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Vista: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Scheduled to make its debut in early 2007, Windows Vista, Microsoft's successor operating system to Windows XP, contains some compelling, and a few not-so-compelling features. In this article, I'll discuss basic computer tips focusing on five of my favorite and not-so-favorite Microsoft Vista features of the new Microsoft Vista release, with the caveat that features may change between now and its commercial release.

Windows Vista Aero graphics features will require a fairly high-end hardware (graphics) configuration, which will appeal to a limited market. I'm going to focus, instead, on the new Microsoft Vista release features that do not require Aero. At a minimum, the following features will be included in the Home Premium and Business editions of the new Windows Vista release.

Pros of Microsoft Vista Features

1. Search Virtual Files – Unlike previous versions of Windows, the new Microsoft Vista release has search capability integrated throughout the operating system. This means you can quickly search for all documents that include the word "aardvark," then save the search as a virtual file folder for later reference, without having to physically copy or save search-results files.

2. Gadgets - Vista enables you to drag and drop what it calls "gadgets" that announce the time, do currency conversions, or perform any frequent task that would be easier to execute if it were located on top of your current screen.

3. Built-in Diagnostics – If a problem is brewing within your system, you'll be notified in advance. For example, the new Microsoft Vista release will monitor your hard drive and report pending problems, theoretically giving you time to back up your data or vacate the premises before disaster strikes. Manual defragmenting will run automatically in the background whenever required.

4. Enhanced Help - Help used to be limited to a few incomprehensible sentences in a not-so-helpful dialog box. Among the new Microsoft Vista features, you’ll have many more help options. You can enable remote assistance so that someone you presumably trust can take over your PC remotely (scary!) in order to diagnose a problem or perform a task for you. You can also search Microsoft's Web-based Knowledge Base or contact technical support.

5. Do It Automatically – With the "Do It Automatically" feature, a task such as checking for updated drivers will be automated, with your Desktop becoming darker as a pointer arrow floats over the screen indicating what to click and where. There are only 15 of these automated helpers within the Windows Vista B beta release, but if they prove to actually be helpful, I'm sure we'll be introduced to many more in the future.

Cons of Microsoft Vista Features

1. Problems with Current Hardware - Many computers in use today will only be able to run Vista in Basic mode. In Basic mode, for example, you can search files, but you cannot use the new 3-D Aero graphics interface, live Taskbar animation, or smooth-streaming Desktop graphics. To use Aero, most users will need to purchase a new PC in 2007, or add a high-end video card and some additional memory to their current system.

2. User Account Protection – Microsoft is trying to protect users from unauthorized software installations. It’s an honorable objective, but to accomplish this requires the user to jump through a number of tedious hoops and respond to a series of on-screen messages. It's well-intentioned, but it’s too much.

3. Missing Drivers and Software Incompatibility – This will probably be a non-issue when the new Microsoft Vista release is commercially available, but while in beta, there are a number of common drivers missing and other software incompatibilities.

4. Sleep Disorders – Sleep versus Hibernation is still a problem in Vista, as it was in previous versions of Windows. Vista's Instant Off feature takes a quick snapshot of a system, and then shuts down completely. When restarted, in theory everything should appear exactly as it was before Instant Off was deployed. All I received were error messages and repeated requests to update or replace current drivers.

5. The Aero Battery Gobbler – The Aero graphics feature significantly shortens battery life, so you’ll probably want to use Aero when you’re hooked up to AC power. You can switch to Vista Basic mode to conserve battery life, but the transition to Basic is more difficult and cumbersome than it should be.

Conclusions: The release of an entirely new operating system is always exciting—if you can overlook the anxiety, sleeplessness, and immobilizing depression that typically accompany such an event. When Vista is released, basic computer tips recommend not being an early adopter. Stick with what you have for the time being. There are many outstanding Microsoft Vista features, but for a few months following its release, substantial debugging is inevitable, and a lot of patches and updates will be issued.

I will be installing the first commercial release of Vista and will be profiling Microsoft Vista features as well as sharing basic computer tips and tricks in my weekly computer help newsletter, and of course I’ll be personally responding to subscribers’ questions. If you’re not currently a subscriber, visit and subscribe today. Try it for a month or two and you’ll quickly agree with what other subscribers are saying about this unique publication and personal, basic computer tips and help service.

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