As has been the case since Microsoft first announced Windows
Vista, there’s been a lot of discussion about hardware requirements. Recently,
these discussions have begun anew with a focus on the operating system’s new Aero graphical user interface capabilities. The requirements
to gain access to Aero may prevent many users with moderate graphics
capabilities in the current PCs from upgrading to Windows Vista.

However, based on my recent experience, I’m not sure that
this is going to be the case. Let’s take a closer look.

My introduction to Aero

As you may remember, in the March 24th edition of the
Windows Vista Report “Why your Windows
System Performance Rating can change
” I told you that after I
installed the Build 5308 Windows Vista drivers for my test system’s 128MB ATI Radeon onboard video card, I finally was able to see the
real Aero Glass user interface. However, soon after that I heard a rumor that what
I was experiencing wasn’t the real deal.

Tips in your inbox

TechRepublic’s free Windows Vista Report newsletter features news, scuttlebutt, and tips on Longhorn development, including a look at new features planned for this next version of the Windows OS.

Automatically sign up today!

When Microsoft released an interim build of Windows Vista,
Build 5342, to the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners, a limited group
of Microsoft’s high-end beta testers, the rumors began to spread that what we
all thought was the real Aero Glass user interface in previous builds was
actually Aero Express. Supposedly, 5342 was the first build of the operating
system to provide the real Aero Glass featuring fully scalable vector based transparencies
that take advantage of pixel shading. However, the screen shots of 5342 that I
saw really didn’t convey any of these improvements. Without first-hand
experience with 5342 I doubted the veracity of those claims.

Besides, what I was experiencing on my system and calling
Aero Glass was really cool and appeared to meet all the criteria for what
Microsoft was describing as the Aero experience.
However, I do suppose that with a beefier video card, the experience would be
much crisper. But the fact of the matter is that once I installed the WDDM
(Windows Display Driver Model) drivers, the lowly onboard ATI RadeonXpress 200 graphics system
with 128 MB of shared memory, which of course is borrowed from main memory, was
providing a very intriguing GUI.

The Windows Vista Capable PC Hardware Guidelines

Microsoft has always alluded to the fact that the Windows
Vista graphics system will scale with hardware and has recently updated the
section on the Windows
Vista Capable PC Hardware Guidelines
page to provide more details on
graphics. However, they only use the term Aero in the descriptions–nowhere are
the names Aero Glass or Aero Express. As far as gradations go, the only words
used are Good, Better, and Best. Under the Best heading, you can find the
following description:

PCs with appropriately
configured graphics hardware, as described below, would support Windows Aero
user experience that offers additional benefits of enhanced visual quality
(glitch-free window redrawing), improved productivity (which includes real-time
thumbnail previews, new 3-D task switching, interface scaling, etc.) and visual
style (which includes translucent window frames and taskbar, enhanced
transitional effects, etc.) when running premium versions of Windows Vista.

This description matches what I’m experiencing with the
lowly onboard ATI RadeonXpress
200 graphics system with 128 MB of shared memory. So I guess we’ll have to wait
and see if there is a better Aero in the upcoming CTP version of Windows Vista.


In the April 6th edition of the Windows Vista Report, “Planning for
Windows Vista while you wait
” I told you about a host of tools and
information available on Microsoft’s site that will help you begin planning for
a Windows Vista deployment. One of the tools I mentioned is call the Application
Compatibility Toolkit (ACT), which is designed to check out the applications
that are installed on a system and detect any potential conflicts that may
arise with Vista.

If you’re thinking about deploying Windows Vista in the near
future, you may want to get in on the beta test of newest version of ACT. Version
5 is on schedule to be ready by the time Windows Vista ships and will feature
several new enhancements. Most notably is something called the Compatibility
Exchange Web service, which will allow IT administrators to share compatibility
data with each other via the site in addition to Microsoft’s Windows Vista test

If you’re really interested in ACT, you can visit the Microsoft Connect Web site and sign up
for the opportunity to participate in the beta test. Once you arrive at the
site, follow the Available Programs link, sign in with a Windows Live ID or
Microsoft Passport account and then follow the online instructions.


With the official release date of Windows Vista being pushed
into 2007, it’s important to keep in mind that some of the information
presented here may change between now and the official release date. As always,
if you have comments or information to share about the Aero, please take a
moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.