Some tech pundits are calling Windows 7 ‘Vista done right,’ but that’s little consolation for users who will be staying with Vista for the foreseeable future. If you’re in that boat, here are some Vista features you may appreciate.
Many Vista bashers are eagerly awaiting the upgrade to Windows 7, but others won’t have the option to switch when the new version arrives. Upgrading is expensive and many companies simply won’t do it, at least not anytime soon. If you’re going to be using Vista for a while — especially if you’re not really sold on it — here are a few positive things to keep in mind about the OS. (Note: These items apply to a Vista Business SP1 system.)
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1: Better processing allocation
Windows uses threads to multitask (seemingly). A thread is a single function and just one application can spawn many threads at the same time. That’s why you can read e-mail while you import data or run a scan. Windows allocates resources to each thread, as needed. Unfortunately, too many threads slow down processing in general. Logging on is the perfect example: Do you log onto your computer and then go for coffee while your desktop slowly winds up for work?
Vista does a better job than Windows XP of keeping background tasks in the background and giving focus and processing power to your work. You can open Outlook and read e-mail while the desktop is still loading. Vista users get their coffee before they log in. (Provided their system has adequate resources.)
Despite the threading, a Vista boot requires about 30 seconds or longer. Windows 7 promises a 15-second boot time.
2: Better suited for powerful systems
Whether right or wrong, some people avoid Vista because they’ve heard it’s a processing hog, but that’s not a fair description. When Windows XP came out, we measured processor power in megahertz and memory in megabytes. It’s 2009! It takes four digits to measure modern processors in megahertz and our cell phones have almost the same memory capacity as the initial Windows XP-generation computers.
If your goal is to use a lightweight operating system, go back to DOS. But if you want a 2.x GHz duo core processor with 4 gigs of RAM, you should also want an operating system that can utilize all that power. Using Windows XP on such a system is like buying a stock car to drive to the grocery store. Vista is the operating system of choice with today’s powerful systems.
3: Good networking stability
Have you ever gotten to the last few minutes of a long transfer (several minutes or even an hour) only to have Windows XP drop the connection? That happens when something interrupts the process, but it won’t happen on a Vista system. You might get a message asking you to Retry, Ignore, or Cancel the transfer, but Vista won’t just drop it. When we tested this stability, Vista completed the transfer after the system was rebooted and after switching the connection from wireless to wired, and back again.
4: More intuitive interface
Not seeing much change in the interface over the years has made Windows users somewhat complacent. Many people complain that Vista has more windows, menus, and display settings: “What happened to my right-click?” One session with Vista, and most users are ready to light torches because the interface seems so different.
The truth is that Vista has a lot of new features and options to pack into its interface. The good news is that most of your favorite features are still easily assessable, if you know where to look. For instance, when you right-click the desktop (the background, not an icon), Vista displays a Personalize option. In Windows XP, you get Properties. When you right-click an icon, Vista displays the expected Properties item. It’s a seemingly small change, but these types of changes make the Vista interface more intuitive for novices.
Tip: If you don’t like the Control Panel, switch the Control Panel option in your Start Menu options to Menu. Vista will display everything via a menu.
5: Aero benefits
Another common gripe is Aero’s flashy effects feature, but Aero has its advantages. For instance, many users live and die by the Alt + Tab shortcut. With several applications open, you use this shortcut to jump from window to window. Others prefer to click the appropriate item in the status bar.
Aero actually enhances both styles. If you have several Word documents open, Aero previews them so you can pick the right one. No more cycling until you arrive at the right document. Aero promotes faster window jumping.
6: Better information warehousing
A database warehouse displays data in a global sense. For instance, suppose you process $2 million in sales each month. In this case, a data warehouse could break down the various markets with totals by personnel and so on, from hundreds or thousands of records that are meaningless when viewed all at once. Vista does the same thing, improving the overall experience:
- Press [Windows]E to launch Windows Explorer. Vista’s display is packed full of warehoused information. For example, Vista groups and displays information about your drives. You might not need all that information all the time, but it’s there just the same. Vista is displaying a lot of meaningful information in a warehoused sort of way, such as which drive the operating system is installed on, what drives are shared, and how much of a drive is already used.
- Transferring files is another example. In previous versions of Windows, you watch the filenames flash through at lighting speed (or crawl, if they’re large) along with that handy Time Remaining detail, which is about as accurate as calling 1-900-Dial-a-psychic. Vista does a much better job of displaying what’s going on by warehousing the information. You can click the Details button to see how many files are still waiting for transfer, along with their size. (Unfortunately, Microsoft still hasn’t mastered time estimation.) If Vista encounters a duplicate during the process, it tells you how many conflicts of that type there are and allows you to settle them all at one time (an improvement over the simple Yes/No To All options).
7: Convenient sidebar
When you make the leap to Vista, take a little time to customize the sidebar. For instance, the CPU/Memory monitor quickly displays information about the system. Both the Calendar and Calculator are handy tools. Set the default to hide it so you have more room for your applications. Then, use [Windows][Spacebar] to display it when you need it.
8: Slick new features
Vista bundles a number of new features that use to require additional software in previous versions:
- Tablet features are part of the Vista operating system — you don’t need a special version of Windows to run a Tablet PC.
- Vista has its own speech recognition capability.
- Vista comes with a journal package.
- Vista comes with online meeting software.
- Vista has its own movie-making software.
- Vista has improved picture-editing software.
- Vista has a variety of new games.
These are just a few of the new offerings; there are many more.
9: Quick searching
Vista has a slick new searching capability. From your Start menu, Vista can search e-mails and files, even in networked folders. By default, Vista won’t index network drives, though there are reported cases where this feature wreaks havoc. If your machine is low on resources, you can turn indexing off.
10: Virtual PC and current platform
Virtual machines are here. Anyone who develops software or administers or maintains a network knows that supporting numerous operating systems is just part of the daily grind. You might be tempted to virtualize Vista on a Windows XP host operating system, but don’t. Instead, use Vista as your OS and virtualize the others. Vista requires some hefty resources. That means that Vista in a virtual environment runs slowly because it doesn’t have access to the full resources of the host. But if you run Vista as the host, you get the full capabilities of the host (and Vista) and can run less resource-intensive operating systems in a virtual environment.