Tired of spyware, malicious Internet worms, and worrying about whether your privacy will be compromised when online?
The answer, according to Microsoft, is Vista, its new operating system due out early next year.
While there's no doubt that improved security has moved to the top of the list of priorities for Vista developers -- and there are enough security enhancements in Vista to warrant your attention -- there's more to Vista than feeling safe.
Beta 2 of Windows Vista was released recently to selected technology professionals and developers and shows that there are surprises at every turn.
Microsoft wants to make your transition to Vista easy, and with good reason: there's lots to learn. Put simply, Vista is the most radical reworking of the Windows operating system since the move from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, and although as a user of Windows you'll be able to get around easily enough, there's lots that you'll have to relearn as well. Just finding your favorite settings in the Control Panel, for instance, will be a challenge, for a lot has been reworked.
To help you get acquainted with Vista, a new Welcome Center will greet you when you start it up for the first time. The Welcome Center provides you with details about the PC you're running, but more importantly gives you icons that answer common questions you'll have, such as how to move your files to the new operating system, how to connect to the Internet, and how to customize Vista so that you can feel comfortable quickly.
If you look at moving to Vista as a process, you'll likely be better off. If at all possible, test Vista out first on a separate machine that's not mission-critical. Not all of your applications may run properly on the new operating system, and you won't want to have to relearn common tasks that you rely upon every day if you're under a deadline.
When you first fire up Vista, you won't notice what's under the covers. You'll notice the covers themselves. Put simply, Vista looks sophisticated.
The Start button is still there, to be sure, even though it no longer has the word "Start" on it. It's smaller and less obtrusive.
The Start menu is divided into two sections. On the right are common tasks and folders, such as Pictures, Documents, Games, and Music. On the left you find a list of Programs, as in Windows XP, but the display of programs is now in a tree view, as you find in the Windows Explorer file manager.
The operation of the Start menu itself has been revamped in Vista. By default, the Start menu no longer allows fly-out submenus that, in Windows XP, can potentially cover your entire screen. Instead, Vista's start menu is self-contained, never expanding beyond its allotted rectangular space when expanded. Scroll bars within the Start menu take the place of the accordion-like fly-outs of the Windows XP system. There's even an embedded Search box within the Start menu that you can use to find a program quickly.
Vista is all about refinement, understatement, and class. Default color schemes in Vista favour muted greens and browns, pastel shades. Windows XP, by comparison, looks cartoonish.
A lot has been made of the Vista Aero technology, which contributes to the sophisticated look of Vista by allowing title bars and other non-dominant areas of an application to be semi-transparent. With a semi-transparent title bar, for example, you can more easily see what's behind an application window.
Some like this effect, others don't. In practice, the Aero enhancements are easy to get used to. And if you don't like them at all, they can be turned off.
Using your favorite applications is something of a new experience in Vista. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at the smoothness with which applications open, dialog boxes appear, and files move from the File Open screens into the main application. There's animation involved in the opening of menus and dialog boxes, but it's not annoying. Using your programs under Vista is frankly more Mac-like than any Windows version before.
The Vista main screen is spartan. But on the right side of the screen in the default configuration appear three highly-configurable applications: a slide show, an analog clock, and an RSS (real simple syndication) reader that allows you to pull in information from all over the Internet. Each of these tools can easily be dismissed or customized, so that you can end up with a desktop that immediately displays information you need to start your day.
Vista addresses many deficiencies of Windows XP. XP's help system, for example, is often less than helpful, tempting you with countless wizards that ultimately do nothing to solve your problem.
Vista's help system includes resources from the extensive Microsoft Knowledge Base, which is often more up-to-date and helpful than the canned help files you find in today's operating systems. The help system also includes ties to online help resources and forums which you can join to seek help from other computer users.
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