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    Windows Vista: coming soon to a computer near you

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver November 21-27; issue 891

    High Tech Office

    Ready or not, here it comes.

    Windows Vista, that is, Microsoft’s long-delayed successor to its industry-standard XP operating system. Some five years post-XP, and stripped of several of its promised features, Vista finally “went to manufacturing” in the second week of November, for release to large corporate accounts at the end of the month and to the general public by the end of January.

    I’ve been running pre-release versions of Vista for about six months, and have so-called RC2 (Release Candidate 2) installed on a recent model Dell laptop. And if you have it installed on a recent model PC with a fairly beefy video adapter, it’s noticeably prettier than its predecessor.

    Rising to the challenge of Apple’s OS X, Microsoft has produced a classy, attractive product. Vista’s taskbar and title bars are transparent; on-screen objects subtly glow and sport shadows. The catch is that to take advantage of all this eye-candy you need a recent-model video card with at least 128 MB of dedicated graphics memory. Many currently available desktop and laptop systems have video built into the motherboard and won’t make the cut, even if they sport Vista Capable stickers.

    Most of those systems will run Vista, just not as prettily. Vista offers a range of user interface styles, including one pretty similar to the current XP interface and another based on the old Windows 2000 look and feel. Add to that a half dozen or so different (and differently-priced) versions, and you can expect more than a little confusion.

    The next thing users will notice is that they’re asked for permission a lot. Unlike Mac OS X and Linux systems, typical Windows 2000 and XP users are logged in as system administrators. The computer assumes that they’re in full control and have granted permission for anything that’s happening. That makes it too easy for viruses, spyware and other nasties to install themselves onto Windows systems.

    In Vista, Microsoft has implemented what it calls User Account Control. Users have to explicitly grant permission for anything that changes the system. This will make Vista systems more secure, but compared with the Mac or Linux, Microsoft went overboard. Users wanting to rename or delete an icon on the desktop have to approve the action, sometimes several times.

    There is a long laundry list of improved features, including:

    - a tidier Start Menu, search integrated into the file Explorer, a usable two-way firewall and bundled anti-spyware (but no antivirus), good backup utilities (though these vary with Vista version);

    - a nice Windows photo gallery for working with large collections of digital photos; and

    - the newest versions of Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, with features that aren’t available running these programs on an XP system.

    Companies and individuals purchasing computers now may be able to qualify for discounted copies of Vista, though details will vary with manufacturer and vendor. And as with previous Windows releases, upgrading older hardware is not guaranteed to be pain-free.

    Most large organizations are taking a wait-and-see attitude, viewing major upgrades as more of a disruption than an opportunity, at least until a clear business case has made for the new version. But home and small business users are going to be finding one or another version of Vista pre-installed on most systems for sale starting early in 2007.

    Ready or not.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan