An introduction to its features, retail versions and security.
For years, computer users heard of a mysterious new operating system from Microsoft, codenamed Longhorn. In 2005 Microsoft officially removed the Longhorn codename and announced the operating System under the official name of Windows Vista.
A Brief Timeline of Windows Vista: The Long Road to Longhorn
2001: Microsoft is rumored to be working on the next generation of Windows (codenamed Longhorn)
2003: Microsoft expected to ship Longhorn in 2003, as a step between Windows XP and Vienna
August 2004: Microsoft announces major and significant changes to Longhorn
July 2005: Microsoft officially removed the codename Longhorn and announces Windows Vista. This announcement was followed by a beta-test program
February 2006: Microsoft announces the completion of features for Windows Vista
May 2006: Windows Vista Beta 2 was released
August 2006: Microsoft provides critical security fixes for the Windows Vista beta 2
September 2006: Windows Vista release candidate
October 2006: Microsoft plans to release Windows Vista to manufacturing
November 2006: Scheduled Windows Vista Release (business editions)
January 2007: Scheduled Windows Vista Release (consumer editions)
Windows Vista Highlights: New Features Guide
(1) Aero: A new user interface, named Windows Aero. Aero has a professional-looking, transparent glass design, with subtle effects such as dynamic reflections and smooth animations, along with Windows Flip and Flip 3D desktop navigation features.
(2) Integrated Search (business): By integrating search throughout the operating system and providing new ways to organize files, Windows Vista Business helps business users quickly find exactly what they are looking for.
(3) Windows Tablet PC technology: Provides built-in handwriting recognition and enables interaction with the PC with a digital pen or fingertip instead of a keyboard.
(4) Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption: Helps prevent sensitive data and intellectual property from falling into the wrong hands if a computer is lost or stolen.
(5) Virtual PC Express: One of several built-in tools that improve application compatibility with previous versions of Microsoft operating systems. Virtual PC Express enables a legacy application to run unchanged on a legacy Windows operating system in a virtual environment on top of Windows Vista Enterprise.
(6) Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications: Enables users to run UNIX applications unchanged on a Windows Vista Enterprise-based PC.
(7) Integrated Search (Consumer): By integrating search throughout the operating system, customers can organize and find large collections of documents, pictures, movies, videos and music.
(8) Windows Media Center: Consumers can use Media Center to record and watch TV shows (even high-definition TV). It also provides the ability to connect Windows Vista Home Premium to Xbox 360, extending the Media Center experience to multiple rooms in the home.
(9) Integrated DVD burning: Integrated DVD burning and authoring allows users to seamlessly burn personal videos photos and files to video or data DVDs, and easily create professional-looking DVDs from home movies that can be shared with family and friends.
(10) Versions are available for either 32-bit or 64-bit systems, depending on the needs of the customer.
Windows Vista Product Lineup
The Windows Vista product line is expected to consist of six versions, two for businesses, three for consumers, and one for emerging markets. Each Windows Vista product is designed to meet specific needs of various egments of customers; home PC users, small and medium-sized businesses and the largest enterprises. It is also aimed at bringing 64-bit, Media Center and Tablet PC functionality into the mainstream.
Windows Vista Business (Full packaged Retail Product)
Designed for organizations of all sizes. For small businesses, Windows Vista Business will help keep PCs running smoothly and more securely so they are less reliant on dedicated IT support. For larger organizations, Windows Vista Business will provide dramatic new infrastructure improvements that will enable IT staff to spend less time focused on day-to-day maintenance of PCs and more time on adding strategic value to the organization. Specific Version Features (above): 1,2,3,1
Windows Vista Enterprise (Available to business customers participating in Microsoft.s Software Assurance program)
designed to significantly lower IT costs and risk. Windows Vista Enterprise will be offered only to business customers participating in Microsoft.s Software Assurance program. Specific Version Features (above): 1,2,3, 4, 5,6,10
Windows Vista Home Basic (Full packaged Retail Product)
Windows Vista Home Basic is a great choice for homes with basic computing needs. For consumers who want to simply use the PC to browse the Internet, correspond with friends and family through e-mail or perform basic document creation and editing tasks, Windows Vista Home Basic will deliver a safer, more reliable and more productive computing environment. It will provide new tools and technologies for making the PC more secure and enjoyable, including features such as a new Search Explorer, Sidebar and Parental Controls.
Windows Vista Home Premium (Full packaged Retail Product)
Windows Vista Home Premium will help consumers use mobile or desktop PC functionality more effectively while enabling the enjoyment of new, exciting digital entertainment experiences. Specific Version Features (above): 1, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10
Windows Vista Ultimate (Full packaged Retail Product)
This edition of Windows Vista is said to 'have it all'. It is the first operating system that brings together all the entertainment features, mobility features and business-oriented features available in Windows Vista. Specific Version Features (above): 1 - 10
Windows Vista Starter
designed to empower families and entry-level PC users in these markets to experience the world of social and educational benefits that personal computer technology and the Internet makes possible. A 32-bit operating system designed specifically for lower-cost computers, Windows Vista Starter enables popular beginner PC activities and provides an easy-to-use and more affordable entry point to the Windows Vista family of products.
Microsoft has discussed three key areas of security advancements in Windows Vista. Microsoft believes that with Vista, they can make computing even more reliable and secure. According to Microsoft, the following principles are reflected in the design and development of Windows Vista:
Building a trust ecosystem in which people, organizations, device-makers and code authors can be properly identified and held accountable for their actions, while still protecting the privacy of end users.
Engineering for security by establishing, publishing and sharing best practices, security diagnostic tools and security-specific testing methods.
Simplifying security for consumers and IT professionals, through a combination of industry standards, common development tools, and unified practices across platforms, products and services.
Delivering a fundamentally secure platform that includes protection technologies that enable isolation, trust-based multifactor authentication, policy-based access control and unified audit across applications.
Windows XP was the first version of the operating system to include a built-in firewall, which was followed by a much-improved version in XP Service Pack 2. Vista's firewall boasts additional enhancements, such as the capability to automatically stop all inbound traffic to a system unless Windows has been updated with all the latest security patches. In addition, it provides better protection than Windows XP's firewall by monitoring not just inbound traffic but outbound traffic as well. This feature lets it prevent unauthorized applications from sending data from your computer.
When setting up systems, small businesses often create limited user accounts for many employees in order to prevent them from installing unauthorized software and to minimize access (and potential damage) to the system's configuration. The catch, however, is that some applications simply won't install (or even run) unless the user is logged in using an administrator account.
There are other unpleasant side effects as well, such as the inability to perform benign tasks like adding a printer or modifying non-critical system settings. The solution to this problem in Windows XP is to give users administrative access to their own machines, in spite of the risk that entails, but either scenario can easily result in lots of support calls.
Fortunately, Vista offers more flexibility with its significantly revamped user access rules. A new Standard user account replaces the Limited account and allows employees to perform many routine computer tasks for themselves as well as modify many settings related to their own personal profile.
Business systems often contain all kinds of proprietary and confidential data and, needless to say, when such a system gets lost or stolen a company can find itself in significant competitive or legal jeopardy.
To help safeguard sensitive data Vista builds on the file-encryption capabilities of Windows XP with it's BitLocker feature, which can automatically encrypt the complete contents of a hard drive rather than just selected files and folders. On systems that include a special chip called a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), BitLocker can encrypt an entire system without even changing the way a user logs into the system.
You don't necessarily need new hardware to take advantage of BitLocker since it can also work with non-TPM systems, but in this case requires a USB flash drive (to store encryption keys and passwords) that must be inserted whenever the system starts.
More Secure Browsing In addition to the usability improvements discussed earlier, Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista also includes a number of security enhancements. A Protected Mode — which was first seen in Vista's Beta 2 and will not be available in IE 7 on other Windows versions — works in conjunction with Vista's new user account rules to limit a Web site's access to the system, which should prevent malicious sites from hijacking browser settings or copying any files to the system.
Whenever you go to a site, a phishing filter automatically checks it against a database to determine if it may be fraudulently trying to obtain a user's confidential information. Finally, clearing the myriad browser caches has been made less cumbersome, requiring only one click to delete your entire browsing history instead of the three or more required in XP.
Windows Vista Minimum System Requirements
Windows Vista Minimum Supported System Requirements
800 MHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor (1)
HDD Free Space
CD-ROM drive (2)
(1) Processor speed is specified as the nominal operational processor frequency for the device. Some processors have power management which allows the processor to run at a lower rate to save power.
(2) The CD-ROM may be external (not integral, not built into the system).
Get Ready for Windows Vista
Microsoft offers a free tool via their Windows Vista Web site users of Windows XP can download, install and run to obtain a Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor RC. According to the information presented on the Web site, this small software tool will scan your computer and create an easy-to-understand report of all known system, device, and program compatibility issues, and recommend ways to resolve them. Upgrade Advisor can also help you choose the edition of Windows Vista that best fits the way you want to use your computer.
You can read more about the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor RC here. You can also visit the Windows Vista Web site for more information on the features and functions in Windows Vista.
Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.