After years of development, the people from Redmond finally released the beta 2 version. Many journalists followed this fourth major release of NT family operating systems. This seems to be the largest project for the people from Microsoft.
Already behind the schedule, Microsoft had postponed some features. However, they cannot afford too many mistakes and therefore the result of their work should be something well-built and stable. Of course the OS should have a lot of new features, otherwise the users will get the feeling that this is an addon to XP.
Having received the official Beta 2 version of the OS, which includes Basic, Business, Premium and Ultimate Edition, we thought that we should try to present the main characteristics of Vista to give you a better idea of what Vista will be like. We didn’t try to go very deeply into the OS because this is still a beta version and some of the features will change in the final version.
We already know that new releases implies new hardware requirements, although this should not be a standard. The minimum and recommended requirements for Vista have been known for a while:
- 800 MHz Intel processor
- 512MB of RAM
- DirectX 9.0 capable graphics processor
- 20GB HD
- 1 GHz Intel processor
- 1GB RAM
- DirectX 9.0 graphic processor with 128MB memory
- 40GB with at least 15GB free space
Our test was made on:
- Intel(R) Pentium(R) 4 CPU 2.80GHz
- 2 GB RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce 6600
- 160GB HD
Some of you will ask yourselves why did we use so much RAM? Well at the Home Basic Edition the PF usage was somewhere between 515-550MB, while at Home Premium Edition the PF usage was constant 0.99GB. Anyway we hope that in the end these results will be lowered, because otherwise the minimum requirements won’t be real anymore.
The installation process is very simple but it takes quite a while. The best thing about this process is that Vista boots into a GUI. So many new users will be happy to see this feature, that will help them to install very easy the OS.
On our hardware configuration, we had to wait 30 minutes until the installation files were copied and 10 minutes for the installation of local files. The installer of Vista doesn’t offer too many options, I can say there are less options than in XP installer. We couldn’t choose in which type of partition should we format. It is obvious that now Vista works with NTFS, but if you want to format later from within the OS you can choose also FAT. Anyway the installation interface is much more intuitive maybe because Microsoft gave a bigger attention to the explanations text.
After the installation has finished you are asked for keyboard settings, username and password, computer name, security and updates, and finally the hour. Almost all my hardware components were recognized, but I still got some problems with my C-Media sound card, which was not recognized from the beginning. I had to install its original driver which is not 100% compatible with Vista. Anyway the drivers data base is still not complete and maybe in the final version it will include much more drivers.
The Premium Home Edition Windows system folder measures approx. 7 GB, the Program Files approx. 900MB, the Documents and Settings which is now called Users approx. 320MB. With other system files we got approx. 10GB of used space and approx. 9GB for pagefile and hibernate file.
There is no major difference between Vista installation and other versions of Windows. So if you have ever tried to install any of the versions you will be able to install also this one.
After the installation comes the first contact with Vista which is pretty shocking. Obviously many Windows users have the impression that a new version of Windows should be like the other in terms of architecture and concept. Well Vista tries to change the architecture of the Windows OS. That’s maybe because there are a lot more features and the navigation within the OS tends to be quite hard.
The first button that I pushed was the Start button. Already from here you can see the new direction of Vista. The start menu is like a column-based file browser. Because the start menu became to be a huge column on previous versions of Windows, in Vista it has two parts: a column for all programs and the recent used ones, and another one for the main features of the Vista (Computer, Network, etc). Of course there is also the shutdown button that can be set also for switch-user, Log-off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, Shutdown.
The new feature included in the start menu is the search option based on indexed files. For every letter it will search live a collection of words. In the end you will get the correspondent application. Interesting thing is that if you choose the ‘search the Internet’ option the Internet Explorer will start immediately and opens the Google page.
The architecture of Explorer remains the same, but includes new options and the address bar has a much bigger importance in the navigation. You won’t find the organize buttons like copy, paste, move to, up. etc. These buttons can be found in the drop-down menu of the Organize tab.
Maybe you will ask yourself how can you navigate besides the back and forward buttons. Well the address bar can help you. It will track your path into the folders. You have just to push the right track to go back to the wanted destination.
These system has been introduced also because ‘Computer’, known as ‘My Computer’ is no more at the root level of the hierarchy in Vista.
Another good thing about the windows shell is the dialog boxes which are, like in the installation menu very verbose.
The new Windows shell will take you some time to get used to it, but in the end you wil realize that the easy things can be done more easily. It is just another approach.
The search function is far from what it was in the past. From the first boot, Vista will index your entire hard drive, just to search much faster and better. The search bar can be found in every window opened or in the start menu.
Before you enter the desired word, you should choose from the categories what kind of file you try to find. All Kinds, E-mails, Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. These categories will help the OS to search only files with the right extension. All the results can be saved in a new folder as a copy of the originals and can be found in the searches link.
Like the architecture of the OS, also the user interface has changed. Of course it follows the general guidelines of the old Windows 95, but the visual part is much different. For this Vista introduces Aero, the new interface. This interface is not present in the Home Basic Edition or Business Edition. Maybe because it uses quite a lot of physical memory.
Anyway, Aero brings a fresh look in the Vista interface. For every window the borders are translucent that provides an eye-candy effect. These effect can be configured by changing the tint of the glass or the translucency.
If you are still not bored by the classic look, this can be chosen from the settings.
Aero brings another major change. If you have multiple windows opened the live thumbnail will help you see what applications are opened in the taskbar. These live thumbnails are also included in the Alt-Tab option for a better visualization of the opened windows.
All these features are very useful but I wonder why weren’t they included in earlier versions of Windows? Maybe because there was no Vista.
Windows side bar is something new for Windows.
It includes gadgets which are very similar to widgets from MAC OS.
These are applets that provide a singular function like calculator, sticky note, or CPU meter. Comparing to MAC OS widgets, there are not so many gadgets online, but this this lack of content will change in the future.
If you don’t use the side bar, it will get out of the way and lets the desktop free. It won’t use too much memory, although it can be full of active gadgets.
Internet Explorer 7
This version of Internet Explorer seems to be the best. Already present in the XP OS, this version includes the tab system already present at Opera or Firefox. Unfortunately it won’t save the latest pages, so after a new start of the application the tabs are empty.
Comparing the same version for XP with this for Vista, the last one gives the feeling of a greater stability. The big difference is in the speed of opening the HTML pages.
Of course, there is still no download manager. I don’t understand why they didn’t integrate it yet. For further details please refer to our special review for Internet Explorer 7.
Windows Media Player 11
Another important application of Windows OS, comes with the late version 11.
The most important features are: search as you type function, picture management, video management and Urge (online music store). Also you can share the playlist, so another user from the network can access it and play it. This version is much better integrated in the desktop. If you push the minimize button, the application will remain in the taskbar with the main commands accessible. Like IE7, WMP11 has an XP version which it was tested by us. For further details refer to our special review for WMP11.
Windows Media Center
Very similar to the included in the latest versions of MAC OS, Media Center tries to include all the entertainment features in Vista. With a very interactive interface based on circular structure, the application gives the ability of the user to navigate online or offline through pictures, music, DVD, TV, games, radio channels, news.
This application transforms your PC into a multimedia console. Microsoft tries to conquer the consoles market which in general are made for games, with this software that can transform any computer in a multimedia console, which is much flexible and has a wide variety of elements.
Although it is not a final release and features and components are subject to changes as a result of a constant evolution and development process, the Control Panel has been improved with a few features while others have been reorganized in a manner which provides quick access and enhanced Windows setup settings.
As we all know, the Control Panel provides access to all Windows features starting with “System and Maintenance” and ending with “Ease of Access”. We’ll try to briefly go though each one of them and get a glimpse of what is new or changed.
System and Maintenance
The “Welcome Center” can be set to run at startup and consists of a summary of the main features in the Control Panel needed to setup Windows at first run: setup of devices, Media Player setup, network setup, add new users, register and personalize Windows, Windows Basics and new features of this version of Windows.
The “Backup and Restore Center” protects your computer from damage and loss of data. You can choose to backup files and folders (all type of files included: multimedia, spreadsheets, presentations etc.) on a scheduled basis and save the data on hard-disk, CD/DVD or a network drive or you can choose to backup your entire computer to a hard-disk or several DVDs. You can also use the wizards to restore files, folders or entire partitions using your backup copies.
The “System” component, as we know it, displays system information including access to the Device Manager, Remote Settings, System Protection (System Restore) and Advanced System Settings (Performance, User profiles, Startup and Recovery).
“Windows Update” help you keep up with the latest updates, allows you to view available updates and update history, and, of course you can turn on and off automated updating.
The interesting feature in the “Power Options” is the choice of a power plan out of three power plans: balanced, power saver and high performance, where high performance provides the highest level of performance, but the least energy saved.
A new category is the “Indexing Options” which allows you to change the way Windows searches for files and folders.
The “Device Manager” and the “Administrative Tools” are pretty much the same as we knew them in Windows XP.
A new category is the “Problem Reports and Solutions”; emerged from the old automated error reporting tool, this feature allows you to identify exactly what went wrong and where, and get solutions for the problems. This service requires an Internet connection, as well. Problems and solutions are stored in a history files for you to check at any time and the settings allow you to manually or automatically check for solutions.
The “Performance Rating and Tools” provide you with an overall assesment and rating of your computer on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means that your computer will perform tasks faster and better than a computer with a rating of 3 or 4, and thus being suitable to run any version of Windows Vista. This rating will be also used for software, so that the “system requirements” section will be replaced by this rating: if this computer has a System Performance Rating of 1, then you can confidently purchase any software designed for this version of Windows that requires a computer with a rating of 1 or less. You can also visualise performance issues and there are link to tools from the Control Panel used for improving computer performance.
“Windows Firewall”, “Windows Update” and the “Security Center” contain the same options as in Windows XP, the new thing about “Internet Options” is the fact that under the Connections section, you can choose to connect to the Internet via Virtual Private Networks.
As for security improvement, Windows Vista integrates Windows Defender. It provides protection from negative effects caused by spyware including slow PC performance, annoying pop-up ads, unwanted changes to Internet settings, and unauthorized use of your private information. Windows Defender runs uninterrupted in the background and improves Internet browsing safety by guarding over 50 ways spyware can enter your PC. The feedback agent helps Microsoft constantly improve Windows Defender in order to deliver a high level of PC protection. Tools include software monitoring of startup programs, currently running programs, network connected programs and Winsock Service Providers.
Network and Internet
If you want to connect to the Internet, set up a connection or network, diagnose your Internet connection or connect through a wireless device, you can do all these using the wizards included in the “Network Center”. Before connecting to a network, you are prompted to choose between the two categories of networks: private and public, created for security reasons. The private network is considered to be a home or office network and you are allowed to share files, folders and printers, while the public network supposedly need a higher level of security, thus being more restrictive than the private network. The “Discovery and Sharing service” provides you with access options to your shared resources. Access to manual network configuration, such as IP, DNS, Gateway seems a bit more restrictive, and starting with Windows Vista, there is Internet Protocol version 6 included along with the IP protocol version 4.
You can manage very effectively your wired and wireless network connections using “Network List”.
“Offline Files” can be secured by encrypting them with strong encryption algorithms.
You can use the “Sync Center” tool for synchronizing data and settings between your computer and other devices.
Another cool feature is the “Network Map”, a utility which draws a map the network you are connected to, including the switches, gateways and other networked devices.
Hardware and Sound
Pretty much similar to the format we have been used to with Windows XP, this category provides quick access to peripherals and Tablet PC settings.
A very useful category is “Personalization”, as it includes access to display settings, visual appearance, desktop background, screen savers, sound effect, mouse pointers and Windows themes.
“Tabet PC settings” allows you to select settings for the Tablet PC:screen calibration, handwriting recognition, change tablet buttons to perform certain tasks.
The four new subcategories added are: “Windows Defender “, “Default programs”, “Windows Sidebar”, “Get Programs Online”.
The “Default programs” allows you to set a program as default for all file types and protocols it can open, associate file types with a certain program so that it will always open in that selected program, change autoplay settings for all types of CDs/DVDs (audio video data, games etc), set default programs to users who have not set personal defaults. You can also customize the program that will run on startup, so that you can make the best of your system’s resources. A very useful tool is the program compatibility checker: in case you want to use an older program with this version of Windows, you can either select it from a Windows generated list of installed programs or you can manually select the program and Windows will run a compatibility check, after which you will select the parameters set to run that program.
User Accounts stays the same as we know it, but security has been strenghtened as for running supposedly unsecure programs you need Administrator credentials, as well as for sharing or deleting files. Standard user accounts benefit of less privileges than Administrator accounts, but, the way we see it, it is a useful security measure.
Microsoft has added a new subcategory called “Digital Identities”‘ where you can create the so called Personal Cards which allow you to register and sign in to websites without filling in any forms or using passwords. The data contained in the Personal Cards is securely encrypted. You can also choose to install Personal Cards downloaded from third parties such as websites, banks, clubs etc, create backups of all Personal Cards and restore backups whenever needed.
Appearance and Personalization
This is a very intuitive category which allows you to configure your display, taskbar, start menu, folder options, fonts, Sidebar and accessibility options.
Clock, Languages and Regions and Ease of Access are pretty much the same as in Windows XP, only better organised.
The design of the Control Panel consists of intuitive shortcut buttons and links pointing at useful extra features related to the category subject to your attention. Let’s take a couple of random examples. You can find the “Ease of Access Center” section both under the “Ease of Access” and “Appearance and Personalization” categories in the Control Panel. The Library Sharing feature enables other users on the same PC or on the network to have access to your shared multimedia content. The “Networking…” button provides quick access to “Network Center” network configuration utility in the Control Panel. You can, of course, revert to classic view at any time, but this new appearance is very ergonomic, at hand and allows you to have quick access to any settings.
And we shall end this preview of Windows Vista with a few words about Microsoft Windows Mail client. We cannot notice extreme changes made to this Windows feature: different looks, but basically the same features we have been used to with Outlook Express. Newly added phishing protection and spam protection – blocking of domains make Windows Mail an average mail client.
After almost one year from the release of Beta 1 version, available only for developers, followed by several interim versions, four Windows Vista Beta 2 versions have been released for the users worldwide to evaluate: Ultimate Beta 2, Business Beta 2, Home Premium Beta 2, Home Basic Beta 2. We have taken our time to install and get a glimpse of Windows Vista Business Beta 2; obviously, since it is not a final release, features and components are subject to changes as a result of a constant evolution and development process.