The lowdown on Microsoft's new operating system...
Microsoft seems to be making a big fuss of Windows Vista. What's the lowdown then?
Windows Vista is Microsoft's long-awaited, long-delayed next-generation operating system release, which finally launches on 30 November.
When was it supposed to launch?
Microsoft first started talking about 'Longhorn' - the codename for Vista - way back in 2001, just after Windows XP was launched. The original roadmap was for it to be ready sometime during 2004. But the development of Vista turned into a much more complex beast than Redmond envisaged, as Microsoft sought to completely redesign the operating system rather than just make it a straightforward XP upgrade.
So that's why it took so long?
Yes. Also high-profile security flaws and weaknesses across Microsoft products led to the two-year Trustworthy Computing initiative, which diverted vital resources from the Vista development effort into producing the Windows XP SP2 security service pack. And then there's Microsoft's well-documented antitrust legal battles, in the US and now Europe, which have also had an impact on the release timescale.
So is it worth the wait?
Well, Bill Gates' vision for a true next-generation operating system has been scaled down somewhat in the final version of Vista and some of those promised features will not now appear until the next version of Windows, codenamed Blackcomb. And some Vista beta testers have commented there are more similarities than differences to XP. A survey of European businesses also found half have no plans as yet to upgrade to Vista, as they no doubt wait for the bugs to be ironed out in Service Pack 1.
Ouch. But I'm sure Microsoft disagrees with that, right?
Not surprisingly Microsoft believes there are plenty of compelling reasons for home users and businesses to upgrade to Vista and claims it will be the fastest-adopted operating system it has ever released, predicting up to 15 per cent of PC users will upgrade within the first year.
So tell me about some of those new features...
For starters there is the new user interface and graphics engine, improved search and a new media player. Tighter security is also a big feature of Vista with things like the malicious software removal tool, smart card and log-on authentication changes, user access controls, USB device controls, Windows Defender and Windows Firewall.
With 'green IT' and energy consumption rising up the corporate agenda, Vista also features power management that can put the PC to sleep automatically when it is not being used.
Sounds good. Will I be able to run Vista on my existing PC?
Not if you want to get the most of Vista's features. Microsoft says the minimum requirements to run Vista are an 800MHz processor, 512MB of memory and a graphics card that can run DirectX 9 graphics. For the premium version a PC must have a 1GHz processor, 1GB of main memory, 128MB of memory and a graphics card that supports Vista's new graphics-driver model. More details on the Vista hardware specs can be found here.
How many versions are there?
There are six versions of Vista, including an Ultimate edition combining the best of the enterprise and consumer features. For consumers there are the Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium versions and for businesses there are the Vista Business and Vista Enterprise editions. The sixth version of Vista is a Starter edition for PCs in emerging markets.
So can I go out to a shop and get my hands on a copy of Vista from 30 November?
No. The launch of the enterprise versions of Vista for businesses takes place on 30 November but home users will have to wait until 30 January 2007 for the retail launch of the consumer versions.
But that means Microsoft and the PC manufacturers miss the lucrative Christmas market doesn't it?
Not exactly - anyone who buys a PC with XP between now and 15 March 2007 will get a discount coupon from Microsoft allowing them to upgrade to Vista.
So can we expect to see a sweaty Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer jumping around the stage with joy again on 30 November?
Quite possibly - we'll have to wait and see. Ballmer will be onstage to unveil Vista at the 'New Day for Business' launch by Microsoft at the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York.