Windows Aero – Vista's premium user interface

As you know, the Graphical User Interface, or GUI, in Windows Vista has undergone a major overhaul. The most prominent example of this overhaul is called Windows Aero.

As you know, the Graphical User Interface, or GUI, in Windows Vista has undergone a major overhaul. The most prominent example of this overhaul is Windows Aero, which Microsoft describes as the premium visual experience of Windows Vista, because it features a transparent glass design with subtle window animations and new window colors.

Windows Aero is only available in four of the five primary Windows Vista product editions. The Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions provide Windows Aero. Home Basic will provide the Windows Basic user interface. (Keep in mind that, like Aero, Basic will offer all the same intuitive navigation and organizational features, such as the new Start menu and the new Explorers, but just without the visual experience of Aero.)

Even if you have one of the four Windows Vista editions that provide Windows Aero, you have to have a system capable of displaying it. For example, the minimum hardware requirements for Windows Aero are a 1-GHz 32-bit or 64-bit) processor, 1GB RAM, and 128MB video RAM along with a DirectX 9 class graphics processor that supports a Windows Display Driver Model Driver, Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware, and 32 bits per pixel.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll take a closer look at some of the features provided by the Windows Aero user interface.

The Aero name

Before we get into the features, let's take a moment to look more closely at the Aero name. The most obvious take on this new name is that it comes from the word Aerodynamic and connotes a sleek and more efficient user interface. While this sounds very plausible, the official line from Jim Alchin, on the Windows Vista Team Blog is that Aero is really an acronym that stands for Authentic, Energetic, Reflective and Open. Alchin adds that the 45 new sounds that have been included with the RTM version are also a big part of the Aero experience.

The glass effect

The most notable feature of Windows Aero is the glass effect that sports translucent window frames, dynamic reflections, and very smooth animations. Figure A shows the Windows Color and Appearance tool on the desktop. Notice that the Enable Transparency check box is selected by default and I've adjusted the Color Intensity to its lowest setting. As you can see, I've placed the Windows Color and Appearance tool over top of the Windows Sidebar Clock and a pair of icons to allow you to see the effect of the translucent window frames.

Figure A

With the Color Intensity set to low, you can really see the effect of the translucent window frames.

Figure B contains a series of images that show off the dynamic reflections used for the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons. In the first image, the window is in the background, or overlaid by another window, yet still visible. As you can see, none of the buttons show color. In the second image, none of the buttons are actually pointed to, but the close button does have a faint red glow to indicate that this particular window is in the foreground. For the next three images, I hovered the mouse pointer over the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons respectively.

Figure B

Dynamic reflections are used to indicate the windows position as well as which button is being pointed to.

When it comes to the animations, the most notable example would have to be minimizing and maximizing windows. Since I can't actually show you the animation in a screen shot, the best way to explain it is by comparison. In Windows XP, the animation used in minimizing and maximizing windows basically involves a shrinking and expanding title bar that moves so quickly that the animation is almost subliminal.

In Windows Vista, the act of minimizing and maximizing windows is a graceful animation that shows the entire window shrinking and expanding to and from the taskbar. And, it moves slow enough for you to enjoy, yet fast enough that it doesn't become an annoyance.

Windows Flip and Flip 3D

Two more neat features are brought to Vista by the Windows Aero user interface—Windows Flip and Flip 3D. To begin with, Windows Flip is accessed by pressing [Alt][Tab] and is designed to allow you to cycle through all the open windows. The interface is a much nicer than that of previous Windows versions in that it includes both an icon and a live thumbnail of the window, as shown in Figure C. As you can see, in addition to showing icons and live thumbnails of open programs, Windows Flip also shows an icon and a live thumbnail of the desktop, thus allowing you to easily return to the desktop.

Figure C

Windows Flip offers a much nicer interface than its predecessors.

Flip 3D provides you with an angled, three-dimensional view of all the open programs, including the desktop, as shown in Figure D. To access Windows Flip 3D, you can press [Windows][Tab]. Once you do you can the cycle through all the open programs by continuing to press [Windows][Tab], using the arrow keys to move back and forth, or using the scroll wheel on your mouse. No matter what method you choose, the miniature windows appear to float over the middle of the desktop and will rotate, much like a rolodex, as you cycle through them.

Figure D

Windows Flip 3D is the icing on the cake when it comes to moving between open windows.

Live Taskbar Thumbnails

While not as breathtaking as Windows Flip 3D, the Live Taskbar Thumbnails feature is still very cool. The Live Thumbnails feature displays live thumbnail images of running applications. You just hover your mouse pointer over any button on the Taskbar and you'll see a thumbnail of that window's contents. And best of all, because the thumbnails are live, you'll be able to keep track of active operations, such as a download in progress, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

With the Live Taskbar Thumbnails feature, you'll be able to keep track of active operations easily.


Vista's Windows Aero user interface takes the visual experience of Microsoft's newest operating system up a few notches. If you have comments or information to share about features of Vista's Windows Aero user interface, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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