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BOOT CAMP 509 (22/01/08) – Poor Man’s Vista, part 1

 

Windows Vista is here to stay, whether you like it or not, and eventually it will replace XP so we might as well get used to it.  On a new PC or laptop, designed from the ground up for the extra demands Vista makes on CPUs, memory, data storage and graphics it can work very well indeed and most users, especially newcomers to computing, seem to be reasonably happy with it.

 

It’s not for everyone, though, and there are plenty of very good reasons to stick with XP and avoid installing Vista on an older or less capable PC. Even if it works it can be a rather disappointing experience. Support for some peripherals and software is still patchy and in common with previous Windows releases, upgrading an operating system is just asking for trouble, as the potential for conflicts and driver problems is enormous.

 

Vista has also proved to be a bit of a disappointment when it comes to performance. Some of the blame is due to Microsoft raising expectations early on, and the subsequent delays in getting it into the shops. Like for like comparisons with XP can also be misleading as there’s a lot more going on under the bonnet, but it will get better as more powerful hardware and software written specifically for Vista comes on to the market.

 

Right now though, there’s not a lot to choose between the two operating systems when it comes to most routine tasks. XP has the advantage of being the devil we know and support for programs and peripherals is not an issue. Vista does some things better than XP, searching for files and folders, for example, and it’s also more stable and – so far – more secure than its predecessor.

 

However, Vista’s main selling point is the visuals (though only on PCs equipped with suitable graphics adaptors) and the Aero Glass display makes it a pleasure to use; even die-hard XP users find it difficult to resist. And before any Apple fans write in, it’s fair to say that some features do bear an uncanny resemblance to those first seen on the Mac OS (though feature filching is by no means a one-way street…), but the point is, when it comes down to it the only really compelling argument for switching to Vista at the moment is that it looks so much better than XP.

 

So why not have the best of both worlds? Over the next couple of weeks I’ll show you how to make your XP PC look and behave a lot like a Vista computer, and for good measure we’ll also throw in at least one really useful feature from the Mac OS.

 

I have to say straight away that this is not a miraculous XP to Vista conversion; most of the changes are purely cosmetic and underneath your PC will still be running good old Windows XP, with all of its faults. This also means if your PC is misbehaving, sluggish, underpowered or there are any problems with the graphics the extra burden these changes can impose will not improve the situation, so consider yourself duly warned, and fix any problems before you begin.

 

How many, or few changes you make is up to you, this is a pick-and-mix exercise, but the key Vista feature we’ll be emulating is the Aero Glass interface with its variable transparency effect on windows, menus and dialogue boxes. We’ll also be simulating Thumbnail Preview, which displays a small image of a minimised window when you hover the mouse pointer over an icon on the Taskbar.

 

One of my all-time favourite Vista features is 3D Flip, which lets you switch between running applications by pressing Winkey + Tab; open windows cascade across the screen in a smart-looking 3D effect. In Vista this swallows up a lot of graphics resources but the small utility we’ll be using to replicate the effect should work, even on relatively low powered XP machines. We’ll also be mimicking Vista’s backgrounds icons and sounds with a set of themes, and if you want to go the whole hog, I’ll be suggesting a desktop Search tool that, whilst not quite as good as the Search function in Vista, comes pretty close.

 

Finally, as an added bonus one of the program’s we’ll be using comes with a Mac-like ‘docking bar’. This resizable strip of icons sits anywhere on your desktop and the idea is you populate it with the shortcut icons of the programs and folders you access most frequently. The really clever bit is the way the icons ‘balloon’ when you pass the mouse pointer over them. It’s incredibly easy to use, and configure and once you’ve used it you will find it very difficult to go back to the boring old XP and Vista Quick Launch bar. 

 

All of the programs and utilities we’ll be using are free and safe and none of the changes I’ll be suggesting are permanent or involve any significant risks, but before you do anything see this week’s Top Tip!

 

 

Next Week – Poor Man’s Vista, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

CPU

Central Processor Unit - the main microprocessor chip in a PC

 

DRIVER

A program or data file that tells Windows how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware, like a video adaptor, modem, printer, web cam, USB Memory Stick etc.

 

WINKEY

Multi-purpose key, with the Windows log, used in conjunction with a variety of other keys for various pre-programmed functions

 

 

TOP TIP

Before you embark upon this exercise take some time to prepare your PC. At the very least you should back up all of your irreplaceable data, just in case… I also strongly suggest that you create a new System Restore Point. If you haven’t done it before all you have to do is go to Start > Programs Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. Click ‘Create a Restore Point’, then Next. Give the ‘RP’ a name (e.g. today’s date), click Create, and it ‘s done. If something goes wrong you can undo any changes by going back to the System Restore menu and select ‘Restore my computer to an earlier time’, choose a date and follow the prompts. If a really serious fault occurs that prevents Windows from booting, you can access System Restore from the Safe Mode menu (press F8 at Start-up).

 

 

Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk

 

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© R. Maybury 2008, 0701

Part 2 3

 

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