Revisiting Windows Vista (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Mar 14, 2009, 2:09 GMT
Washington - So you've resisted the move to Windows Vista? You're not alone. Although Vista is installed on most new PCs delivered today, this much-reviled successor to Windows XP has been a flop by many measures that matter: its uptake by businesses has been slow, complaints from consumers have been rampant, and the word-of- mouth damage has been so severe as to cause Microsoft to hurriedly ready Vista's successor, now expected by the end of this year.
But a lot has changed over the many months that the masses have been busy bashing Vista. First, Vista itself has become more stable and more responsive, thanks to a major service pack and many lesser updates. Second, computers have become a lot more powerful, making the complaints about Vista's performance much less relevant. And finally, we've had time to get used to the idea of Vista, which is no small feat for a computing public that often justifiably just wants to leave well-enough alone.
Put Vista on a reasonably powerful computer, give it plenty of RAM - 2 gigabytes at least - and give yourself some time to get used to it, and you'll likely become enamored of productivity-enhancing features that you won't want to do without. Here are a few.
--- Task switching
How many times a day do you use the Alt-Tab keyboard shortcut to switch from one open application to another? If the answer is 'a lot,' you'll grow to love what Vista has done with the task switcher.
In XP, you were often left 'blind' when switching from, say, one open browser window to another because while you could see multiple browser instances open, you couldn't see what was in each browser. So task switching often became a matter of trial and error - and frustration.
Vista now offers two ways of task switching by keyboard, and both are vastly superior to what we had in XP. That's because you can now see a thumbnail of the contents of each open application within the task switching mechanism.
The main task switcher - accessible by holding down the Alt key and tapping Tab - is now large enough to accommodate icons big enough to give you a bird's eye view of the contents of each open application. And if that's not enough, you can use the new Flip 3D feature - available by holding down the Windows key and tapping Tab - to turn your entire screen into a task switcher. Using this method, you can easily see the contents of each open application and know exactly when to stop pressing Tab to bring the one you want to the foreground. Going back to XP after using this for a while is like trying to fit into some old clothes that you've outgrown.
--- Start menu
There's no denying it: Vista's Start menu is a major upgrade in usability, to the point where if you get used to its advantages, you won't want to go back to the Start menu in XP.
Take finding programs, for instance. In XP, it's all too common to install a bunch of applications and then have trouble finding the one you're looking for. The XP Start menu often requires multiple clicks and, if you have a lot of program installed, a great deal of searching through small icons and text to find what you want. What's worse, all too often you can't even find what you're looking for, as when a program called BackupNow gets installed in the Start menu under a folder named after the software maker - which you can never remember.
In Vista, the Start menu's instant search feature makes it infinitely easier to find applications. If you know you installed a program called Oodle, for instance, you don't have to go hunting for it in the All Programs section. Instead, just open the Search menu, start typing 'Oodle,' and before you've finished, Oodle's program shortcut appears at the top of the list. That's a serious Start menu improvement.
--- Desktop search
Sure, you can install Google Desktop or even Microsoft's own Windows Search utility on your XP computer, but you still won't have the seamless, speedy search capability that you have by default with Vista.
There's no special real-time search tool to install with Vista because desktop search is built in to the operating system. Looking for a long-lost e-mail message or a Web page you visited recently? Just open the Start menu and type a keyword. Chances are you'll find it in a nanosecond.
Install XP from scratch, and you'll almost always have to search for drivers for a wide range of components and peripherals: motherboard drivers, sound card files, graphics card drivers, printer and scanner files. With Vista, by contrast, you have a reasonable chance of being able to look at the Device Manager after a clean install and see no yellow exclamation marks - the symbol used to signify that something on your system will not work properly until you find and install the necessary driver.
Also you'll find that Vista does a much better job of keeping tabs on when driver updates become available for the components in your PC. If your Nvidia graphics card gets a Microsoft-approved driver update, for example, you'll be notified via Windows Update, and you can choose whether to download and install it. That's something XP rarely did.
Vista does a better job of finding and connecting to your networks and networked peripherals than does XP. It also does a better job of locating resources available on your networks. And it makes the task of locating and connecting to wireless networks easier and more seamless. That's a lot of improvement in an area that's of vital importance to computer users today.
--- Media Centre
Computing today isn't just about opening a word processor and typing a memo. It's about entertainment - and on the Internet, there's entertainment galore. Vista integrates Internet-based media better than any previous version of Windows, and once you get used to being able to tap into, say, Internet television, you won't want to revisit a version of Windows that doesn't have this capability.
Fire up the Windows Media Centre that's a part of the better editions of Vista - stay away from Vista Basic! - and even if you don't have a TV card or cable plugged directly into your computer, you can enjoy news, sports, weather, and Internet television just by opening Vista's Media Centre. This feature alone makes you feel as though you're using an operating system rooted in the 21st Century rather than the 20th.
Looks aren't everything, but they do count. And in this department, Windows Vista is definitely a step up from Windows XP. Once you get beyond the hardware barrier needed to run Vista's Aero interface adequately, you'll probably start to enjoy the conveniences that Aero enables: the semi-transparent application borders do come in handy, and the subtle shading and sculptured look of interface elements make the operating system feel cutting-edge.
--- The future
There are two other good reasons why now is a good time to look again at Vista. For one, XP is being phased out. Microsoft has stopped actively developing for the operating system, meaning that it will be increasingly difficult to use newer hardware and software In addition, Vista will make your transition to Windows 7 much easier, since Windows 7, Microsoft's next major operating system, resembles Vista much more than it does XP.
In short, if you have the hardware and a bit of patience, you're now likely to find a switch to Vista holds plenty of pleasant surprises.