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What is Windows Vista?

Windows Vista features buy

What the heck is Vista?
It’s a pretty name, but maybe not the most obvious. Just think of Vista as the next Windows. We had Windows 95, then Windows 98, then Windows Me, then Windows XP and now it’s Windows Vista.

Which version of Vista should I get?
For home users there are three Vista versions available: Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate. For games, Internet access and basic home networking and Media Center capability go for Home Premium–Home Basic is too watered-down for normal humans. Ultimate is the super-power-users’ Vista. This is for geeks like me and also folks who want to work from home and need the higher-end networking and security features to make their office computer managers happy.

Will my programs work on Vista?
So you’ve got a whole bunch of programs on your Windows XP machine–Quicken, Madden NFL 07, Microsoft Office, etc. There weren’t many problems moving software from Windows 2000 to Windows XP because those two versions were pretty similar at the gut level. Vista is a big change in architecture so it’s a bigger question this time. Generally, if the program is a Microsoft program, you shouldn’t have any problems.

For non-Microsoft software, Vista includes a Program Compatibility Wizard. When you try and install software on Vista, you can run this wizard and it’ll tell you whether it runs natively or not. It can also make changes to allow the program to run as it would have run under Windows XP if it can’t run smoothly in Vista–pretty sweet feature, though it may make the software run a little slower. If you’re looking for total native Vista compatibility, just check on the software maker’s Web site. They’ll announce when they’re fully compatible with Vista, don’t you worry.

Some programs definitely will have trouble. Anti-virus, for one. If you’ve got a Windows XP version of Symantec Norton Anti-Virus, for instance, it will definitely not run on Vista. Personal firewall programs, like ZoneAlarm, most likely won’t either. You’ll need to get a Vista compatible upgrade for those–fortunately, most of the premium versions of Vista already have the OneCare anti-virus app and the improved Vista firewall installed, so you’re not defenseless out of the box. Just remember that OneCare isn’t free; you’ll pay an annual subscription cost just like you would any other anti-virus software.

Will Vista run on my existing machine?
Depends on the machine. If it’s one or two years old, most likely it will. However, Vista definitely wants juicier hardware than Windows XP. All the screenshots you see of Vista use a sexy new graphic interface, popularly known as “Aero.” Aero looks great, but it wants a strong video card–at least a 3D accelerator with 128MB of dedicated RAM on the card. Under XP, that’s a mid-sized gamers card. Under Vista, that’s the minimum to run Aero. If you don’t have that, Vista will still install, but it’ll notice your video weakness during install and it won’t make Aero part of the install. You’ll get Vista, but with a drab user interface intended for light hardware.

Vista also wants more system RAM. Windows XP was happy with 256MB or 512MB of total system RAM. The review systems I’m running with Vista have come with 1GB or 2GB pre-installed, with 2GB being the recommended number for peak performance. Vista also wants a fast CPU. A straight Pentium 4 will do, but if you’re buying a new Vista system, go for the Intel Core 2 Duo, no question.

Your hard disk most likely won’t need an upgrade, though sticking in more gigs while you’ve got the case open to upgrade the RAM is never a bad idea. Not to mention that so far Vista has installed more cleanly for me when it isn’t installed as an upgrade to Windows XP, but merely installed from scratch on an empty hard disk. Last, if your system is older than two years, you can probably get it to run Vista with the above upgrades, but you’re better off spending a little more for a whole new box.

Will my peripherals (printer, mouse, etc.) work with Vista?
Most definitely yes. I’ve been testing Vista for three months and it’s recognized three different mice (one with a built-in fingerprint scanner), four printers, a photo scanner, a business card scanner and a shared hard disk–all without asking for additional software. It just saw these devices and installed the drivers all by itself. Don’t worry yourself on this point, but if you’re the worrying kind, just check with your peripheral manufacturer and they’ll announce new Vista drivers on their Web site.

Is upgrading difficult?
Most definitely not. This is the easiest upgrade I’ve ever done with a Windows version. Just a note: I’m talking about the software part of this only. Upgrading the video card, RAM or hard disk is the same as always. If you don’t know how, drop me a line on the MSN Technology Filter blog and I’ll post some how-tos.

From a software angle, it goes much like this: Stick in the Vista DVD, decide whether you want an upgrade installation from Windows XP or a completely clean installation from scratch. An upgrade installation will keep all your old software, data and system settings (things like Internet Explorer Favorites and such) and just install the new Vista operating systems around them. The clean install wipes everything away and starts from the ground up.

I like the clean install, though you must backup all your data before that because it’ll get wiped out. You should back it up, anyway, even for the upgrade installation, just to be safe. (Oh and if you’re still on Windows 2000 or Windows 98 then a clean install is your only option, Microsoft didn’t build an upgrade installation for those.)

After that, you just click “OK” a few times and wait. Takes about an hour to 90 minutes, so do it while you’re watching TV.

If I upgrade and my friends and co-workers don’t, will I have trouble e-mailing or instant messaging them?
Flat no. You get new versions of the IM and e-mail software, but it has no problems talking to older systems.

If the Vista upgrade doesn’t work, can I go back?
First, it will work. I’ve done it on four different boxes of varying ages now and it hasn’t blinked once. The only time I’d worry is if you’re going to try to do it on a really old machine (more than four years). For those, if it doesn’t work, make sure you’ve got your Windows 2000 or Windows XP installation disks handy and that all your data is backed up because you’ll need to reinstall the old Windows yourself.

Do I have to buy it in a box?
If you’re buying it to upgrade an existing computer, that’s the only way I’d buy it. Microsoft will offer a download purchase, but it’s a long download and then you don’t have that warm, fuzzy DVD feeling unless you burn your own. Frankly, though, since Vista wants significant new hardware to run at its best, your best bet (and my recommended way) is to buy Vista pre-installed as part of a new machine. Way easier.

When can I buy a computer with Vista?
Businesses will be able to start ordering Vista systems by the end of November 2006. Consumers will have to wait until January 2007, though rumor has it there may be some systems available in time for Christmas.

source: – Oliver Rist