It’s been five years since Microsoft released Windows XP,
itself following up on the much reviled Windows Millennium Edition.
By all accounts, XP is/was a pretty good operating system,
although you wouldn’t know it from all the bad press it has received over the
years as a result of all the security gaps, patches and upgrades that have
become too routine in the Microsoft world.
Still, XP was much more intuitive and easy to use compared to
previous Windows operating systems, and did a pretty good job anticipating the
emergence of the computer as a multimedia platform for storing and editing
pictures, music and video. It was also a harder system to crash than previous
Windows editions, even though it required more memory, to run more applications
and handle the various plug and play demands of users. Unlike Apple
— which has a limited number of peripherals to choose from
— XP simply had to work with virtually every electronic device on
Two service packs and hundreds of patches and upgrades later,
XP is finally being kicked to the curb. A lot of people won’t miss it.
In its place we’re about to witness the launch of a new
operating system this January called Vista. It’s more than two years late, but
only because Microsoft was not content merely to update their existing platform
— instead they elected to design a whole new operating system from the
bottom up that is tailored to the next era of computing — dual core
processors, 64-bit processors, faster bus speeds, the Direct X 10 developer
platform, and all forms and functions of next generation capability and
Vista is also designed to be more secure, although some minor
flaws have already been uncovered by security firms like Symantec. Considering
the amount of scrutiny this software has received, turning up just a few minor
bugs at this stage is actually good news for Microsoft. Every hacker in the
world is going to try to find security flaws in Vista to exploit, and to be the
first one to break Microsoft’s new security protocols, but so far they’ve been
While security is always the big question mark, you’re still
going to want to upgrade to Vista providing you can at least meet the minimum
technical specifications — 800 MHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor, 512 MB
system memory, SVGA graphics processor, 15 GB free hard drive space. Most
computers sold in the last three years or so won’t have much trouble meeting
In a way the minimum requirements are less important for Vista
than the system’s maximum potential, and Vista was designed to take full
advantage of the performance available on the most high-end computers. For
example, a 64-bit processor is capable of crunching packets of code that are
twice as big as 32-bit processors, but since very few programs are written for
64-bit processors a lot of that capacity for performance is never used. Not so
with Vista’s 64-bit edition.
While the guts of Vista are solid, there are other intangible
The look and feel of the new Aero interface is a huge
improvement over XP — always a search window where you want one,
interactive 3D windows, new ways to browse open windows, customizable
functions, and buttons always where you need them — but the real
appeal will be in the host of new features available.
One feature you’ll notice right away is Windows Shell, a new
type of file organization system that lets you choose how you want to group,
stack and link files and folders in your system. Shell recognizes that
sometimes users want files to be in two places at once, or serve more than one
It’s also easier to move up and down your file hierarchy,
retracing your steps as you move around.
The new Desktop Search tool will also be helpful for finding
files, with a high degree of specification. A new indexing engine will make it
faster to find key words on your hard drive, and sort the results in a way that
they’re easier to sift through.
The Sidebar feature is pretty much the same thing as Apple’s
Dashboard, essentially allowing the use of little java applets that do
everything from tell time to provide updated weather reports.
Other features include a new Windows Mail program, a new
contacts application, a new calendar application, a new fax and scan
application, the Windows Meeting Space application where you can easily
collaborate on applications and files with other users, and various other
Several reviewers have already pointed out that many Vista’s
features copy the features already included in Apple’s OSX series of operating
systems. Rather than argue against that, I’d say that the similarities are a
good thing even if Microsoft loses points for originality — OSX is widely
recognized as the best of all the operating systems out there, and it would be
silly if Vista couldn’t at least match that functionality.
Vista versions will start at around $129, for people upgrading from the latest version of XP, and will be around $259 for a new version. It should hit the stores on Jan. 30.