March 9, 2006

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Techie: Take in the Vista
The next Windows comes in many varieties
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

It won’t be out until at least the end of the year — smart money on an even later release — but the successor to Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system is wasting no time confusing people.

No fewer than five versions will be available for desktop and laptop PCs.

Windows Vista, they’re calling it. Previously codenamed Longhorn, Vista is the latest in a long line of Microsoft operating systems promising to revolutionize computing as we know it. To be fair, Windows XP probably did, if only because it’s the first version to really live up to its reliability claims and not crash all the time. Even many Windows haters had to admit that XP didn’t suck.

So, if Microsoft has already conquered the persistent Suck Problem, what does Vista offer as incentive to upgrade? Let’s talk about versions. Windows XP comes in Home and Professional varieties, along with Tablet PC and Media Center editions, which basically add on a couple software packages to Professional, and x64 Edition for use with more advanced 64-bit processors.

Vista helpfully takes the best features of all XP editions and scrambles them around so you have no idea where they are. Windows Home Premium has the add-ons you’ll need for tablet and media center computing, while Home Basic does not. Premium also features a new interface called Aero. “New” in the sense of “dressed up,” not “usefully different.” Remember how XP made the dull but functional Windows interface fun, exciting and ugly with bubbly blue, green and orange accents? More of that. And partially transparent windows, because even more important than seeing what you’re doing at any given time, you need to be able to see what you’re not doing. And 3-D fanciness, because nothing helps you organize your workflow like spinning pictures. Aero might have a redeeming feature in better search capabilities than XP.

Windows Vista Business also features Aero and tablet functionality, but not the media features of Premium. Emphasis is put on the ability of an IT department to manage your PC and deploy computers all with the same image, or set of software and settings. Vista Enterprise does all that and enables hardware security features like encrypting your entire hard drive, and comes with an emulator for running UNIX programs.

Windows Vista Ultimate includes all of the above. Rather than risk not getting something good, most users will probably go Ultimate if they have a choice. Will it cost more money than any other version? Undoubtedly.

A BBC article also mentions a Vista Starter version, streamlined for slower PCs. Since America is all about bigger and badder, Starter likely won’t be available in the States.

Vista’s other touted new features include Internet Explorer 7 (which can be downloaded for free today), Gadgets (suspiciously similar to Widgets on a Macintosh) and new network tools. How much of it actually improves the computing experience and how much is change for change’s sake remains to be seen.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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