Microsoft® Windows VistaTM Is Here! 

But Are You Ready?


By Paul Burton - Guest Author and Technical Writer





2007 has arrived and with it comes the next operating system from Microsoft. Windows Vista is due to be on store shelves January 30th.  It sports a very different visual "experience" and Microsoft touts loads of upgrades.


But is now the time for you to upgrade?  Well, you will almost certainly have a compelling reason to upgrade eventually.  Perhaps this will happen when you find yourself wanting a new piece of hardware that has no drivers for Windows XP.  Or you may find yourself with a whole new computer, "worthy" of Vista features at a time when you're willing to tinker with the changes.  Or perhaps the time will come when Windows XP is no longer available.  It may be quite a while before any of these things occur.


In almost all cases, my advice is to avoid tinkering with your computer unless something is broken, or if you are sure it can be improved by what you're doing.  The latest isn't always the greatest.  (If you "upgraded" to Windows ME you may appreciate that sentiment.)  I also advise people to find a compelling reason to upgrade before you choose to endure the necessary downtime and learning curve.


And, in this case, the learning curve will be substantial.


If your computer is slow, Vista will not make it faster.  But it may offer advantageous features.  So the only question is: Will you appreciate those new features enough to justify the learning curve and downtime necessary to upgrade?


Having spent some hands-on time with Vista, I did see a few appealing features, but I did not find a strong enough reason to endure the process of upgrading right now for my own needs, even though my computer is quite up to the task.


Perhaps you will find a compelling reason to upgrade among these pages, from Microsoft:


Windows Vista can be installed in 32-bit or 64-bit flavors.  The latter may run a bit faster, but a 64-bit processor is required.  Unfortunately, if you install the 64-bit version, you may have more difficulty getting compatible drivers for some of your devices, and you will only see benefits while running 64-bit software.


I've highlighted a few pros and cons:


Pro: Under some exceptional circumstances, Vista will make a very fast computer a little bit faster.  (At the end of this article I will describe such a computer.)

Con: Vista will actually make most "modern" computers run a little slower.  While it does include some optimizations, all of the new features come at a cost of computer resources, so you will need a worthy machine, and appropriate software, before you will see any performance increase.


Pro: Vista brings you a very different user experience.  It certainly is slick, and it has some handy features.  If you like to tinker with gadgets, Vista will certainly provide the opportunity.

Con: Again, the different user experience.  This means a learning curve.  Perhaps most importantly, at this point it's still pretty likely your local computer guru has a lot to learn.  When you need help, you don't want it from someone who has yet to read the manual.


Pro: A wider range of devices will be recognized by Vista's plug-and-play.

Con: The key word here is "will".  While technically that "will" be true in the future, it's not yet a fact that more devices will work under Vista than XP.  Some device manufacturers will not offer Vista-compatible drivers for quite a while.  In fact, if you own a device that's no longer for sale, the manufacturer may never offer a Vista driver.  You can be fairly confident that at least for the next 6 to 12 months, almost any manufacturer of a new device will provide a driver you can use with Windows XP.


Pro: Some upcoming Microsoft enhancements will not be compatible with Windows XP. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is DirectX version 10, which is almost exclusively for playing 3D "shooter" games.

Con: Many of the features offered as "new" for Vista will be, or already are, also available for Windows XP.  Office 2007 is designed with the Vista look and feel, but it is compatible with Windows XP.  Also Internet Explorer 7, which sports the similar Vista feel, is available to download right now for Windows XP.  You probably already have it if automatic updates are turned on.


The bottom line:

Vista is actually very cool.  But you don't want to be "the first on your block" to own it.  If you must purchase an operating system today, you can buy a copy of Windows XP which includes a "free upgrade certificate", so that you won't have to pay another dime to upgrade later.  Check with your retailer first to be sure the certificate is included.


It is predictably likely that a major service pack will be released for Vista in the near future as Microsoft gets feedback from the public.  Consider waiting for that release.


One way to "sample" the look and feel of Vista is to use certain software under Windows XP: Both Office 2007 and Internet Explorer version 7 "feel" like Vista.


Before you upgrade, your hardware should be up to snuff.  Although Microsoft lists "minimum requirements," if your hardware barely meets those requirements, you would be better off with Windows XP.  A more accurate description of a fitting computer, in my opinion, is this:

  • A 64-bit, dual core processor with 4MB cache.  (Quad core is way over the top at today's $1,000 prices, and chances are only two cores will do any work anyway.)
  • At least 1 gigabyte of memory if you only run one or two programs at a time, but you may appreciate having 2 gigabytes if you like to leave lots of programs running.  If you have too little RAM, your computer will use the hard disk instead, which is the slowest part of a computer.  (See the special note below.)
  • Save some money: If you do not play games on your computer, you do not need a high-end graphics processor, which can cost several hundred dollars.  MS Office doesn't give a hoot about 3D graphics processing.
  • If speed performance is your main focus, (for applications other than 3D games) the most important thing is to minimize hard disk access time.  To do this, first emphasize RAM so the disk will be accessed less often.  Then, get the fastest hard disk arrangement you can afford, which today might mean a SATA 10,000 RPM disk to boot from, and another drive to store your data.  (In the interest of space, I'll have to defer to your favorite local tech guru for more advice on the subject of hard drives.  But please see the note below.)


A few special notes about computer performance:

I ask you: When your computer is being slow, is it actually "computing?"  Or is it just reading and writing to and from the hard disk?  Most of the time, it's the latter.


As I suggested above, the more memory you have, the less often your computer will need to use the hard disk: The slowest part of any computer.


Well, there's some exciting news on the horizon: Sometime in early 2007, a new type of hard disk is set to be released, called the "hybrid drive".  These drives will offer dramatic performance increases, because they include large amounts of flash memory built right in.


But it gets even better: This month, SanDisk announced release of a 100% solid-state "hard disk."  Actually, it's not a disk at all... It has no moving parts, just flash memory.  This first version is only 32 GB in size, but that's big enough to hold Vista and Office 2007 as long as you keep your data elsewhere.  Right now it isn't available for retail purchase, and the price tag is about $600 to OEMs.  But it's about 100 times faster than a "normal" hard disk, even if you spend the same amount of money.  I want one!


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