Since the much ballyhooed debut of Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system (OS) at the beginning of 2007, both trade and consumer media outlets have tested and reviewed just about every aspect of the product.
So, if you’re looking for head-to-head comparisons with other OSs, in-depth analysis going function-by-function, or more technical specifications, a quick Google search will provide more than you could possibly hope for.
This evaluation, on the other hand, will seek to give you an idea of what it’s like for the average user to tackle Windows Vista–how it differs from previous Windows incarnations, what features are neat, and which are useful.
First, let me assure you that if you are reasonably facile with Windows XP, you will have no trouble learning to use Vista. With absolutely no instruction from me, my wife, who is well-acquainted with XP, was able to sit down at my Vista machine and use it to retrieve e-mail and do other common tasks. In fact, Vista could accurately be described as an easier-to-use version of Windows XP–with added security and search features thrown in.
I tried Vista on a Dell XPS M1210 laptop with the new OS native–that is, Vista came with the computer and the unit was designed to run it, having the requisite amount of memory and the proper graphics card.
I evaluated Windows Vista Ultimate, top of the line for this OS, which carries a retail price of $399 if you’re buying it off the shelf.
By the way, if you’re thinking of upgrading to Vista on a currently-XP machine, do a lot of research first. While upgrading is definitely possible, it can be difficult under some circumstances, but that’s a subject for another article.
In case you’re wondering, most late-model, reasonably well-equipped XP machines can probably run Vista, but a memory upgrade and/or a new graphics card may be required to get the most out of the newer OS.
Vista, the voyage begins
The first thing you’ll notice about logging on to a Vista machine is the stunning graphics. Microsoft has gone to a lot of trouble to make this OS look different from XP, and the 3-D capabilities of Vista help give it a distinctive look from the get-go. Hard as I tried not to be impressed by the visual aspects, I nonetheless was.
You’ll also see a host of on-screen gizmos like real-time, analog-style meters that track how much of the computer’s resources are currently being used; a chronograph-style watch face, and currency checker that compares the U.S. dollar against a variety of world currencies–something that might be quite useful in this age of dollar depreciation. The desktop also provides links from Microsoft to helpful information and tutorials on Windows usage.
Before you even get to those screens, however, you will be able to set up separate accounts for anyone who uses the machine. This lets you determine the level access for individuals as you see fit, which is really a good idea. Microsoft touts Vista as having more robust security features than its predecessors, and that certainly seems to be true.
If children–or anyone you don’t want to have full privileges–try to download and install new programs, for example, the new security features on Vista will ask for verification from someone with full administrator privileges. Knowing that security problems often originate from within an organization, this should make business users breathe a little easier.
Speaking of security, one thing you’ll have to get used to is that Vista will ask for your OK to do a number of things in addition to downloading and installing programs, and even when you give permission for the download, you’ll still be asked about the installation.
In some respects, the amount of questioning will depend on the online security level you set when signing onto the Internet. Vista will automatically set a firewall security level based on the kind of connection (wired, wireless, secured network or unsecured) you tell it to make. You can change that level, but I found that Vista usually makes the safest and most appropriate decisions here.