Windows Vista, Buy or Beware?


Traditionally the launch of a new version of Microsoft Windows involves a fair amount of razzmatazz but the debut of Windows Vista in London last Tuesday was a surprisingly low-key event. To some extent this reflects the character of the new operating system, which, if you dig deep enough turns out to be not too different to its predecessor, Windows XP, though on the surface it does look, and feel, like a whole new approach to computing.


Vista is a timely response to the changes in the way we use our PC’s. In the past five years computers have been transformed from jumped up office machines into repositories for thousands of photographs, music tracks, videos and a huge amount of personal data. Finding a particular item in the cavernous hard disc drives now fitted to most home computers is becoming increasingly difficult.


‘Search’ boxes are everywhere in Vista and this is one of its most important new features. As soon as you start to enter a keyword or name, whether it’s a program, a document, the name of a song or the title of a digital photograph, as you type Vista attempts to zero in on what you are looking for, displaying a list of increasingly relevant ‘hits’. 


Easy searching is something Vista users will learn to appreciate but the headline-grabbing feature has to be the graphics, and ironically it is one of the reasons why Vista is not going to be an overnight success.


Relatively few PCs made within the last five years can handle Vista without an expensive upgrade. Nevertheless it will still sell, if only on its remarkable good looks (much to the irritation of Apple Mac owners who claim it is all old hat...).


The ‘Aeroglass’ graphical interface adds a wealth of eye-catching visual effects to menus and dialogue boxes but the enhancement that will catch most people’s attention – and it could almost have been designed for the benefit of PC sales assistants... -- is ‘3D ‘Flip’. Pressing the Windows key (‘Winkey’) and Tab on the keyboard switches to a smart-looking 3D display showing a cascade of open windows, allowing the user to quickly switch between running applications. It’s all very intuitive and clearly designed to appeal to newcomers; simply ‘hovering’ the mouse pointer over a taskbar icon changes it into a ‘live’ thumbnail of the program or application it represents.


The right side of the screen is often ‘dead’ space, more so now that many computers have widescreen monitors. Vista populates this part of the display with ‘Gadgets’, which threaten to become the PC equivalent of annoying mobile phone ring tones and text messages.


Essentially Gadgets are small utilities and toys that can be downloaded from the web. Several are included as standard and these include fancy clocks, a mini slideshow viewer and some games, but the big guns were reserved for the Vista launch. It was clear from the first wave of sponsored Gadgets, from airlines, financial institutions, cinema chains, news organisations and so on that they are destined to become a powerful and potentially very lucrative marketing tool for buying goods and services online.


Security has been given a very high priority and Microsoft is grimly aware that even before its launch a small army of hackers and virus writers has been tirelessly probing Vista’s defences. A lot of effort has been put into beefing up its protective features but there is little doubt that critical loopholes will be exposed and it will be business as usual with regular weekly downloads of patches and fixes. However, for many PC users the greatest threat to their computer’s well being comes from their own and other user’s carelessness. Vista has that covered too and a feature called User Account Control vigorously protects critical system files and settings from unauthorised access. Any attempt to fiddle with the operating system’s inner workings results in a stern-looking pop-up box, demanding permission or a password before any change will be allowed.


A new and improved email program called Windows Mail boasts a junk mail filter and anti-phishing tool, designed to eliminate links to bogus web sites and Vista comes with Windows Defender, a capable cleaner program, which should help to reduce the amount of ‘malware that PC’s pick up whilst visiting dubious websites


So, the big question is should you dash out and buy a copy? The simple answer is no, there are no killer features that might encourage the owner of a well-behaved Windows XP computer to switch and the cost of upgrading an older machine to a Vista capable specification could be prohibitive.


If you are in the market for a new machine or a newcomer you may like to wait a few months, to give the early adopters, (or unpaid guinea pigs as they are known in the trade), time to root out the bugs and glitches, and there will be some, in spite of the extensive pre-launch testing programme. Vista is a useful step forward and it should do well, but there’s no need to go looking for it just yet, it will come to you soon enough if like most people you buy a new computer every two or three years.




(c) Rick Maybury 3001 2007



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