Summary: Wondering exactly which features separate Vista Home Premium from the Ultimate Edition of Vista? Or perhaps you want to know more about how media functionality has been integrated into the new OS? In this article, we go over all of Vista's key new features, as well as the new user interface. If you're looking for more info on Windows Vista, you'll definitely want to check this article out!
Now Microsoft’s set to introduce Windows Vista, their first 3D operating system. The new OS boasts several additional new features and enhancements, and in this article we’ll discuss some of these in more detail. We’ve got quite a bit of info here to go over (6,000+ words), so we’ll go ahead and get started.
The many versions of Vista
When Windows XP debuted in 2001, Microsoft offered just two versions of the OS: Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional Edition. It was a pretty simple task choosing which OS was right for you, most hardware enthusiasts opted for WinXP Pro due to its better security and multi-processor support (among other features), but over time Microsoft introduced additional versions of Windows XP – for tablet PC users Microsoft offered Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, while for home theater PC users, Windows Media Center Edition was highly popular.
Note that the prices above reflect the MSRP of the Upgrade and Full Retail versions of the Vista OS. Microsoft has not announced OEM pricing for Vista yet. Typically you can pick up the OEM version of a Microsoft OS at retailers like Newegg and Zipzoomfly for a little cheaper than MSRP, with the rule that you must purchase a piece of hardware along with the OS.
For most enthusiasts, the debate around which flavor of Vista to upgrade to is going to revolve around Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate Edition. As you can see in the table above, Vista Home Premium is loaded with features, but Microsoft has added additional goodies into the Ultimate Edition, enough that some users may think twice on this decision. Vista Ultimate adds features such as system image-based backup and recovery, as well as encrypting file system and Windows BitLocker, the Ultimate Edition of Vista even supports up to 128GB+ of system memory. For some users, the $100 price premium Microsoft is charging for the upgrade version of Ultimate may be worth it considering these features.
A breakthrough computing experience
Over the next few pages we will discuss many of these new features that Microsoft has incorporated into Vista in more depth. Additionally, we will show screenshots of what we are referencing to give you a better picture of what is being discussed. Let us start out by listing the components that we are using while creating this preview.
Current System Specs:
Windows Vista Ultimate (Aero) RC2
AMD Athlon FX-60
Asus A8R32 MVP Deluxe Motherboard
1GBx 2 Corsair XMS3502 v1.3
150GB Western Digital Raptor Hard Drive
ATI Radeon X1900XTX 512MB
E-Power 650W PSU
Voodoo PC Customized Case Enclosure
Pioneer DVR-111DBK DL DVDRW Drive
As you can see from the specs above we are using higher-end hardware to take advantage of Microsoft Vista Ultimate’s Aero Desktop. Depending on the hardware that you have when installing Windows Vista, you may be subject to using a version of Vista that does not have all of the eye candy and visuals as the Aero Glass version we used for testing. This is completely dependent on an analysis that the operating system does on initial load.
Essentially, during the operating system install, your hardware will be scanned and Windows will automatically set visuals based on the theoretical performance of your computers components. After Vista is loaded, you can view the ratings of your hardware (CPU, memory, video card, etc.) by navigating to Control Panel ->Performance Information and Tools. This is where you will be given a Windows Experience rating for your components along with some more information about your rankings.
On the next page we will add some screenshots and get right into the new features of Windows Vista! Read on young padawans!
It’s no surprise that Microsoft’s design team spent a lot of time on visuals and ease of use. But beyond the cosmetic changes we need to take a look at some of the new features Microsoft incorporated in Vista. After all, this operating system has been almost “completely reworked from the ground up”.
Windows Desktop, Flip3D, Gadgets
Another addition to the desktop is the new gadgets sidebar. This virtually transparent toolbar floats on the right side of your screen by default and features a clock, different wallpapers (constantly changing), and a headlines section which automatically gives you the real-time data and headlines from the news if you are connected to the internet. Other gadgets may be added and the defaults may be removed per user’s choice. Some of the other choices are: a calendar, contacts, a CPU meter, currency calculator, a note pad, a picture puzzle, stocks, and weather. From the link located in the “add gadgets menu” you can be redirected to a website to get more gadgets. Finally, the gadgets toolbar can be docked on the right or left side of the desktop.
Improved Start Menu
When talking about ease of use and Vista, look no further than the new start menu. This sucker can be customized from the ground up, giving you one click access to the most important areas of your operating system.
Microsoft also put a slick search area right at the bottom of the menu, allowing users to type in what they are looking for. As users are typing Microsoft’s advanced indexing service is searching for matches that contain the letter you have typed up to that point.
Also, Vista has much improved startup/shutdown times and the “Sleep” mode located right on the Start menu is a great option for suspending activity of a computer while still being able to get back up and running within a matter of seconds. Think of this feature as a perfect mix of Hibernate and Standby in one. Of course you can always use the traditional way of accessing your programs by navigating through the start menu, but that’s no fun anymore. And that leads us right into the new Start Menu’s “All Programs” structure. It is a bit tough to get used to, especially the pause that is needed to open up more options, but with time users will probably get used to it.
The Center of Media
These features could come particularly handy for recording HD content. Up to this point, HD support was limited to just over-the-air broadcasts. This limits support to the major networks, such as CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX. With these new features, premium channels that broadcast in HD such as HBO, Showtime, ESPN, and TNT will become available.
Media Player 11
The first thing that you will notice is the new interface of Media Player 11. It has a big “play” button centered at the bottom of the window surrounded by the rest of the common controls. The common tasks are at the very top centered also, making it easy to navigate to and from different tabs depending on what you need to do. The feature that stands out the most is the new library view. This view organizes albums from top to bottom listing album information under a picture of the album’s cover, and then listing all of the available tracks to the right of the cover. All in all, the new Media Player has been restructured to make navigation easier for the consumer.
Let’s move on to Internet Explorer 7 and Parental Controls!
Internet Explorer 7
Now it’s time to delve into the world of Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer was first introduced for Windows XP a short time ago and is a big improvement over previous versions. It features tabbed browsing (cough, Firefox, cough), improved security and parental controls, and a redesigned user interface that is much simpler and user friendly.
Let’s start off with a bit of history of tabbed browsing. Tabbed browsing, for those of you who have not experienced Firefox yet, is a way to have several internet explorer windows active at once separated on a page by tabs. You can switch back and forth between the windows by clicking on the appropriate tab. As you can see from the pictures below it is a completely new design that is customizable per user. One of the changes is the default locations of the “back” and “forward” buttons, which are now located left of the address bar. They have been separated from the “Home” button and the rest of the standard buttons. Additionally, Microsoft has put a handy “Live Search” area to the right of the address bar to allow for easy searches on the internet no matter where you are on the net. This can be utilized best by opening up a new tab and then doing a quick search within that tab. Favorites are still available to the left of the tab toolbar and Links can even be moved right on top of the tab area for easy one-click navigation.
Another cool idea was the use of a Maintenance area (accessed by clicking on Tools => Delete Browsing History) that can be used as a one stop place to clear all internet tracks on a single window.
A new “phishing” filter has also been added to IE7 that can be set to automatically check web sites you visit for any abnormal activity and to warn or block the site based on how it is configured. The filter is updated hourly by Microsoft, giving you the latest protection against known phishing websites. Windows Defender, a spyware remover, is also active while you are exploring the net, working hand-in-hand with Internet Explorer 7 to keep your computer spyware free.
Kids beware, mom and dad are watching!
Let’s move on to some more features.
Games for Windows Game Advisor
Because of some of the confusion that people may experience through their transition to Windows Vista, Microsoft developed a tool online that helps gamers in making choices about games they may want to play with this new operating system. This tool is very informative and helps in making the right choices for gaming in Vista. Some of the features are:
It’s no surprise by now that Windows Vista is a gamer-oriented operating system. In knowing this, Microsoft made it easy for gamers of all experience levels to have a common place, conveniently located right on the start menu, for all games to be installed to. This area is called “The Games Explorer” and is a one-stop place from the Start Menu to access all of the games on your system. This area also gives the game scores based on hardware and software requirements ratings, and matches that up to what you have currently installed on your system. This, in conjunction with the Game Advisor, makes sure that you are playing games that your computer’s hardware can handle and also helps making gaming choices easier going forward.
Games for Windows
Coinciding with this is the launch of Microsoft’s Games for Windows campaign. Under Games for Windows, Microsoft has set up guidelines for publishers producing games for the PC platform. The guidelines to meet Microsoft’s Games for Windows criteria are the following:
Microsoft doesn’t charge a royalty fee for Games for Windows branding, but game packaging is standardized. In addition, Games for Windows retail space is rolling out in 9,000 major retailers this winter. This includes shelving similar to what you’d see in your local EB/Gamestop with Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, etc. Microsoft will also be distributing more than 1,000 interactive Games for Windows interactive kiosks so consumers can test out games before buying them. According to Microsoft, “The goal of this branding bar is to help consumers easily identify games for the Windows platform while increasing their confidence in the games that carry the bar.”
As you can see, Microsoft has put a lot of hard work into making Windows Vista an overall gaming operating system. From the all new DirectX 10 to the Games Advisor to the Games Explorer, Vista leaves no rock unturned.
Continue onto the next page for some additional notable features in Windows Vista!
Vista comes with more than meets the eye. There are a slew of additional features that are brand new that make this operating system very unique. From networking to performance, let’s discuss some of the additional features that Vista brings to the table.
Explorers: Windows Vista’s user interface is based on Explorers. Explorers are used to find, view, and manage information and resources. They are used for documents, photos, devices, and internet content to provide a “consistent visual and functional” experience through Vista. Add/Remove Programs has been replaced with the new Programs Explorer that, working with “Explorer” functionality, provides a real time account of all programs installed on your computer with detailed information about the programs.
Windows Superfetch: New memory management technology built into Windows Vista. This technology tracks programs and applications that users use the most and preloads them into memory, dramatically speeding up startup times.
Ready Boost: New feature in Vista that allows the computer to use devices such as USB drives, SD cards, and compact flash drives as memory cache. Since access times for memory cache are theoretically greater than accessing data on hard drive, this can potentially significantly increase theoretical performance of your computer.
Fast Start and Resume: Microsoft reworked both Hibernate and Standby modes to produce the new “Sleep” state. This is now the default state for turning off the computer in Vista. It combines the resume speed of Standby and the data protection/low power mode of Hibernate. It does this by recording the contents in memory to the hard drive when entering “Sleep”, and maintains the memory for a period of time. This allows Windows to enter and resume from the “Sleep” state in seconds, and while it is in “Sleep” state, it uses very little power.
Autorecovery: This feature has been added to automatically fix startup issues, if present, where as normally users would be required to boot into Safe Mode to fix these issues. With autorecovery, Windows Vista will automatically replace any corrupt files, allowing users to enter Windows to correct the problem.
Auto Disk Defragmenter: Although you can still manually use Disk Defragmenter, there are benefits to the new version in Vista. This new version will run in the background automatically when needed and when files become fragmented. It also works in sessions to complete the task, piece by piece only when your computer is idle.
Windows Ready Drive/Hybrid Disk Support: This new technology supports Hybrid Drives that include a flash memory buffer for improved performance in startup and resuming from hibernation. Ready Drive also minimizes spin up time for hard drives helping battery life in notebooks.
The Network Center: This area in Vista, located in the Control Panel, is the main hub for all your networking needs. You can find out anything and everything there is to know about your network, from details about the network in which you are currently on all the way to your actual network status. It can even draw out your network map, giving you the ability to see how everything is connected, which can help when diagnosing internet/connectivity issues.
Network Explorer: Located from the start menu, this area in Windows is where to go to access files on computers that are networked to yours. You can access all of the computers on your network here, and move, edit, and create files on any of the other PCs.
Enhanced Wireless Networking: Vista has increased support for the most current security protocols, including WPA2, deterring people from connecting to fake wireless networks or to phish for your credit card information. The new wireless networking features also allow for easy setup of wireless networks to enable sharing with other devices.
plethora of new technologies that should hopefully make our computing lives easier. And we expected nothing less, as Microsoft has continued to move towards integration of new features within all of its previous operating systems to meet the demands of an ever changing world.
The Start Menu has been completely redesigned for maximum usability, using a search box that instantly finds what you are looking for as you type it in. And it is completely customizable, just as it was in Windows XP. It features many important one-click areas, such as the all new Games Explorer and the Network Explorer. And sticking on the same subject, Windows Vista is based fully on Explorers, allowing end users to manage all of their common tasks within the windows they are working in. Other examples of very useful Explorers are the Documents, Pictures, and Music Explorers.
Windows Vista comes with Internet Explorer 7, which offers a multitude of new features and security enhancements for the modern web surfer. It features tabbed browsing, allowing user to have multiple internet web pages open at the same time while being able to switch back and forth in an instant. It also introduces a new phishing filter, which blocks potential harmful and known websites from being accessed, helping the novice user steer clear from fraudulent activity. And Windows Defender tops it off, protecting against the most common forms of spy ware automatically.
Media Center (as well as Tablet PC) is rolled into this version of Windows. It is installed and ready to handle even the biggest of music and movies collections. And with High Definition playback available through the use of your video card and connectivity to external devices such as the Xbox 360 through Media Center Extenders, this version is better than ever. And Windows Movie Maker and Photo Gallery make the most of your pictures and movies, allowing anyone to easily view, copy, and modify with a few simple mouse clicks.
DirectX 10 is all new for Windows Vista, reworked from the ground up to improve performance in games and to make Windows work more efficiently. It features Shader Model 4.0, a new Geometry Shader, and removes the fixed function pipeline seen in previous versions of DirectX. And in speaking of games and Windows, Microsoft incorporates the Windows Game Advisor which works hand-in-hand with the Games Explorer by rating your computer and letting you know if your computer’s performance is good enough to play games that you are interested in.
But do not be fooled. The features above are not the only ones found in the new version of Windows. There are many more that did not get a chance to make it into this article that are also important. These will be found in time through more use of this brand new operating system.
Windows Vista is poised to be released by Microsoft in late January (30th to be exact). In the weeks ahead, we’ll be taking a closer look at how Vista runs with various games and hardware you guys will likely be using with this new OS. Feel free to drop any feedback on this topic in particular in the news comments for this article!
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