Windows

Are Windows Vista's standard applets an improvement over Windows XP?

Nearly a year and a half after his initial investigation, Greg Shultz takes a look at the updates in Vista's standard applets, compared to those in the last operating system, Windows XP.

In March of 2006, I reported that several of the standard Windows applets in Vista -- the first "feature-complete" version of Vista, according to Microsoft -- are identical to those in Windows XP and essentially the same as they were in Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows 95.

Here’s a look at the updates in the standard Windows applets in Windows Vista compared to those in Windows XP.

Notepad

Notepad has not seen any significant changes. I had hoped that in the final version, Vista's Notepad would have gained support for multiple windows or the ability to add line numbers. Windows Vista's Notepad is essentially identical to Windows XP's Notepad -- same menus, same commands, and same limitations.

Since Notepad didn't get the updates I was hoping it would, I've abandoned it in favor of an excellent replacement called Notepad2 from Florian Balmer. It has all the features I'd hoped for and more -- and best of all, it's free.

WordPad

I was hoping that the final version of Windows Vista's WordPad would have gained the ability to open multiple windows, create tables, and spell check documents. Unfortunately, like Notepad, WordPad's feature set really hasn't changed at all; the menus, commands, and the toolbar buttons are all the same.

Wanting something different for quick word processor editing tasks, I ditched WordPad in favor of Jarte, a free program from Carolina Road Software. Jarte 3.0, which is designed for Windows Vista, is still a beta, but I've not encountered any major difficulties, and I feel comfortable using it.

Paint

Considering all the advances in graphics over the years, I was sure that Paint would get some additional improvements in the final version of Windows Vista. I was hoping for some photo editing features, but Microsoft didn't go that far; it did add some new features to Paint and Vista's Windows Photo Gallery.

For example, the Edit menu gained the Invert Selection command, which allows you to change the current selection so that everything previously unselected will now be selected and vice versa. While kind of obscure, this is a nice feature to have on hand in some editing situations.

Another new feature is the added capability of the magnifier to not only zoom in to make the image bigger but to zoom out to make the image smaller all via a slider control. This comes in handy when you need to crop a portion of the entire image and need to be able to see the entire image all at once.

In addition, the Color Box is now at the top of the window. The default set of colors in the Color Box have also softened a bit.

The new magnifier and zoom features have restored my faith in Paint, and I'll keep using it. Plus, I'm really learning to like the features in Windows Photo Gallery.

Calculator

The Calculator hasn't changed. In fact, Windows Vista's Calculator looks and feels the same as all the other Calculator applets in previous version of Windows. I've reconsidered my wish for a Calculator upgrade -- it is good enough just as it is. So, I'm keeping Calculator around for a while.

Final thoughts

In the big scheme of things, the standard Windows applets are really a small part of what operating systems are all about, but it would still be nice to have some new features.

What's your take?

Will you stick with Windows Vista's standard applets, or will you trade them in? If so, which replacement(s) makes the most sense to you?

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About

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.

22 comments
n_egii
n_egii

Thank for the nice tools recommended I will try them. :)

jpb
jpb

If I want a tool, I will buy that tool (or get it if it's free). I have not used a standard Windows applet in years and I likely neer will, because they will never be as familiar nor as customizable. If I want to edit text, I have Notepad++. For simple graphics manipulation (only as compared to a full-blown editor, as feature rich as this program is) I have Irfan View. To calculate, I have a USB keypad-calculator for my laptop that is much more convenient than clicking each silly little graphic "key" on the Windows calculator, then I can push the results to the clipboard with a single keypress.

msjimc
msjimc

If its free and really good then some one that sells a similar thing will bet some lawyers to get some government to beat MS with another stick, just like what happened with IE and windows media player.

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

I've used Paint.net quite a bit at work for graphics editing. I've found Paint.net to be the best replacement for Paint (Better than the Vista version, and it works flawlessly on both Vista and XP). The nice thing about it is that it supports features found in high-end graphics apps (layers, single-area zoom, paths, etc.), and it's totally free! Paint.net was mentored by Microsoft, as a possible replacement for MS Paint. According to their website, Paint.net started development as an undergraduate college senior design project mentored by Microsoft, and is currently being maintained by some of the alumni from Washington State University that originally worked on it. For me, Paint.net is a strong successor to the creaky old MS Paint.

pointzerotwo
pointzerotwo

I've been using a Firefox add-on called "Calculator". It includes "tape", lots of conversion functions, opens in its own window, and is free.

hl_king
hl_king

Windows' calculator bites. I began using an HP-15c at university (GO TRANSY!) and got so used to Reverse Polish Notation that I haven't been able to use an algebraic calc since. A great freeware RPN calc can be found at http://home.planet.nl/~demun000/thomas_projects/free42/ Note that this isn't an emulator (doesn't require the 42's ROM), but hand coded. As such, many of the 42's functions aren't included, but it works well enough for day-to-day usage. If I need those functions, I merely whip out my 15c, 28S, 32s, or 42s. Paired-point statistical input is especially handy on the 42s as I frequently wish to interpolate points not included in data sets. RedLion

hl_king
hl_king

I received an email recently protesting my statement that not all functions of the real 42 are available in Free42. I checked the current installation for path errors; all seemed well. Any attempts at entering statistical data points resulted in "Size Error." I then downloaded the latest version, installed it in a subdirectory of the original, set it up, and it worked perfectly. I rechecked the setting of the original install, and reconfirmed the Preferences directory (not applicable in Linux) using the Browse button. Now the stats functions work perfectly there, too, so I'm assuming this was *not* something lacking in the software, but YAIUE (yet another idiotic user error). My sincerest apologies to Mr. Okken! Again, this is the best RPN calculator out there.

Andris.Logins
Andris.Logins

I'm currently using third-party calculator with "tape". Very usefull feature to see previous operations and check them. While Windows calculator have not such, i still using other.

carl
carl

Microsoft has a free download of "Calculator Plus" available that adds conversions and an alternate semi-transparent skin option. Very handy.

jacobso1
jacobso1

i will give a try to notepad2, but look also at notepad ++ (great for text, htlm, xml, c++, java, fortran, .......) wordpad: i use notepad++ for text, winword or writer (open office) for more complex texts. i have no use for it paint: i use photofiltre, it takes you to another dimension (quality, features, ...) calc: i use the scientific mode. enough for me all alternatives i mentioned are free (or there is a free version) beside winword of course regards, t. jacobson

intj-astral
intj-astral

My favorite place for adding functionality to Windows is http://osswin.sourceforge.net; it's a shame, though, if the applets in Vista have not improved that much. It seems I am not missing much by holding on to XP.

ajcaruana
ajcaruana

Even though the applets are mostly the same as they were in XP, Vista is still VERY different from XP. Don't get me wrong... I can find 1001 reasons to stick with XP, but the user experience I am having with Vista is totally different to what I was having with XP, so YES you are missing quite a lot by holding on to XP.

haunj
haunj

I noticed that in the last post, the author said that Vista is very different for XP, but I didn't see that it was better. And remember, you PAYING for the "difference". I rather pay for something that is better. I've neither seen or heard of any reason to run screaming to Vista, except for the fact that MS has moved the end of support date for XP of to Jan 2008. I have not been sufficently impressed to move from a fairly stable OS to a quote "much improved" one with know networking issues, 10% lose of performance and lack of decent drives.

intj-astral
intj-astral

Don?t get me wrong, I am not against the idea of Windows Vista. What I am against is being burnt upon moving to a new Windows, which has happened every time without fail since Windows 95. XP, even with what issues were initially there, however, was a far better experience. Vista, however, this alleged quantum leap, has had far more negative reports than good ones since its release. I am waiting for the first (or second) service pack to come out. I have gotten my installation stable and reliable enough to hold me over a while, including a backup I can restore with at a moment?s notice. My company is in no rush to support it. The likelihood is that Microsoft will be forced to extend coverage. I do not want to upgrade, be stuck with issues, and be forced to wait for patches. I want the updates to be there when I upgrade; I don?t want to be caught out there with my ss in the breeze. Zero issues. That?s the bottom line. People involved with technology tend to put up with incredible cr*p that users never would. When Vista is ready to satisfy the least computer literate user as well as the pickiest hacker (and I use the term in its older, more positive sense) then I will consider it ready.

philrunninger
philrunninger

Notepad and Wordpad both stink. For simple text files, I use vim (www.vim.org). It makes mere mortals scream in agony, but I like the power and speed of its mouseless editing capabilities. I also use Calc98 from www.calculator.org, with the ultimate geek feature: reverse polish notation. It is an excellent full-featured scientific calculator that has units conversion and even a periodic table. Both are free. I'm torn on Paint. As featureless as it is, I still use it for simple quick and dirty edits. In fact, because of quirks or bugs in other programs, or my own unfamiliarity, I find myself using various combinations of MS Paint, MS Photo Editor (that's right.... from Office 97), and the GIMP (also free from www.gimp.org.

wyattharris
wyattharris

If you really had no other free alternative I could see its usefulness but why does paint have to be the same old program its been for years now. It really is a laughable app these days. A few more improved features would be nice for those that don't get into the higher level graphics world. I guess one good thing about it is that it probably still loads fast for quick cut, paste and save work.

dhazard
dhazard

I use 10-Key Calculator from Tax-Act or 2nd Story Software. Much better than the MSCalc.

tedmcm
tedmcm

One annoying thing that I've noticed about WordPad is that the recent file names are not displayed on the File pull-down menu if the names are too long. It would have been much better to have truncated the names. But the way WordPad functions under Vista is to reveal a blank space with no information as to what the previously edited file might have been. This is frustrating!

Ron_007
Ron_007

Why would MS "waste" money improving tools that they bundle for free. My favorite replacement for the "standard" windows tools is a calculator from www.karenware.com It includes a tape feature and can handle "thousands" of digits. She also has a really great Cookie viewer tool.

speculatrix
speculatrix

Most people who stop using MS paint end up getting into overly complex products like PaintShopPro or Photoshop Lite. In my opinion, these is overkill. I find that 95% of all the image operations people perform can be handled by irfanview: cropping, rotation, lossless jpeg rotation (which is actually vital if you care about your digital photography), batch conversion, resizing etc. It's SO easy to use, even my wife can use it!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

If it ain't broke, fix it 'til it is. (A bumper sticker I recently saw.)

crivart
crivart

Wich actually is what I think Microsoft is doing with the whole Vista set. I mean, I wouldn't deny there are a lot of virtues on the product, but there are a lot of options in both the system and the office suite that now seems to me unnecesary changed or complicated... I mean, why? Does anybody complained on the menues bar in Office so they had to invent that wossname? At least, as with XP (and that was a reallly considered option) they could have made the changes of accesibility a sort of an user choice, couldn't they?

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