PixelGene:::::::The Genetic Colors of Life- An Anish Achuthan Blog

Sunday, January 08, 2006

xclusive:::::::Microsoft Windows Vista Review

After several years of waiting to see the successor to Windows XP, code-named Longhorn, we've finally gotten our hands on Beta 1 of what now will be called Windows Vista.

This version, aimed at developers and IT shops, lacks many features that the final Windows Vista, still over a year away, will have. But it has all the basic foundations of the OS and displays Microsoft's new emphasis on making a system that will be more stable and secure, as well as giving users greater clarity as regards their files. This "clear vision" is what Microsoft says is reflected in the Vista name.

The early version of Beta 1 we tested shows a focus on the basic structure of the operating system—in particular, a lot of changes to the things that users don't think about that often but that turn out to be very important. When Chris Jones, VP of the Windows Client team at Microsoft, discusses the team's goals, he talks first about efficiency and reducing the number of defects; then about increasing the "confidence" people have in their PCs (including better security); and lastly about improvements to user experiences, such as changes to the user interface.

These goals are evident in Beta 1. The device driver model has been reengineered for increased simplicity and security, so hardware that takes advantage of it should be more stable. (You'll still be able to run XP devices for compatibility, though).

Privileges—or which programs, services, and users get to do what—have been rethought. You'll see a big push toward User Account Protection, meaning that users normally won't run with Administrator privileges—or need to. In fact, administrators will also run with limited privileges most of the time. In addition, Microsoft promises, Internet Explorer 7 in Vista will run in an even more locked-down state, although that feature of IE isn't in Beta 1. All these things mean that spyware will no longer find such easy entry.

The overall goal here is an environment that offers better security and has fewer reboots, crashes, and hangs. It's too early to know how successful these initiatives will be—no OS is completely secure—but they clearly show an evolution in priorities from Windows XP.

On top of this deep change are new features that are much more visible to users. The OS has a new Search panel that can—quickly, finally!—search files by author, date, keyword, file types, text within, or other kinds of metadata. Of course, there are plenty of search utilities, but the goal here is to make the Search panel of the operating system accessible by any application. And some innovations, such as "virtual folders," could change the way we organize our information.

The full user interface isn't finished, but Beta 1 shows the "Aero" interface, which looks more modern than the traditional XP interface and takes advantage of the new "Avalon" graphics. Among the cool new options here is one that lets you see your documents stacked together and to see thumbnails of your documents. PCs that have the appropriate graphics hardware will gain visual effects that simplify use; many of these involve transparent icons in a system known as "Glass."

Internet Explorer 7 (also to be available for XP) is improved, with tabbed browsing, RSS tools, and a new display engine. Several other enhancements to IE 7, such as antiphishing tools, are expected later.

Other new elements in the OS include mainstream support for 64-bit computing (though we tested the 32-bit version), a number of new connectivity and mobility options, and tools designed to help large organizations deploy and manage Vista with greater ease.

It's too early to see how Vista measures up against competitive operating systems, but a lot of the more visible features are familiar. Apple's Mac OS X "Tiger" already has many 3D visual effects and a search interface, Spotlight. Unix has had usable limited-rights accounts for years. But Vista's biggest competitor probably isn't any of these—it's previous versions of Windows. Microsoft needs to make these features more mainstream and make them attractive to developers, while still retaining compatibility with previous versions.

At present, many of the new user "experiences" are absent, awaiting Beta 2. These include a new Windows Media Player, new photo-management features, updates to the Media Center and Tablet PC software, and a lot of the final visual look. Beta 2 is expected around the beginning of next year and will likely be available to a broader group of users. Windows Vista is expected to ship in the second half of next year, and there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then.


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