resources.
Another mode of security is by encrypting entire drives which protects your data even when your computer goes into the wrong hands. Vista introduces a new layer of security called the ‘BitLocker Drive Encryption’ which encrypts the entire hard disk on which Vista is installed. BitLocker brings together drive encryption and integrity checking of early boot components to enhance your computer security. However one thing I have personally felt while using it was that it was difficult to set up.
You also have the Parental Controls feature which can be used to block Web sites, video shows and any other media content that you do not want your children or others to view. You can also limit the amount of time during which your children can use the computer. One thing to remember is that Parental Controls are not available in a domain environment. So you have to make your computer a member of the workgroup to access Parental Control. Using and configuring Parental controls will be explored in a future article.
Networking Enhancements – Vista ensures that you can connect to a network wherever you are. Setting up a network is pretty straightforward and so is managing your connections once you have them in place. The Network and Sharing Center allows you to control and manage network connectivity. Windows Vista includes many Networking changes and enhancements. Some of them are:
· A high-performance, auto-tuning TCP/IP stack
· Integrated support for both IPv4 and IPv6
· End-to-end security solutions
· Network diagnostics
· Manageability features such as policy-based Quality of Service, Windows Firewall with IPsec integration, and wireless network configuration
Enhanced Multimedia and Games – Windows Media Player 11 allows you to directly purchase and download music. The other multimedia tools include Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, DVD Burner and Media Center. Media Center allows you to watch TV/ movies, listen to the radio, and burn CD’s /DVD’s. You can also create multimedia slide shows, create movies, add transitions to movies, add titles and credits and publish your movies. Apart from these, Vista also includes Windows Contacts, Windows Defender, Windows Calendar, Windows Mail, Sync Center, Games, Windows Meeting Space, and the Snipping Tool.
Better backup – Windows backup is designed to help you automate the backup process across the network, to USB drives or to other removable media. The backup and restore functions in Windows Vista are greatly improved compared to their XP counterpart. The backup allows you to save the current state of the PC by backing up the entire system image.
Internet Explorer 7 – IE7 is the latest version of Microsoft’s internet browser. IE7 offers plenty of new features such as tabbed browsing, increased security, Instant Search, enhanced printing, page zoom and so on.
Should I upgrade to Vista?
As we saw in the previous section, there are plenty of reasons to upgrade to Vista and there are also some reasons not to. You do need plenty of hardware and resources. Apart from that these, there has also been reports of application incompatibility (iTunes, Nero etc). However these small pits should not hold you back and moreover Microsoft is working on these issues to resolve them. So let us all wait for the release of Service pack 1 where we can see most of these issues resolved.
However if you have made the wise decision to upgrade to Vista, one option is to buy a new computer that is Vista Premium Ready. We will shortly see what this means. However, if you are using an old computer and still find it compelling to upgrade to Vista, I would recommend you to run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, a downloadable web application that determines whether your pc meets the requirements for the edition of the Vista you want. We will be seeing the different editions of Windows Vista shortly.
The end result after running this application is a report that will help you to choose the edition of Windows Vista that best fits your requirements. I would also like to mention that your experience with Vista depends on whether your PC is Windows Vista Capable or Windows Vista Premium Ready.
Windows Vista Capable – A computer bearing the Windows Vista Capable PC logo can run Windows Vista. A Vista Capable computer will have a minimum of 800 MHz or faster processor, minimum 512 MB
RAM (I feel they should make it 1 GB) and a graphic processor that is DirectX9 capable.
Windows Vista Premium Ready – The Vista Premium Ready PC’s provide a much better experience – like the new Windows Aero experience. A Vista Premium Ready PC meets the following requirements:
· 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor.
· 1 GB of system memory.
· Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory, Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel.
· 40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free space.
· DVD-ROM Drive.
· Audio output capability.
· Internet access capability.
Make sure you visit this link before you buy or upgrade to Vista. You can also use this decision flowchart posted by Brian Briggs.
Windows Vista Versions
Windows Vista comes in 6 different editions. Let us explore these versions in brief over here.
Ideal for home users who have basic computing, email and browsing needs. Even though Windows XP is a great fit for many of these requirements (and much more), however you get better security, better maintenance and an amazing instant desktop search feature.
· It has an in built defense mechanism against malicious attacks.
· It also helps you to control the computer use when your children are using it.
· Contains a Movie Maker.
· No domain support. It allows you to connect to a maximum of 5 computers on a peer to peer network.
· Does not have an aero interface.
· No group policies, shadow copy.
· Limited media entertainment features. Does not have a DVD maker or Windows Media Center.
Contains all the features found in the Home Basic edition. This edition can be compared to Windows XP.
· The Premium edition supports Windows Aero (glass-like menu bars, Windows Flip 3D, smooth animations etc)
· Delivers a complete Home entertainment experience by providing features such as the Windows Media Center, DVD creation and slide shows.
· Support Tablet PC
· No domain support. It allows you to connect to a maximum of 10 computers on a peer to peer network.
This version is comparable to Windows XP Professional and is aimed at small size businesses.
· Has domain support.
· Contains networking features such as IIS.
· Can support up to 2 CPU’s.
· Supports Group Policies
· Supports Shadow Copy, System Imaging and Recovery.
· Very limited entertainment experience. No DVD Maker. No Media Center.
· No Parental Controls
This version is a Superset of the Business edition. However there is no retail edition for it. It is for volume licensing customers.
· Bit locker
· Multiple language support
· Same as that of Business edition
This version combines all the features of the Home, Premium and Enterprise edition.
· Windows Ultimate extras – games, utilities
As a mention, there is also a Vista Starter edition which is not a retail version. Although quiet affordable and the cheapest of all editions, it is exclusively shipped for developing countries on lower-cost computers sold by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This edition is for people who have very little computer experience. It can run only 3 simultaneous applications at any point of time. You can browse the internet however there is no support for networking. Moreover this edition is available only as a 32-bit edition.
As of this writing, Windows Vista Starter is not currently scheduled to be available in the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, or other high income markets as defined by the World Bank.
These editions have been designed to meet anti-trust agreements in Europe. It is a stripped down version of the Home Basic and Business edition and does not include Windows Media Player, Movie Maker etc.
To get a detailed comparison of the different editions, use this link:
Well I hope this fast facts article has given you some idea about this new OS from Microsoft and will help you decide which version of Vista suits your needs the best. In the upcoming article, we will be delving into much detail taking each new feature of Vista and exploring it. So keep visiting this section for updates. I thank you for reading this article.