Microsoft Vista: A Look Ahead

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Redmond’s soon-to-debut operating system — Microsoft’s Windows Vista — has a lot of buzz around it. A good deal of the chatter, however, has been about its delayed launch deadlines. The company has pushed back the dates for releasing Vista to the public a few times, and it might again in order to get the OS “ready for prime time,” in the words of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. When it does come out, though, what features and functions will the tech world be talking about?

Well, one way to find out is by checking reviews from some of the experts who’ve been playing around with beta versions. The response thus far has been mixed. Although some sour grapes have to be expected with any Microsoft release, a few genuine concerns exist. Charges of unnecessary complexity, glitches because of incomplete code and issues with installation have swirled around the Release Candidate 1 (RC-1) beta since its limited rollout a few weeks ago.

Still, the overall dialogue leading up to the release of Windows Vista has been optimistic. It’s a safe bet that the much of the conversation will come down to a few main areas, including its improved user interface, better security and enhanced connectivity. Here’s a look at exactly what the chatter will revolve around.

Internet Explorer 7
Vista’s new Web browser offers some new functionalities that many users will appreciate. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feature. Internet Explorer 7 will have built-in support for RSS subscriptions, and it will act as a sort-of TiVo for the Web, seeking out all the headlines users will want without having to scour the Web for them.

Additionally, Internet Explorer 7 will have greater privacy because of its limitation of permissions, which Microsoft calls its protected mode. It will have enough for Web surfing but not to the point where users’ files or settings can be changed. Thus, malicious sites will not have privileges to install malware, alter browser settings or copy files to the system.

Networking Capability
A significant number of improvements are in the networking realm. One of the main developments is Network Center, which informs users about the network to which their computer is connected and verifies whether it can reach the Web. This information is displayed in a network map, which graphically shows the status of links to other computers and systems. Network Center also allows users to join other available networks or create connections. Another feature is Network Diagnostics, which helps ascertain networking problems and their causes. It also either takes care of the problem automatically or suggests possible solutions.

Additionally, Vista’s new Network Explorer allows users to browse content on networked PCs, devices and printers by presenting a view of all these connected devices. The Network Explorer can display customized icons to represent various tools, and it enables direct interaction with certain devices. Microsoft is touting Network Explorer as a quicker, more robust and more dependable version of My Network Places in Windows XP

The appearance of Windows Vista might be the most surprising thing about it for users, at least initially. The OS features Windows Aero, a new 3-D graphical user interface, which is designed to enhance both the look of the software and its features, as well as make the layout smoother and simpler.

Also, Vista is different in the way it displays various browsers and/or documents that are simultaneously open. Windows Flip and Flip3D offer users the option of showing many different browsers at once, either via a bar or a stack. In addition, a new feature called Document Explorer allows the display of multiple files — including Word, Excel and PowerPoint — at the same time.

Much of the talk about Vista will address security issues, for better or worse. Actually, Microsoft is betting on better, as the company is promoting security features leading up to the release, including User Account Control and Windows Defender, as a couple of ways to keep malware off the system. Another layer of defense is the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), which is delivered through automatic updates and periodically scans for known prevalent viruses.

Along with these built-in Vista features, Microsoft will encourage customers to employ its Windows OneCare antivirus solution or an offering from an approved third-party security software vendor.

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