Vista: coming soon to a computer near you
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
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
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
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
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
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
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.