It's official. Your next operating system will be called Windows Vista - assuming you're among the more than 90 per cent of computer users now running some version of Windows XP or an earlier edition of Windows.
With its recent announcement that it was removing the code name "Longhorn" from the Windows XP successor that's been in development for over two years and unveiling the name Windows Vista, Microsoft has moved one important step closer to preparing its massive user base for the release of the world's next major operating system.
Vista, which is being released in beta form now to early testers, is in many ways a major overhaul of Windows XP, which raises major questions about what users should expect and what they'll need to do to prepare for the new operating system before its release sometime in 2006. How will the interface be different? Will today's applications run with the new operating system? And will your computer need to be upgraded?
What's new? Looks and features.
The Start menu has been revamped. Responding to concerns of Windows users that having a lot of programs installed can cause the Start menu to take up too much screen space when opened, Microsoft has radically changed how programs are displayed there.
By default in Windows Vista, the Start menu never needs to expand beyond its original size, thanks to a new method of displaying shortcuts to installed applications. When you click the All Programs link to show the programs you've installed, the contents of the left half of the Start menu disappear, replaced by a list of programs currently installed on your machine. If the list grows too long, a scrollbar appears, allowing you to scroll through the list of programs.
Individual programs are also nested within folders in the Start menu. Clicking a folder expands it, much the same way that clicking a folder within the Windows Explorer file manager expands to show the files beneath it. So clicking Microsoft Office, for example, displays the individual applications of Microsoft Office that are installed.
To make finding programs even easier, Microsoft has incorporated a search box within the Start menu. You can use the Search box to type the first letter or two of the program you want to start. The list of installed programs immediately moves to programs beginning with the letter or letters that you type. This will be a boon to those with dozens or even hundreds of programs installed on their Windows machines.
The entire desktop, too, has been enhanced to appear more three- dimensional. A new display technology dubbed Aero utilizes the rendering power of 3-D graphics cards, when present, to give the borders of application windows and dialogue boxes a smoked glass-like transparency. This transparency, when activated, actually works to give you more usable desktop real estate, as it allows you to see background tasks and programs that would have been completely obscured in Windows XP.
Graphics prowess is also utilized effectively in the new Windows Explorer. Instead of seeing generic-looking icons representing your files, Vista's Explorer shows you thumbnail views of the actual documents or graphics themselves. This is a technology Microsoft refers to as "live icons."
Vista looks enough like Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows so that current users of the operating system will not be overwhelmed with changes. Interface enhancements can be grasped easily, and users will find plenty of pleasant surprises as they navigate the new Windows Vista.
There are myriad other changes as well, including a new Games Centre, with new games and an interface all its own, as well as enhancements to the new Internet Explorer 7, such as a tabbed interface that allows you to open multiple web pages without spawning multiple browsers.
There's also speech-recognition built into Windows Vista. Formally available only as an add-on to Microsoft Office users, speech recognition will now be available platform-wide. The first time you run speech-recognition, a wizard will step you through the process of training the feature to recognize your voice.
Microsoft will also introduce a new sleep mode with Windows Vista that puts the computer into a sleep mode out of which it can resume normal operation quickly. The sleep mode uses very little electricity, making it a viable alternative to turning your PC off during those periods when you know you'll want quick accessibility to your PC, informs Financial Mirror.
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