by September 6, 2005 0 comments

We installed Vista on two machines. Both were well equipped-one had 1 GB RAM and a GeForce 5900/128 MB and the other had 512 MB RAM and an ATI Radeon 9800/256 MB. The installation on one machine was done with no other OS on the machine, whereas the other machine already had Windows XP Pro on it.

The installation is fairly simple and smooth. The installer asks whether you wish to upgrade or do a custom install (we chose custom for each machine) along with the product key. It then asks for a new machine name and the partition to install Vista into. The partition manager is completely revamped and it is much easier to manage your Windows partitions from here now. Once this is done, the install proceeds without requiring any other intervention at all. The system reboots once for the second part of the installation and once that is complete, boots the machine with the new OS.

Boot up
There is a new boot loader that is part Vista, which has a new look and feel as compared to all previous versions of Windows, including XP. However, it is still quite basic and text-based. Dual booting with Win XP was no problem at all and XP continues to work fine as long as Vista is installed on a separate partition.

The user interface
Once you have booted up and logged in, you will see the interface of Vista-called ‘AERO’. At the first glance, you see a darker version of the taskbar and Start menu, with no other visible difference. When you click on the Start menu, you will also see that the entire menu is now in a very dark color, rather than the bright colors we are used to in XP. However, highlighting makes them bright again. In a weird quirk, the ‘All Programs’ menu does not open a menu like it used to-rather it replaces the recently used programs list on the left side with a cascading navbar of installed programs. This seems like a fairly silly design element in terms of usability. 

Application windows is where Vista really starts shining. Gone are the plain title bars, borders and the control menu buttons. Instead there are extremely well done graphical titles and borders with Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons that actually light up when you hover over them. All windows are translucent also, which means that you can see a faded out picture of the window behind it through the title and menu bars and even the borders. All this without losing any readability in the active window. Windows also have a much nicer way of opening and closing-possibly reminiscent of Mac OS, but more in 3D.
All icons and graphic elements are now in extremely high resolution-which means that even when you view the icon of a folder in the preview pane, you will be looking at an icon with millions of colors in it and, therefore, looks extremely rich and beautiful.

Windows Explorer
The main navigation interface of Windows has also been revamped significantly. So much so that you may not recognize it. The most obvious change comes in the naming convention itself-for the first time since Win 95 was released, Microsoft has decided to drop ‘My’ from the different objects that are available. ‘My Computer’ is now called ‘Computer’; ‘My Documents’ is ‘Documents’ and so on.

When you open ‘Computer’, you will see all drives on your machine listed- grouped by device type. All drives also show other information graphically- such as the percentage of disk space used/free as graphs next to the name itself. Each Explorer window also has a new preview pane that displays much more relevant information depending on the selection in the main area as well as is
capable of displaying it at the bottom, top or side of the window.

You can also change the way the information is displayed in a particular folder quite easily. Simply select and scroll through the different view types from the toolbar (such as small icon, large icon, thumbnail, etc.) or press Ctrl and scroll your mouse wheel. The best part is that as you scroll through the different sizing options (small>large>thumbnail>detail) the icons first show up with a slightly jaggy effect and within no time get completely anti-aliased making it look very nice.

A typical Vista desktop; translucent windows; computer window with high-resolution drive icons; IE7 The weird way that the ‘All Programs’ menu now opens, on the left part of the Start menu
‘User Account Protection’ lets you work as a low-privilege user, asks for admin password when higher level of access is needed Searches can be saved as VFolders and Vista gives a number of pre-built ones such as All Music, All pictures, All Documents

The preview pane mentioned above lets you view or change metadata for any object right in the pane itself. For instance, if you’re looking at a music file, you can change the ID3 information in the preview pane. If you’re looking at a document, you can change the name of the author, add keywords and put a summary without having to open the associated application. 
One of the newest and probably the most useful navigation aid that is now built in to Windows Explorer is the ‘breadcrumbs’ navigation bar. This bar displays the path you took to reach where you are with each step in the path available as a navigation menu. What this means is that you can navigate away from the current location to any other route in the path you took with a single click. To help you understand this, consider this: In Win XP, say, you navigated to C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\Etc. The address bar in Explorer will show this path. Now if you wish to navigate to C:\WINDOWS\system32\ Logfiles, you will need to either delete the last two folders and then type the path in or press back (or up) twice and find the folder and enter it-all of them requiring multiple steps to navigate.

The preview pane lets you edit metadata for the selected file; Breadcrumbs bar lets you navigate the file system

In Vista, the Breadcrumbs bar will show: C:>Windows>System32>Drivers> Etc. To go to the same folder as above, simply select the small arrow next to System32, and this will show you all the folders under it. Click on the Logfiles folder and you will be taken there instantly. You can do the same with any step in the path that is displayed. Clicking on the empty space in the Breadcrumbs bar, turns it back into a normal address bar that you can type in.

Virtual folders
One of the other completely new  features that is part of Vista is the ability to create virtual folders. These are dynamic representations of files in your machine that alleviates you from remembering where the files are physically. 

VFolders, as they are called, are created on the basis of searches on the system that you save. For instance, you search for files having the word ‘PCQuest’ in them. You will get a set of results back at the time you do the search. However, if you save the search as a folder, you can simply open the folder anytime you wish to see all the files with the word ‘PCQuest’ in them and the system will create this virtual folder that seems to contain all these files. Searches can be done on various parameters, such as keywords, file types, ratings and author. And each can be saved as

‘Virtual Folders’ let you organize your files in different criteria without having to remember the physical location of any file

Vista gives you a number of pre-built VFolders such as All Music, All Pictures and All Documents. You can create your own set of VFolders and add them to the list, which makes organizing your files in multiple ways much easier. For instance, you might like to create separate physical folders for Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. But you may want to see all files relating to (say) PCQuest, in one folder. So creating a VFolder with the appropriate search criteria lets you see all Word, Excel, PP files relating to PCQuest as if within a single folder-although the files are in different physical folders.

Application development
Vista introduces a whole set of new platforms and technologies to start building applications on. Some of these are WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation, previously known as Avalon), WCF (Windows Communication Foundation, previously known as Indigo), XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language) and others. We have talked about some of these in our previous issues.

There are some other enhancements to Vista as well. It has IE7 browser in it that offers significant benefits over IE6 (see the review of IE7 in this issue). Surprisingly, the version of Windows Media Player is 10 rather than the promised 11, but that will probably change in Beta 2. Security enhancements include a new UAP (User Account Protection) feature that enables users to run in low-privilege accounts for most of the time. 

Anytime they try something on the system that requires higher rights, they are asked to input an admin user login-which is valid only for that particular action and not for the entire session.

Bottom Line
There are minor issues and annoyances all over as can be expected. One of the most glaring ones is the name ‘Longhorn’ still appearing in many places. The weird quirk with the ‘All Programs’ menu and identical folder names for physical and virtual folders for instance, there is a Music folder in the file system as well as a Music VFolder and one can’t differentiate between the two till you open them.

However, Windows Vista does promise many new features-even after cutting back on a number of other things promised -such as a new file system called WinFS. Usage is quick and efficient-especially for an early beta like this one. Almost all hardware was detected without any problems, the network was discovered without any intervention and we were able to get to the Internet as soon as we booted in for the first time. Overall, the ease of use, the sheer number of technologies and the really pleasant-looking interface make it more than a worthy, if highly delayed, successor to Windows XP. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves. So keep an eye out for more about Vista!

Vinod Unny, Enterprise Infotech

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