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Windows Vista shines with improved search, security, reliability and visuals In the span of five years, Microsoft Corp. promised its most advanced operating system ever and then yanked key features to meet deadlines that were missed anyway. Details of what would later be known as sounded suspiciously like Apple’s .
Yet, which finally appears on store shelves and new PCs next Tuesday, manages to largely overcome its long, tortured prelude.
Though it duplicates some of the feel and functions of the Mac software,includes its own improvements that take security, reliability and usability to new heights on the PC.
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition with S
‘);” onmouseout=”setTimeout(‘hideLayer()’,500);” class=”hotlink2″>Windows XP, to make the switch easy, but different enough to make the price almost bearable.
That’s not to suggest‘s perfect or even as polished as . In more than a month of testing on multiple PCs, I’ve run into a number of rough patches. Then again, I was able to run my systems longer between restarts, experienced fewer crashes and generally found it more informative than its predecessor.
Overall, it’s a worthy upgrade, though one that most users will probably want to delay until the kinks are worked out.
Be forewarned: The hardware requirements for the best features are high.
Though a low-end version is offered (Home Basic, $199, or $99 if the user is upgrading from XP), it lacks the high-end graphics and multimedia functions.
Most consumers will likely want the Home Premium($239, $159) that includes the visuals and entertainment tools and requires a heftier PC (with at least a 1 gigahertz processor and 1 gigabyte of memory).
The visuals, for obvious reasons, are the most noticeable improvement, though the software doesn’t hesitate to downgrade the experience if your PC is too weak. Programs appear in semi-see-through frames that pop open and close with an animated swoosh. Icons can be instantly resized with a slider (yes, like pictures stored in Apple Inc.’s).
The flourishes aren’t just. They also help get the job done, particularly if you’re a multitasker.
In previous Windows versions, minimized programs were something like a mystery meat: You knew they were there but it wasn’t easy to find anything. In, live mini-previews of each window pop open when the cursor is moved along the task bar.
Switching between programs using the Alt-Tab key combination is easier, as the live previews appear there, too. A new combination _ Tab-Windows keys _ flips through all your programs like a 3-D stack of playing cards.
The start menu _ which has wisely lost the“Start” _ also has been renovated. It now sports a search box that returns results instantly as you type. No more dancing dogs or grinding hard drives.
In fact, the improved search _ which had been available for Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition with S
‘);” onmouseout=”setTimeout(‘hideLayer()’,500);” class=”hotlink2″>Windows XP users through add-on programs _ is fully integrated throughout (much like the latest version of , released in April 2005). Windows that display the contents of folders, for instance, all have a search box that can filter whatever is inside.
Search results also can be saved into folders that get populated by future files that meet the original search criteria, though the feature isn’t easy to find.
By default, the right side of the screen is filled with small programs known as gadgets, displaying headlines, weather, microprocessor loads, memory utilization _ whatever. (The idea isn’t new:has “Widgets,” and other companies have offered similar lightweight application layers for years.)
The default gadgets inlook great but aren’t terribly useful. The Really Simple Syndication gadget, which pulls headlines from news sites and blogs, only displays four items at a time.
Hundreds of additional gadgets are available from Microsoft’s Web site. Some maintain the slickvisuals. Others don’t seem to try.
also includes considerable security improvements, including a that blocks network traffic in both directions and an anti-spyware program. You still need to get your own software.
adopts “user authentication,” which prompts you before the installation of anything that might muck up the system. Oddly _ and unlike and _ it doesn’t require a username or password. The prompt, which darkens and deactivates everything in the background, also is jarring and decidedly un- -like.
also has tools for monitoring and controlling your kids’ computer and Internet usage, as well as new “features” that can use to control what you do with its movies. If you ever update to or , for instance, the quality of those crisp videos may be downgraded.
There are finer controls to adjust for power consumption and excellent notification and monitoring tools to figure out how the system is operating and what has gone wrong. Like a judge at a diving competition,will rate a computer’s performance _ though it doesn’t explain the scale very well.
sports new multimedia capabilities as well, including a photo management program with basic picture-editing capabilities. It’s improved upon XP’s moviemaking software. And it supports burning.
The premium editions also include Windows Media Center _ a shell that makes playing music and video easy, even with a remote control. The program, previously part of a special version of XP, adds some of‘s visual pizazz to a package that bundles a digital for capturing live standard and high-definition TV.
How long does it take to give a PC runningthis facelift and, arguably, heart and brain transplant? Surprisingly little, at least on a high-end PC with 2 gigabytes of memory. The anesthesia takes considerably longer to wear off.
My installation took about an hour. After the software checked for updates, prompted me for a serial number and asked me to agree to the Windows user license, the installer ran without any need for input _ a great improvement over previous Windows versions.
Problems arose when the PC came back to life. The beautiful visuals and inviting “Welcome Center” were covered up by error and warning messages detailing a number of incompatibilities.
There was no sound. A program that I use to synch data with a-memory drive wouldn’t work. The Internet-phone software Skype couldn’t find audio input or output. And I was told the control center for my Pro “might” have an issue. There was no warning from Microsoft’s compatibility program that I ran before upgrading.
Most of the problems were fixed by visiting each vendor’s Web site and downloading updated software, although I still couldn’t use my Hewlett-Packard Co. LaserJet 1020 printer or my company’s software for virtual private networking.
In fairness, software companies have a few more days to get their acts together before‘s consumer launch (businesses have been able to buy it for two months). But what have they been doing all these years?
The success of the operating system, however, won’t ride on how well old programs and peripherals will work but on the new capabilities that are enabled. For laptops, it may hinge on auxiliary displays that notify users of new e-when the machine is closed. For gaming rigs, it may be how well the tap into ‘s graphics capabilities.
That’s because given all its bells and whistles,is still just an operating system _ a blank , albeit one with a very pretty and elaborate frame.
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