BitDepth 534 - July 25

A first look at a new preview of Windows Vista reveals some familiar touches...
First view of Vista

The new windows in Vista (clockwise from top). Documents can be sorted into virtual piles according to search criteria. The new Photo Gallery is accessible from any folder of photos and acts more like a folder with imaging tools than a separate application.
The new Start Menu is really a collection of searches with preset links to user folders for documents, music and pictures. Images courtesy Microsoft.

A new version of Microsoft's Windows operating system is serious business for most computer users. Corporations users will have to enter a cycle of testing and phased rollouts that can last for years, small businesses, and individual customers will need to evaluate their hardware and upgrade plans to decide when to move to the new version.
Although the development of Windows Vista has run late and no official date for the release of the new operating system has been announced, Microsoft has been busy priming the pump with a widely circulated public beta of the product that's now at version 2.

The adventurous lads of the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society got their hands on a formally acquired disc of the software, Microsoft Windows Vista Beta Customer Preview Program, loaded it onto a well-configured PC (2.2GHZ,/1GB/200GB), hooked that up to a projector and shared the result with a rowdy room of OS critics a week ago.
First up, the interface of Vista is eerily familiar. There are as many echoes of the traditional Windows layout as there are of current versions of Apple's Mac OS X, particularly in windows that float on a soft drop shadow. That's Microsoft's new Aero Glass user environment, which also adds adjustable transparency to window panes and a new frosted glass-like edge to their borders.

It's an appealing effect, but can lead to some initial confusion when you layer window panes on top of each other, which you're more likely to do now that there's a cute shadow effect to set each pane off from the other.
There are also some sensible and practical additions to the OS, including valuable backroom improvements to security and backup.
The most obvious change is in the way Windows treats sudden changes to its environment through a new User Access Control feature, which tends to pop up warnings rather enthusiastically during early setup and will occasionally cross-examine you about changes to the OS which might compromise security.

The best improvement, though, is right up front in the Windows Start menu, which is hugely changed from XP and most will agree for the better.
Click on the Start menu and you will see a totally redesigned way of accessing applications and documents, which can be quickly refined by clicking on handy buttons on the right side pane or swiftly found with the new dynamic search bar built right into the start menu.
Clicking the Start menu and typing "intern" should take you in seconds to Internet Explorer, but deeper searches tend to be sluggish because Vista waits until it's done to begin displaying results. That search box is replicated in every open window in the OS, along with a useful, document sensitive toolbar that's at least six pixels too tall in a noticeably bad trade of practicality for beauty.

That toolbar really comes into its own when you have a folder full of photos. In Vista a folder of images can be managed to a remarkable degree without resorting to launching an application like Google's Picasa at all.
Microsoft has done so much work on embedding basic utility functions directly into Windows Vista that many third party developers will have to ramp their products up to a new level of value to compete.
The practical minded will find a utilitarian level of productivity addressed in Vista with a new Calendar application which reads and writes standard .ics files and a contact application which works similarly with standard vCard files. Also built in is Windows Mail, which is essentially Outlook Express with a new glassy skin.
Users looking for a break from all these useful improvements will find a new Games folder with refreshed standards and some new additions, like Purble Palace a new diversion for children or the truly bored.

Unfortunately, the second Beta cycle for Vista is now closed, but if you're curious to see how your hardware matches up to the system requirements for Microsoft's newest, visit <> to download a 4MB application which will profile your system and advise you of updates you may need to make to drivers or components that will enhance your Vista experience.
With luck, that won't mean a whole new PC.

Vista & Mac OS X similarities
Along with the Aero interface, which users can change to the more familiar XP or 2000 interface, other echoes of Apple's user interface include "Gadgets," mini applications like Apple's Widgets which live in a ghostly sidebar on the right of the screen and the Flip 3D mode, which echoes the OS X Exposé feature for managing large numbers of open windows at once.

Applied Vista
Microsoft will issue several versions of Vista. Enterprise is targeted at large companies with hundreds of seats. The choices for most users will begin with Vista Home Basic (no networking support, no Aero), Home Premium (adds Aero), Vista Business (adds networking) and Vista Ultimate (everything on offer).

The sweet spot for most users will be the Home Premium and Business editions, which offer the best case for upgrading from XP. Microsoft's going to have a harder sell in corporations, particularly with all the "distracting" media enhancements.
The OS requires 11GB of disk space for an "Ultimate" installation and will tax all but the most recent and capable hardware. Performance issues are hard to guage with a product that's still technically unreleased, but what I saw suggests nothing less than a 1.5GHZ processor, 1GB of RAM and a video card with at least 128MB of dedicated memory for the Aero interface to work.

Note that many components such as network cards may need updated drivers to work correctly, so review third party manufacturer's websites for updates to software and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before installation.
As with any major Windows upgrade, users will have a superior experience by backing up documents, deleting prior Windows installations and installing a fresh copy of the software.
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