Special Vista Edition: Part 1

Windows Vista We’ve been talking about Vista for months now, and finally the day for consumers to get their hands on it has come! Newegg and other online retailers have already been selling OEM versions a little early, but now you can walk into nearly any electronics store and pick up a copy. Windows Aero, the redesigned user interface will be one thing Vista will always be known for.

Paul Thurrott has put together an extensive, very complete guide to nearly every aspect of Vista.  If you’re looking for a review in words, head on over to SuperSite. His eight- part review will give you plenty of information on each of the features.

Our goal was not to duplicate what he had done, rather we wanted a guide that you could quickly look through to determine if Vista is right for you and your PC.  We’re visual kind of people, so this review will include LOTS of screenshots. Below is a table of contents so that you can easily navigate to sections that interest you the most.

–Table of Contents–

Remember, you can click on screenshots to view a full-size image.

–Vista Editions–

As you probably know by now, there are four different versions of Windows Vista with each having different features.  They are: Windows Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate.  Windows Vista Ultimate is the most complete, feature intensive version of Vista available. One of the perks for the Ultimate version includes Windows Ultimate Extras. DreamScene is one of those unique Ultimate extras, and a unique experience (demo here). Each version of course, comes at a different price ranging from $199 for Home Basic to $399 for the Ultimate version. Previously, we posted a Windows Vista Feature Comparison chart that will give you a good visual as to the main differences between each of the versions. That will be the first place you’ll want to start when determining which version is right for you.


One of the best things about the installation for Vista is that it takes around 1/2 the time that it took to install XP.  In about 20 minutes, your installation process will be complete, and you’ll be ready to use your new operating system. Another thing that you’ll want to note is that it asks for all of your information upfront.  Enter in the serial number, walk away, and come back 20 minutes later with the installation process completed. There’s no stopping in between which is a huge improvement from Windows XP!

Another important thing to keep in mind is that all of the Vista versions are available for a 30-day trial.  When installing Vista, the entire process will be the same, except you leave out the serial number. This will start your 14 day trial.

We’ve talked about Windows Anytime Upgrade before, and we’ll mention it again.  This is the first time Microsoft has done something like this, and here’s how it will work. All of the versions of Vista will either be on a CD or embedded onto your computer when you make the purchase.  At any point you can upgrade to a better version.  All you’d have to do is contact Microsoft to pay and get the new serial number for the version you’re upgrading to. There are also separate upgrade prices which you can find here.

–Eye Candy–

Vista will be known for it’s fancy features and eye candy. Lots of it. Here’s a run-down on all of the ‘easy on the eyes’ features that you’ll find.

  • Windows Vista Basic – Before you get excited about the eye candy, remember that you’re not going to find the eye candy with Windows Vista Basic.  It’s basic for a reason; no transparency, no flip 3D, and no Taskbar thumbnails.
    Vista Basic
  • Windows Vista Aero (Glass) – You’ve probably seen the Aero in screenshots and other Vista demos floating around the Internet.  It includes a translucent start menu/Taskbar, Windows Flip 3D, and Live Taskbar Thumbnails. There’s a wide variety of colors to match your taste. It’s cleaner, and overall a more pleasing look.
    Aero Glass      Aero Color Selector
  • Windows Flip 3D and new Alt-Tab- Angles your open windows and lets you shuffle through them. The new Alt-Tab will show thumbnails of all of the windows that you have open, even if they’re minimized (Windows XP doesn’t have the capability of making thumbnails when windows are minimized).
    Flip- 3D      New Alt-Tab
  • Live Taskbar Thumbnails – Whenever you hover over a thumbnail, you’ll get a live preview! If you have a movie playing in a window, you’ll still get the preview showing the movie playing.
    Live Taskbar Thumbnails
  • Instant Search – Searching is all over Vista.  That’s one of its’ best features. It indexes the names of files on your hard drive so that the results are instant. The screenshot demonstrates the search box outlined in red, and the instant search results in blue.
    Instant Search Results
  • Start Menu – Now all of the programs are contained within the start menu. There are no pop-out menus.  If you’re one of those people that have enormous lists of programs in your start menu in XP, it’s needless to say that you’ll be scrolling in your start menu.
    Start Menu      Navigating Programs
  • Windows Explorer – The big thing with Windows Explorer is the thumbnails that it generates for images.  These thumbnails are better and more abundant than the thumbnails you’d find in XP. Another feature is that you can add favorites so that the folders you frequently use are added to the side navigation bar. Our favorite feature however, is the handling of the navigation in the “address” bar. It allows you to navigate between folders very easily.
    Image Thumbnails       Multiple Views      Customizable Favorites      Browsing Folders in Address Bar
  • Windows Sidebar – You’ve probably heard about the gadgets that come with Vista.  They allow you to customize your Vista experience more with items such as Weather, Feed Headlines, a Calendar, Clock, and Contacts.  If you don’t like the items on your sidebar, you can always drag them onto your desktop.
    Windows Sidebar

–What’s Keeping you Protected?–

  • User Account Control – This is when you try to do something such as deleting a system file, that Vista requires special permission for.  You will be prompted to confirm that you really want to continue with the action. If you’re not logged in as an administrator, it will have to be approved using the administrator’s password. This feature can always be disabled in the Control Panel by going to your user properties.
    User Account Control      Disable/Enable UAC
  • Windows Security Center – This gives you a central point to monitor that your Firewall, Anti-Virus, and other security measure are working properly.
    Windows Security Center
  • Windows Defender – Anti-spyware protection that keeps you safe from harmful malware. Windows Defender analyzes files that are downloaded, and applications that are put on your PC so that you’re always protected against any threat.
    Windows Defender
  • Windows Firewall – It’s a basic firewall that blocks unwanted traffic from getting into your PC, but also prevents important information from unknowingly leaving your computer.
  • Windows Update – This is a huge step for Microsoft, because they pulled Windows Update out of Internet Explorer. Now you’ll find it in the Control Panel.  If you prefer not to use Internet Explorer, you almost have no reason to open it.
    Windows Update

–Vista Works for You–

  • Windows Ready Boost – If you have a high-speed memory card, or flash drive, you could have Vista use this as memory for your computer. It’s an easy way to add memory without physically adding it internally.
    Ready Boost
  • Windows Experience Index – This is a rating for your computer that represents how well your hardware stacks up to benchmarks. Vista performs multiple checks on your computer to analyze graphics capability and processing power. From there it outputs a resulting number.  Anything over five tells you that your computer is optimized well for Vista.
    Windows Experience Index Results
  • Automatic Disk Defragmentation – Now the disk defragmenter runs every week to ensure that users aren’t neglecting to do this important process. Most people don’t even think about defragmenting their hard drive. Vista is all setup to do it for you.
    Disk Defragmentation
  • Power management and performance – Vista allows you to control the power aspects of your computer, more so with Vista than any previous version of Windows.  If you’re running a desktop PC, this may not be an important feature to you.  However, anyone that has problems with battery life on a notebook computer will certainly appreciate the battery saving options that Vista has.
    Control Panel
  • Backup and Recovery – By using this, you can backup files or your entire computer to another hard drive, or multiple DVDs if necessary. In the event that you need to recover these files, the restore wizard will help you do so.
    Backup and Recovery
  • Windows Shadow Copy – Vista will create system restore points for your computer.  When it does this, it also allows you to restore individual files from that restore point. To restore an individual file, simply right-click and select ‘show previous version.’ Unfortunately, they still don’t allow you to browse the files contained within a system restore point, but this is one step closer.
    Windows Shadow Copy
  • USB Drive Auto Start Applications – This is something that we stumbled upon when we plugged our USB Drive into the system.  Often times in XP, it was difficult or impossible to get a program to automatically start when the USB drive was inserted into the computer. We noticed in Vista that as soon as we inserted the drive, our designated program launched automatically in the system tray.
  • Network and Sharing Center – Now it’s even easier to connect to other networks, and to visualize which networks you are connected to.
    Networking Center
  • Improved file and folder sharing – Microsoft has done a really amazing job of making file sharing effortless.  After installing Vista, it recognized all of our other computers on the network; a couple of which are running XP.
    File Sharing
  • Windows Mobility Center –  With Windows Mobility Center on your notebook computer, you’ll be able to manage a variety of aspects within one screen. This would be where you could enable a presentation mode which would prevent screensavers from running, and unwanted notifications.
    Windows Mobility Center
  • Control Panel – This actually makes finding options very easy. They still have a classic layout for those who don’t like change, but you’ll become buddy buddy with that search box pretty quickly. To find a setting that you’re looking for, just start typing it in the search box and it will instantly filter results as you type. You’ll be amazed at how many clicks this can save.
    Control Panel       Instant Control Panel Search

–Applications that come with Vista–

  • Games – Vista includes a variety of games, both old and new.  Some of the favorites like Minesweeper have gotten a new look. We’ve taken screenshots of all the games that are included. If you’re using the Vista Business Version, the games are not installed by default. Instructions on how to install them can be found here.
    Vista Games Overview      Chess      Free Cell      Hearts      Ink Ball      Mahjong      Minsweeper      Purble Place      Solitaire
  • Internet Explorer 7 – By this point, many of you are already familiar with IE7.  It has been released for XP for several months now and has additional security features that make browsing the web safer, such as phishing protection pictured below.
    Internet Explorer      Phishing Detection
  • Windows Calendar  – This is a very basic calendar management application that supports iCal calendar formats so that you can share calendars from other applications and web sites. It’s not as feature intensive as the Outlook Calendar, but it will serve the purpose for most users.
    Windows Calendar
  • Windows Contacts – A very basic feature, allows you to add contacts. Just like the calendar, it’s not very extravagant, but gets the job done.
  • Windows Mail – This replaces Outlook Express and is the new email client. We haven’t used it much, but after playing around with it, it does seem to be “lighter” than Outlook Express was. It includes a phishing filter, and improved junk mail filtering.
    Windows Mail
  • Windows Photo Gallery –  A nice photo gallery management system that will sort images by the date that they were taken so that it might be easier to browse through them. You can add tags to your photos, as well as rate them which brings a little bit of web 2.0 into the system.
    Photo Gallery
  • Windows Media Player 11 – This is another application that has a Windows XP counterpart. It is a huge improvement over the previous version of Media Player, with a completely redesigned interface which makes listening to online music easy, and easy on the eyes.
    Media Player 11
  • Windows Media Center – If you’re able to hook your computer up to a TV, Windows Media Center is a great tool to have. You have easy access to photos and music without excess navigation. Another plus is if you have the Windows Media Center remote control so that you don’t have to be near your keyboard to control it. Best of all, if you have a TV tuner installed, you can set it up to record TV shows and make use of the free TV Guide provided by Microsoft (this is something that services like TiVo charge monthly fees for).
    Television      TV Guide      Sports Scores      Sports Section      Online Media      Photo Gallery      Music Library      Tasks
  • Windows Movie Maker – Create and edit your home movies in a snap. It’s not professional editing software, but that’s not why it was created. It’s focused for home users and gets the job done. It’s very successful at being a simple to use program that you can use to create a good home movie to share with family and friends.
    Windows Movie Maker
  • Windows DVD Maker – Allows you to take a movie that you’ve already made, (from Windows Movie Maker) and burn it to DVD. Before burning it, you’ll be able to create menus that will be used on the DVD so that it’s easy to skip to certain parts within the movie.
    Introduction      Add Files      Choose your Theme


–What’s not to like–

 At this point not everything runs as smooth as it may sound on Vista, depending on the hardware that you’re using, and the software that you’re wanting to use. We’re glad they finally got around to bundling some more app’s with the operating system, but there are plenty of third party programs that we have found to not work as they should. iTunes is a prime example of that: it seems to work initially, but as soon as it tries to download the podcasts it freezes up. Things like this is what makes switching to a new operating system frustrating. Updates and patches are sure to come for a majority of applications just like they have for previous versions of Windows, but it’s just a matter of waiting.

As of right now we have one PC that has Vista Ultimate Edition on it, and that will help us to write tips and features for people who might jump on the Vista bandwagon early. We also have a few licenses of Vista Business sitting here just screaming to be installed on our laptops, but the hardware is not Aero-capable so it doesn’t seem quite as thrilling. The pre-release versions of Vista had become quite cozy with those machines for several months, but application compatibility is what drew us back to XP. We’ll get around to upgrading in the next week or two because we seem to be going through withdraws after having used Vista’s integrated search for so long.

We’ve already written a post about some of the things that have kept us using XP for now, and you can find that here.


–Final Thoughts–

Despite some of the limitations you might come across in the next few months, particularly with 3rd party software, Vista really is a great operating system.  Once application compatibility gets better, it will fix a lot of the problems that you’ll encounter.  Almost all of the new machines available will support the new Aero interface, and this will be one of Vista’s key features that will get talked about the most. Aero is one of the key features that will sell Vista.  Let us know when or if you plan on upgrading by participating in our Poll titled “When will you Upgrade to Windows Vista” that’s located in the sidebar right now.

 Here are a few Vista related links that you might find helpful:

There you have it… CyberNet’s Vista Review with screenshots.  Hopefully these screenshots will be useful and help you to determine if an upgrade to Vista will be worth your time and money. 

Full disclosure: We were able to provide this Windows Vista review using a Velocity Micro Media Center PC from Microsoft for review purposes.