A guided tour of several Windows Vista features ranging

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A guided tour of several Windows Vista features ranging Powered By Docstoc
					 Touring Windows Vista

Touring Windows Vista

By Mike Crassweller
Written for WinCustomize.com

This article was written as weekly series for WinCustomize.com starting the last week of December 2006 and concluding on January
23rd, 2007. To see the commentary associated with each segment, click on the links below.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - UI Changes & Additions
Part 3 - Controls, Apps & Games
Part 4 - Tools for the Power User
Part 5 - Wrap-Up

There’s been a lot of commotion over Vista. It’s all over the press, people are writing about it extensively, and we’ve covered it in-depth
here at WinCustomize through news postings and feature evaluations by some of our developers. Through the forums and our associated
blog site, JoeUser, many of you have talked about your personal experiences with the beta and then release candidates made publicly
available by Microsoft. Well, Vista has been released to manufacturing, and is available for purchase to business customers. Vista is
now "in the wild" so to speak and people are starting to play with what is essentially Vista 1.0. What is out now is likely to be what’s
available at consumer launch in January of 2007 and likely won’t change much until Service Pack 1 comes along in a year or more.

We here at Stardock have access to the RTM build of Vista. Today, I’m going to take some time to write up my experience with the
"finished" version of Vista and talk about it from a user perspective. I’m not a developer, and I’m not a guru on the inner workings of the
Operating System or computer itself. I’m a power user who spends a lot of time working and playing on my computer. If you’re looking
for a critique of WPF, the new driver model, or even much in-depth coverage of the new security model to Vista, look elsewhere. This
article is about Vista from the viewpoint of a power user.

The entire article spans nearly 20 pages, which is far too long to post all at once. Instead, the larger article has been broken up into five
sections, starting with this introduction, and finishing with a general wrap-up and my personal thoughts on Vista after spending a week
writing this series. The articles will be posted every Tuesday starting this week and going until Vista hits consumer release at the end of

1. Installation

        We don’t have any DVDs burned at the moment, so I’ve put the RTM build from MSDN on an external hard drive and
        connected it to my secondary test machine. This is the box I’ll be evaluating Windows Vista on:

        Intel Pentium 4HT 3.0GHz
        1GB RAM
        X600 Video Card
        On-board sound
        75GB HDD

        It has a "Score" of 3.6 according to the Vista Ratings tool built into the OS. My averages were actually closer to 4, but the
        score isn’t an average. Instead it’s the lowest overall score your computer achieves. My lowest was a 3.6 on the Gaming
        graphics area. Not a surprise considering I’m running with an X600 ATI card. This means I can run glass without any
        trouble. Not sure how it will work with games though.

        The Installation process itself was pretty painless, all I had to do was set my installation type (upgrade versus custom/new)
        and let it go. I told it a few things like what time of day it was, and what wallpaper I wanted, and I was off and running.
        The new image-based install system speeds things up substantially.

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2. Booting the New OS

        Starting up a PC with Windows Vista seems like it’s considerably faster. I was to the logon screen only a few seconds after
        my monitor had warmed up enough to display an image. This blinding speed however is instantly lost when you actually
        go to login. It launches into a "Preparing Your Desktop" window that churns for a while as the rest of the OS is loaded.

        Once I made it to the desktop I was greeted by the now familiar Windows Welcome Center.

                                                              First things first, I wanted to see what exactly came in Windows Vista Ultimate, and
                                                              why I might possibly want to buy this for home use later on. So I go and click on it
                                                              and I’m presented with an immediate Windows Update. Turns out it wants me to get
                                                              the latest Windows Defender definitions and apply sound drivers (the only hardware
                                                              install didn’t auto-detect). And I’m greeted with the first of what I assume are many
                                                              UAC (User Access Control) pop-ups asking me if I’m REALLY sure I want to apply
                                                              the updates.

                                           At this point I received some error. I’m curious as to what this error is about, since
        I’m doing what the OS told me to do, so I click on the "details" button to get more information. The message I received
        was complete gobbledygook, so it’s nice to see Microsoft is keeping the long-standing tradition of useless error codes and
        dialog messages alive and kicking.

3. Exploring the features of Vista Ultimate!

        Patches applied, I dig again into the advantages of Vista Ultimate. It talks about cutting-edge programs, innovative
        services and unique publications that I won’t be able to live without. Well, maybe I can’t live without it… lets download

        Whoops, nothing new for Vista Ultimate just yet. I kind of expected this since the consumer release, what Ultimate is
        targeted at, isn’t for another month. But I’m still a little disappointed as I was hoping to have a more complete evaluation
        of Ultimate. Even the link to learn more about the services and publications doesn’t go anywhere aside from the currently
        unhelpful Windows Vista website.

        So what else do I get for using Ultimate? Well, there’s Windows Media Center. Now,
        I don’t have a tuner card on this machine, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be able to
        do with this just yet. Immediately on opening Media Center it asked me if I wanted to
        run setup, I just let it do its express setup thing, since I don’t have any media on the
        box I could control with it. Funny thing is several coworkers who are running
        Windows Media Player 11 were treated with a message asking if they wanted to share
        their media with my Vista machine. What’s odd is my XP box running WMP11
        received no such message. Seems kind of arbitrary.

        Windows Media Player is another area where it looks like there are placeholders for services that just aren’t available yet.
        Specifically in the "Online Media" tab which looks like it’s set to become a storefront and distribution channel for
        purchased TV shows, movies, music and games through the Live Marketplace. It’s all empty at the moment though. This
        is where you’ll hook up an Xbox or Xbox 360 to use your PC as a digital broadcast box for your home entertainment
        center. If I had a 360 in the office, I would test this feature out, but alas I don’t.

        Overall, Media Center doesn’t have much for me to play with until I load it on a PC with my media collection.

        Vista overall is all about the integration between the Operating System and the Windows Live offerings, an attempt to
        retake the online services market by Microsoft. From Windows I can get Windows Live Search, OneCare, Live
        Marketplace, as well as Live Messenger, Windows Meeting Space etc.

        Funny thing though, components as basic as Live Messenger (the heir to MSN Messenger) are not included with the OS
        and you’re provided with a link in the start menu to download the application.

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4. Adjusting to a Vista World

        There are a lot of changes to Windows Vista that will throw off most casual users.

        Lets start with the new and improved desktop UI. As you can see, things look a lot different with the new start menu, the
        sidebar and the Windows Explorer interface.

        The New Start Menu

                                                                         The new Start Menu is likely to cause a lot of headaches to users in how
                                                                         it has completely turned around how everything works. Gone is the
                                                                         expanding menus like we've grown accustomed to in every version of
                                                                         windows since Windows 95. Now the Start Menu acts more like the
                                                                         classic Windows Explorer in tree mode, only you're limited to items in
                                                                         your start menu, and you can't stretch the window to see more. The
                                                                         screenshot to the left shows you the default view and an expanded view
                                                                         taking you a layer or two down the programs list.

                   The programs list aside, there are a few other changes to the basic Start Menu UI that doesn't make a whole
                   heck of a lot of sense at first glance. For starters, I challenge you to find the "Run" option, a staple to power
                   users who often need to quickly fire up a command prompt, or an application they have setup to call by
                   name. If you look hard enough, you will find it. Here:

                   All Programs > Accessories > Run

                   So quick and simple to get to, huh? You can actually have it added back to the Start Menu by right clicking
                   on the start button, selecting properties, click on customize, then scroll down and check the box next to Run
                   Command. This will add it right below "Help and Support"

                   But you know the funny thing? You don't actually need it anymore. Turns out the "Run" functionality is
                   built into the new Start Menu, it's just not really labeled anywhere. See that text field at the bottom with the
                   little magnifying glass in it? The one that says "Start Search"? Type in whatever command you'd normally
                   put into the Run window, and the result is the same! It will also do a real-time search across files in your
                   start menu, recent documents, as well as your IE history to find similarly named items.

                   Despite the lack of intuitiveness and the about-face versus how previous versions of Windows handle things,
                   I actually like this. The search bar also reminds me a little bit of Spotlight from Apple. Not quite the same,
                   but has that feel.

                   Now for a Start Menu change I'm less than thrilled about; shutting down. In previous versions of Windows
                   you at most have a Logoff, Shutdown and Switch User button. The shutdown button gives you the option of
                   Standby (Sleep), Shutdown and Restart. Pretty straight-forward. The shutdown button is usually the
                   universal power symbol.

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                  But in Vista, everything changes! Now the
                  shutdown/sleep/restart options are very confusing
                  and don't actually make any sense regardless of
                  what operating system you've used in the past.
                  This is a totally new, and completely horrible way
                  to do it and I know I'm going to spend years
                  explaining to family members how to turn their
                  PCs off once they move to Vista.

                  To the right you'll see the new shutdown UI. You
                  see that power symbol? The one pretty much
                  universally understood to mean "Off/On"? Guess what happens when you press that button. Your PC goes
                  to sleep. That's right, it doesn't shut down, it doesn't restart, it goes to sleep. The Lock is reasonable enough,
                  it locks the screen so you have to enter your user password to continue using the machine. But it's that little
                  side arrow that gets me. To me, a little arrow like that means "More Options" but it also means "Secondary
                  and less important functions". Unfortunately, that's where all of the useful options are hidden. It's in that
                  little secondary menu that you can actually shutdown or restart your PC, not to mention log off so others can
                  use the system. Oh, and you get the Sleep and Lock options AGAIN. To me, it would make the most sense
                  to place the most used functions on the icon buttons and place the less used options in the secondary menu.
                  But that's just me... and did you hear how many people were on the team that designed the new Start Menu?
                  24! It took 24 people to redesign something that didn't need redesigning.

                  Beyond the changes to the way the Programs Menu is browsed, the power options and the new run/search bar
                  functionality, the rest of the differences in the Start Menu are just different ways to paint the new system. It's
                  all Aero-ified and such. The rest of your standard options are there and pretty easy to spot.

       The Sidebar

                                             The crazy part here is that Microsoft is suddenly getting on-board with the whole "Gadget"
                                             thing, and like when Apple entered the arena, doing a fairly half-assed job of it.
                                             Regardless of technical implementation, this is going to be the first exposure to gadgets
                                             that most users will ever have. How well does MS do it though?

                                             Well, despite any issues developers have with it from a technical standpoint, it does
                                             LOOK nice if you have the screen real estate to use. On a 17" LCD running at
                                             1280x1024, it actually doesn't take up a whole lot of space, and if I'm not running apps in
                                             full-window mode, it looks like it can provide me with some valuable information without
                                             getting in the way. My current sidebar has a clock, a rotating picture viewer, an RSS news
                                             reader (all placed by default), a weather gadget, and a calendar. Nothing really out of the
                                             ordinary, and the default ones all look nice and polished.

                                             For most of us though, we've seen this before with Konfabulator, DesktopX and
                                             Dashboard. By comparison, the gadgets that Microsoft is supporting are pretty basic, no-
                                             frills data readers. You won't be seeing anything complex like many DesktopX gadgets
                                             you get here at WinCustomize. (We are working on making gadgets that work with the
                                             sidebar, so never fear, feature-rich gadgets are coming!)

                                     So they look nice, and some basic ones are packaged by default. The one thing MS does
                                     here is in how easy it is to add them, move them around, detach from the sidebar and place
                                     on the desktop. It's smooth and "feels" good. The emphasis here is to make it a friendly
                  experience for end-users, which they accomplished even if they didn't actually make a good gadget engine,
                  and even if the rest of us have been doing this stuff for years.

                  If you want to add gadgets, there is a plus symbol near the top of the sidebar, that will launch a window
                  containing all of the gadgets you have on your system. To place them on the sidebar, just grab and drag.

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                  You'll see the gadget come to life when you drop it. Like I said, very intuitive. You can also place gadgets
                  directly on the desktop, either drag them from the gadgets window, or from your sidebar. Most of the default
                  gadgets have a secondary (larger) display mode when placed on the desktop.

                  Now, if the default gadgets aren't enough for you, you can always take a stroll over to the Microsoft Gadget
                  Gallery to see what users have created and uploaded for your enjoyment. The gallery is a pretty big mess,
                  and the preview icons are washed out so it's not very easy to browse through the gadgets trying to find one
                  you may like. It's a good idea poorly implemented. Unless Microsoft drastically improves their gallery,
                  users will start looking elsewhere for gadget content.

       Aero/Glass & The New Windows Explorer

                  Aero, the shiny new GUI for Vista has received a great deal of public attention and scrutiny, so I'm not going
                  to spend a great deal of time here chatting about it. You've seen it, you know it all by heart. Some claim it's
                  just useless eye candy, others say it's the first sign of visual creativity Microsoft has exhibited in the more
                  than 20 years it has been building and selling operating systems. At the very least it's an attempt by
                  Microsoft to establish a visual brand for Windows that it failed to accomplish with Luna under Windows
                  XP. What is my personal take? I think it's just a GUI that I'll replace soon anyway with a new
                  WindowBlinds skin. It does manage to at least make Vista feel "next generation", which is a big part of their
                  marketing effort.

                  However, one thing worth mentioning about the new Windows user environment in general is the file

                                                                                          The new Windows Explorer is for the most part the
                                                                                          Old Windows Explorer with a nice new coat of paint,
                                                                                          and a few extra options tossed in to sweeten the pot.

                                                                        First off, the way Vista handles the tree view is ever so
                                                                        slightly tweaked. As you dig deeper and deeper into
                                                                        your system, you maintain focus on the currently
                                                                        selected folder. This means as you go down, you also
                                                                        shift further and further to the right. However, the
                                                                        catch here is that there's no sideways scroll bar if you
                                                                        want to scan to the left. You have to expand the
                                                                        column holding the tree view to get a wider look at the
                                                                        folder structure. This "feels" nice, but can be
                                                                        annoying to anyone who spends much time digging
                  around in their systems much. It's an attempt to reduce scrolling ala the panel browse view found in OS X,
                  but it isn't done nearly as well.

                  Next, we have the information panel at the bottom of the screen that gives you the same sort of information
                  you'd expect from "Details" on the side panel in the old explorer. It is presented well and nicely integrates
                  into the window. Overall, information held in the Vista interface is better integrated and has a better feel to it.

                  Across the top of the window, you'll notice items like "Organize", "Views", "Explore" and "Burn" These
                  menus contain a lot of the functionality that you previously had to hunt around for in XP. Organize, for
                  example, contains much of what we're used to seeing in the right-click menu. Create folders, copy, paste,
                  select all, delete, rename, properties etc. The other options are a little more interesting.

                  View gives you a slider that allows you to switch the way the explorer displays items. More or less, you'll
                  find the options you're used to from XP, but there's a slider bar on the left of the menu that lets you see in
                  real-time the differences in view modes. As you move from "Large Icons" to "Extra Large Icons" you'll see
                  the icons scale seamlessly. It's a nice touch that shows off the improved graphics engine behind Vista.

                  Burn is the other persistent menu item. It does just what you think it would do, takes all items selected and

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                  sends them off through the CD burning wizard.

                  Beyond that, the options start to switch up a bit, since this bar is largely context-driven. If you select a
                  folder, you'll see "Explore", "E-mail" and "Share" appear. Explore just opens up the folder, same as double-
                  clicking. E-mail will attempt to attach the item to a new mail message. Share will walk you through the file
                  sharing wizard to open that folder up to network users. I'm not sure how I feel about the context menu, since
                  it makes for an inconsistent bit of navigation. It will likely be very confusing for new users when they try to
                  find features that aren't displaying, only because they selected a file instead of a folder.

                  Explorer got a fair bit of UI love, as is evidenced by the context menus. However I'm not sure it needed to be
                  fixed over what was in XP. It feels like they're trying to make the basic shell of the OS look and act more
                  like an application, which is fine I suppose, but it will be confusing to many.

       The Control Panel

                  The command center of any version of Windows has been the Control
                  Panel. It's here that any misc setting you typically could want is to be
                  found and tweaked. This is one of the few cases where Vista is
                  consistent with previous versions. However, this time around you'll find
                  a lot more crammed into the window.

                  First things first, you have to switch to the Classic View, just like you
                  did in XP to actually see all the options available to you. In Vista
                  Ultimate, you're presented with a whopping 48 different control panels
                  to choose from, and this is ignoring items like Administrative Tools
                  which is really a folder leading to additional tools.

                  At first glance, I spotted several new Control Panels:

                         q   AutoPlay
                             Where you can set exactly how what sorts of
                             CDs and other media autoplay when inserted.
                             Previously you'd have to dig around to find
                             where these settings were. Good addition to
                             the control panel

                         q   Backup and Restore Center
                             A fairly basic and easy to use backup utility.
                             It will allow you to either back up specific
                             files (with some common presets for your My
                             Documents folder) or the entire PC. You can
                             back things up to another drive, a DVD, or
                             even the network.

                         q   BitLocker Drive Encryption
                             Welcome to the world of whole-disk
                             encryption. This is mainly targeted at laptop
                             users in business environments who require
                             every bit of data on their system to be
                             encrypted. It requires specially setup
                             partitions and some TPM tech enabled on your
                             BIOS. This will not be relevant to most
                             people who get Vista. This is the next step up
                             from Windows Encrypting File System.

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                         q   Color Management
                             This feature is beyond me. From what I can tell is it allows you to set your system to display color
                             sets based on the type of content you're trying to display. This is far more important to graphic
                             designers and others who find themselves needing perfect color reproduction.

                         q   Indexing Options
                             You know how the new search built into Windows seems so fast and responsive? It's because
                             Windows is starting to index the content of your drive to make searches go faster. This panel lets
                             you specify what sorts of files to index, lets you manually rebuild the index if you want etc.

                         q   Offline Files
                             Like in Windows XP, offline files are temporary copies of any items you pulled from the Internet or
                             a network drive. Here you set how much space you want to allow them to take up, whether to
                             encrypt them, as well as other management options

                         q   Parental Controls
                             This new feature squarely places Vista on the "worth considering" list of any parent with a household
                             PC. You can set content restrictions, usage time limits, enforce game ratings, and section off certain
                             applications as being unusable. Additionally, parent users can view account activity logs covering
                             websites visited, files downloaded etc.

                         q   Pen and Input Devices
                             Since Vista comes bundled with all the Tablet PC features, this is where you mess with pen behavior

                         q   People Near Me
                             This is an interesting little feature for users on a LAN. It will allow you to spot other Vista users
                             nearby so you can initiate Windows Meeting Space sessions with them. One of the many online
                             collaboration tools MS is working on

                         q   Performance Information
                             This is where the power user will spend a LOT of time while tweaking Vista, or trying to track down
                             problems. This single control panel deserves its own section to describe.

                         q   Personalization
                             This is what used to be "Display Properties" Now, instead of getting a single window with a number
                             of tabs full of settings, you get a window with a number of links that open their own windows. Each
                             tab from XP is essentially a link on this new window. This is the interface you get when you right
                             click on the desktop and look for Properties.... which is now called Personalize. Yes, that's right,
                             another UI inconsistency.

                         q   Programs & Features
                             Gone is Add/Remove Programs. Now it's Programs and Features.

                         q   Speech Recognition Options
                             Turns out Vista has the beginnings of speech recognition built into it. You can train your PC to your
                             voice, and dictate documents provided you talk slowly and enunciate enough. Whether or not this
                             works well remains to be seen. I'll test it some other day and give you a report.

                         q   Sync Center
                             Allows you to setup file synchronization between network locations, portable devices etc.

                         q   Tablet PC Settings
                             Like the Pen input panel, this is more config options for Tablet PC users.

                         q   Windows CardSpace

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                             This is a very strange one, it looks like it's an information service where you create an identity card
                             of sorts for yourself and you use those cards when you need to provide sites with personal
                             information. You can select what cards of yours a site can see. So some sites, like your bank, you
                             may want to let them have a little more info than some Cheese of the Month Club page. This one
                             deserves a separate article later on.

                         q   Windows Sidebar
                             Basic options for the Sidebar. Load on startup? Which side of the screen? Which monitor should it
                             display on?

                         q   Windows SideShow
                             Use your PDA or cell phone as a secondary monitor... sort of. Plug your PDA in and it could just
                             display email, or a news feed, or play a video or something. This will work even while your PC is
                             off provided the device maintains an Internet connection (or so MS says).

                  There are actually several other new icons in this window, but they were present in XP as well, just located in
                  different places.

       Built-In Games

                  It just wouldn't be Windows without some cheesy built-in games packaged along with the OS. Vista in this
                  way doesn't disappoint. Sure you've got the standards like Solitaire, FreeCell, Minesweeper and Spider
                  Solitaire (an addition from XP), but you also have a new 3D Chess game, InkBall and a kids game called
                  Purble Place.

                  Chess Titans
                                                                        It's chess, in 3D. Computer has several difficulty levels. It's a nice
                                                                        addition to the standard windows games, which are often less than
                                                                        mentally challenging. Can also be played against a human in hot-seat
                                                                        mode. Game also tracks various play statistics.


                                                                        Basic concept: Two (or more) colored balls, with corresponding colored
                                                                        holes on a grid with blocks placed to act as obstacles as the balls bounce
                                                                        around. Your cursor is a "Pen" and you draw links (ink) on the board.
                                                                        These act as temporary walls which the balls bounce off of. You draw
                                                                        them at various angles to attempt to guide the right colored ball into the
                                                                        proper hole. Points awarded for speed.

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                  Purble Place

                  A kids game made up of three basic matching sorts of games. Very
                  cartoony, should keep young tykes amused for at least a little while.

       Updated Bundled Applications

                  On top of the expected bundling of Internet Explorer 7, Vista comes with a number of other utility
                  applications that seems to aim at competing with Mac OS X with its suite of pretty useful, default
                  applications such as iDVD, Mail.app and iCal. Microsoft answers point-for-point with its rival applications:

                        q   Windows Mail
                            This is just Outlook Express all Vista-ified. Mail comes with some much needed improvements such
                            as junk filters, better search and integration of newsgroups and other community sites. I can't help but
                            think of Mail.app though when I look at the program, just because it seems Microsoft actually tried to
                            mimic the UI element layout. It's a solid free mail application that will do the trick for most users

                        q   Windows Calendar
                            It's iCal... but for Windows. It basically feels like the calendar element of Microsoft Outlook was
                            stripped and made into its own application. It has some loose integration with Windows Mail, but it
                            feels klunky and half-baked. If you need a calendaring tool that integrates with your email, just go
                            out and get Outlook.

                        q   Windows Contacts
                            Umm... Address Book? It is starting to seem to me that Microsoft just took Outlook and broke apart
                            each major feature area and spun it as its own application to make themselves look competitive to the
                            Apple application offerings.

                        q   Windows DVD Maker
                            Do you have a bunch of photographs or home videos on your PC that you would love to hand to
                            friends and relatives to play on their TVs at home? Then Windows DVD Maker may be the tool for
                            you. It is a pretty straight-forward tool that most people should be able to figure out. Seems to be just
                            about as feature-rich as iMovie is for the Mac. Not a very powerful app though, but what can you
                            expect for free?

                        q   Windows Meeting Space
                            This is one of the new collaboration tools Microsoft is trying to
                            deploy, working to take market share from companies like
                            WebEx who do online shared desktop tools. Meeting Space is
                            more designed around users on a local network as opposed to
                            over the Internet, so in reality this is more like the successor to
                            the ancient and feeble Net Meeting application. You can share
                            individual applications, your entire desktop, distribute virtual
                            handouts, and invite individuals near you to the meeting. This is
                            perhaps the most polished and potentially useful (in a business
                            environment at least) tool that comes bundled in Vista.

                        q   Windows Movie Maker
                            Ok, this one isn't new, but it has been updated and it looks like it's considerably easier now for home
                            users to make basic video compilations from their favorite media clips. Basic effects, transitions,
                            titles and credits features are available to spice things up.

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                   There are a few other bundled apps such as Photo Gallery and Defender, but nothing exceptionally special to
                   write home about. It's been covered before.

5. Tools for the Power User

        Perhaps what is most overlooked when people talk about Vista are the tools it provides the power user looking to get that
        last ounce of performance out of their system, or to the sysadmin with OCD who simply must know where every bit of his
        system resources are going. Vista comes packed with some of the best information tools I've seen on a system without
        having to fork over a lot of cash. The generally outstanding quality of the tools though makes it extremely difficult to
        understand why Microsoft crippled one of the most used system tools... the Disk Defragmenter.

        In Windows 2000 and XP, the Defragmenter was a wonderful utility. It was informative, useful and very effective. It
        would give you a little chart showing you how badly your drive was fragmented and a very detailed report of the analysis
        so you had some idea of whether or not you really needed to defragment. What do you have in Windows Vista?

        That's right... you get NOTHING. There is no information period available through this tool. No chart, no report, just
        something where you can press a button and you're then treated to a "This may take from a few minutes to a few hours"
        message while it churns away. No indication of progress. You just sit and wait... and wait and wait some more. Normally
        your system will attempt to do this automatically based on a schedule. Good for maintaining system health, bad if you're
        trying to track down a problem.

        There is an advanced defrag tool available via the admin command prompt, but it's text only. You can get your analysis
        information from this tool however, so I get the feeling I'll rely more heavily on this method.

        That brings me to my second annoyance about the power user aspects of Vista. If you want to run anything from the
        command line that is even remotely administratively related, you have to do it from the Administrative Command Prompt.
        Do you know how to do that? No? Well I had to dig in the help files to find out. To access the Admin Command Prompt,
        you have to type "command prompt" into the search bar on the Start Menu, and when it shows in the search box, right click
        on it and select "Run As Administrator". This combined with the UAC system enabled by default will frustrate power
        users to no end (UAC is disabled through the User control panel, not the Security Center). This is one place where I wish
        Microsoft had borrowed more heavily from Apple and would let users enter administrative mode from any command
        prompt window.

        But annoyances aside, there is a LOT of great stuff hidden under the covers that I wish Microsoft had pushed more. These

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       are features I never would have found had Brad and GreenReaper not shown them to me.

       So travel along with me, as we explore (at a high level) the Performance Information & Tools built into Windows Vista.

       First off, you see the now well-known Vista "Score". Little explanation is given as to why you achieved a certain score,
       but there it is. I'm not even sure even what the scale is. So a 3.6 doesn't tell me a whole lot unless applications start
       coming out with stickers saying "Runs best on Windows Vista machines with a score of 3 or higher" But it's still nice
       having a little bit of benchmarking built-in, and you can compare numbers with your friends for bragging rights.

       The meat of the Performance & Information Tools panel is on the left where you'll see
       a number of "Tasks"

              q   Manage startup programs
                  Remember msconfig from 9x/2k/XP? Windows Defender has taken on a bit of
                  that role. This is where you'll turn on and off programs and scripts that kick
                  off when Windows starts up. This is the first place to look if booting up your
                  box takes too long. The msconfig tool still exists for people looking for greater

              q   Adjust visual effects
                  This is mislabeled really, since only the first tab is about the visual effects.
                  The Visual Effects tab lets you enable and disable a bunch of little visual bits
                  such as drop shadows, animations, the glass effect etc. This window also
                  offers the Advanced and Data Execution Prevention tabs. Advanced is where you determine general processor
                  prioritization and virtual memory. The Data Execution Prevention tab is where you can enable/disable/modify DEP
                  settings, which supposedly protects you from viruses that try and execute code from sections of memory normally
                  reserved for Windows or other common applications.

              q   Adjust indexing options
                  Opens the Indexing Options control panel. Nothing new to see here.

              q   Adjust power settings
                  Opens the power settings control panel where you set power behaviors. Pretty standard from XP. Nothing new.

              q   Open Disk Cleanup
                  Opens the Disk Cleanup utility... This utility looks the same as it did in XP

              q   Advanced Tools
                  This is where things start to get interesting. These are the tools that really let you dive in and see what's going on
                  with your PC at a level you might not have considered before. Some of these tools are redundant from the main
                  Control Panel view, or even the screen directly prior to this. Tools we've already discussed are:

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                        r   Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows
                            This is just "Adjust visual effects

                        r   Open Disk Defragmenter

                        r   Generate a system health report
                            Uses some of the data collectors mentioned below in the Reliability & Performance Monitor to give you a
                            very detailed report of how your PC is doing.

       Lets take a look at a few of the more interesting advanced tools for monitoring and improving system performance.

       The New Event Viewer

                  Most power users remember the
                  Event Viewer from Win9x/2k/XP
                  and how it really didn't give you
                  much information at all, and what it
                  did give you wasn't always useful.
                  In Vista, the Event Viewer has been
                  pumped up with some serious
                  steroids! Now you don't just have
                  your standard list of Application,
                  Security System and Internet
                  Explorer. Now, you have at the top

                        q   Custom Views
                            Build your own event filter

                        q   Windows Logs
                            The event logs we all know
                            and love

                        q   Application and Services Logs
                            Event logs for dozens of individual components of Windows Vista. You can dig as far down as being
                            able to see events related to the system's Reliability Analysis Engine. Kernel events are here,
                            diagnostic events, logon service, remote desktop, UAC, you name it and it's probably recorded here.

                  As you can see by the screenshot above, we've moved into the realm of serious data gathering. The left
                  column holds all the potential event log filters you may be interested in. The center has the event list and
                  then the event details below. The details tab on the lower half of the center panel can give you a more
                  detailed break-down, either in a "friendly mode" or in straight XML, the format all of this information is
                  stored in normally.

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                  Having the data stored in XML will likely make it much easier for developers to extract and analyze event
                  log data in their own applications.

                  Beyond that you have the column on the right. This is a context-sensitive menu of options depending on
                  what current log you're looking at. Generally it will let you do the following:

                        q   Open Saved Logs
                        q   Create Custom Views
                        q   Import Custom Views
                        q   Add filters to your current log
                        q   Find events in the current log
                        q   Save events in the custom view

                  It will also let you inspect events and view properties, and even attach automated system actions to certain
                  events. Basic tasks are limited to sending an email, launching an application or displaying a message on
                  screen. This can be helpful if you're trying to track down what specific task may be kicking off an error. The
                  task created gets added to the Task Scheduler tool if you want to ever go back and edit it.

                  All-in-all, the new Event Viewer is a GREAT tool for troubleshooting and finally does a good job of giving
                  you access to the information you need.

       Reliability and Performance Monitor

                                                                                           This is the real meat-and-potatoes of
                                                                                           the advanced system tools in
                                                                                           Windows Vista. This tool gives you
                                                                                           diagnostic information on your CPU,
                                                                                           Disk, Network and Memory
                                                                                           hardware. It will track what
                                                                                           processes are currently causing a
                                                                                           read/write to your hard drive, what
                                                                                           applications are reaching out to the
                                                                                           network and what they're trying to
                                                                                           do, as well as a detailed break-down
                                                                                           of memory and CPU usage far above
                                                                                           and beyond what you've seen in the
                                                                                           Task Manager under 2k/XP.

                                                                                         The main view shows you four
                                                                                         graphs and four sub-sections on the
                                                                                         right main section of the screen.
                  Each graph and each sub-section correspond to one of your four main system resources: CPU, Disk, Network
                  and Memory. The subsections expand by clicking on them to give you an even more detailed break-down of
                  what's happening on the chart above. This is where you'll see which processes are touching your disk, or
                  using your network connection. The graphs will automatically scale to adapt to your usage levels. When I
                  took the above screenshot, I wasn't doing anything network intensive.

                  Digging in deeper, there is the Performance Monitor which will continually graph your overall system
                  performance. By default it does a line chart of your CPU usage. You can easily add additional "Counters"
                  for the monitor to track. I added Disk Write and Disk Read times to mine. Now I can see how well my disk
                  is doing overall. You can track just about any parameter of system performance in this view. Very helpful in
                  seeing if your system being slow is just your imagination, and if it's not, where the slowdown may be

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                                                                                            After the Performance Monitor is the Reliability
                                                                                            Monitor. This will give you a high-level view of a
                                                                                            few key metrics that may impact your overall system
                                                                                            stability. It tracks Software Install/Uninstalls,
                                                                                            Application Failures, Hardware Failures, Windows
                                                                                            Failures and Misc Failures. It will pull the relevant
                                                                                            system event data and make it readily available. With
                                                                                            this information you can track down when your
                                                                                            system first started having stability issues, and maybe
                                                                                            even track down what is causing it.

                                                                           Of particular interest to me in this view is the space for
                                                                           hardware failures. Will Windows Vista be able to
                                                                           detect and properly log major and minor hardware
                   failures? If so, this will be a huge help to people who find themselves trying to track down bad RAM, or
                   maybe a video card that's about to eat itself.

                   The rest of the tool is dedicated to all sorts of customizable "Data Collector Sets" where you can have the
                   system track any number of system characteristics. The amount of detail that can be trapped in these
                   collectors and thus presented in the reports, is staggering. It will tell you more about your hardware than you
                   were likely to ever want to know, you'll be able to trace exactly what is happening on your system at any
                   given time. Have an application consistently erroring out? Fire up a data collector, then open the bad app,
                   once it crashes out, stop the collector and take a look at the report. You'll get a very detailed look at the state
                   of your system when the crash occurs.

                   The long and short of the performance tool is that power users, technicians, and even developers will have a
                   lot more power and information at their fingertips when tracking down problems and trying to fix them. Just
                   knowing what processes are causing your hard drive to grind away will likely make many people very
                   happy. Gamers looking to eke out that last frame of performance from their games will want to pay VERY
                   close attention to the information this tool gives them.

        There are many other little bits and pieces embedded in Windows Vista that will appeal to the power user, tools such as the
        "Snipping Tool" for grabbing screenshots of only certain portions of the screen. To find and talk about all of the little bits
        and pieces though hidden away in Vista though would result in a much longer article than this already is. For the time
        being, be content with the immense power provided in the Reliability & Performance Monitor alone.

6. Conclusion & General Thoughts

        This article series was not a "Is Vista Worth It?" sort of sales pitch. When I started writing this article series, I intended to
        just write a "Day with Vista" sort of thing, a stream-of-consciousness narration of what it's like to use Vista over the course
        of one work day. Nothing really pro or con, just the thoughts on average use. It quickly morphed into a more detailed
        examination of what is in Vista and what it might mean for power users looking to get the most out of their purchase. So it
        turned into a walkthrough of the OS for those who haven't used it yet, a glance at some of the bits and pieces of Windows
        Vista they might not have heard about.

        As I stated at the beginning, this wasn't an in-depth look at Vista, but more of a skimming of the top layers, looking at some
        of the more obvious improvements. Others have spoken at length about the technical underpinnings and very specific
        features. Considering how long just this high-level article series ended up running, if I had dug deeper and broken out into
        more detail, you would have been reading the beginnings of a book rather than just a collection of tech articles.

        So after a week solid writing (and a few weeks editing), digging around Vista, learning about the various nooks and
        crannies hidden away, how do I personally feel about Vista? It's a step in the right direction. The operating system is
        finally reaching a level of detail and sophistication that seems to match up with general level of technology we're seeing
        rapidly develop around us. In Windows 98, 2000 and even XP, Windows was just a shell within which the user placed

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       interesting items. Now, with Vista, many of those interesting bits are built into the OS. The diagnostic tools alone are
       miles above and beyond what we've seen in previous versions of Windows, or even Mac OS X. The addition of Live
       components gives me the sense that not only will my OS be a framework for other applications to connect into, but that it
       will also become a channel of its own for services and content distribution. For the first time it's starting to feel like
       Windows is an actual platform.

       All of that said, if you're an XP user, you have little to gain immediately from upgrading to Vista. The new features are
       great and everything, but there's nothing that screams "must have" just yet. Add to that the generally buggy and incomplete
       state of device drivers at the moment and spotty application compatibility as developers race to certify their software on
       Vista, there just isn't much advantage (and honestly, a few disadvantages currently) for most users. And, with the
       rearranged interface and resorting of where tools are placed, troubleshooting those bugs could be extremely frustrating.

       If you're a gamer, stay away from Vista until NVIDIA and AMD/ATI get their drivers sorted out. If a game even runs
       under Vista, chances are you'll see decreased performance compared to the same system running the same game under XP.
       At the moment, NVIDIA's drivers are in particularly poor shape. Driver support on video cards and the fact that no games
       are using DirectX 10 yet make Vista a poor choice at the moment for gamers.


              q   Stability. My experience with the RTM build is that it's just as stable as XP is. This is a nice contrast to using
                  Windows several years ago where a restart at least once a week was required. I rarely restart my PC anymore and
                  see crashes even less frequently
              q   Search Bar in the Start Menu. Despite my gripes about the overly complicated new Start Menu, the search bar
                  acting as a hybrid search/run command has grown on me significantly. It's one of those things that seems dumb at
                  first, but quickly becomes essential to your day-to-day use
              q   Improved Diagnostic Tools. I can now see why my hard disk is thrashing, and the event logs give me something
                  that's actually useful. There's a lot of power hidden underneath the hood here.
              q   Integration of Live services. This mostly depends on how Microsoft handles this new distribution channel, but I
                  think if they do what they did with XBox Live, they'll have a huge success on their hands that provides a good
                  service to customers.


              q   New Start Menu. Outside the new search bar functionality, I don't like the Start Menu redesign at all. I especially
                  don't like the confusing way they handled shutdown/restart options. I anticipate many frantic phone calls from my
                  parents in the future asking me how they turn their PC off. I'm also not too keen on the new way you navigate the
                  programs list in the start menu. I liked the ever-expanding tree of menus to the right. Sure it looked ugly, but it was
                  very functional.
              q   New Disk Defragmenter. This is just utter crap. It took a useful tool and dumbed it down to the point where it
                  gives me nothing useful. I used to be able to use the defrag tool to give me an idea of where potential performance
                  problems were coming from. Not anymore. Now I just have to press a button and let magic happen in the
                  background, hoping that it fixes what's wrong.
              q   UAC. I turned it off shortly into writing this series. I'm sorry, but I don't want to have to answer a dozen
                  confirmation messages to do simple system tasks. UAC could have been useful. It could have worked like the
                  MacOS method where you authenticate once as the administrative user on the first system-critical task you were
                  trying to perform, and for a certain amount of time, you remain authenticated and aren't prompted again. The way
                  UAC is right now, less confident users will be too terrified to delete even a shortcut from their desktop after all the
                  WARNINGS OF DOOM the OS tosses at them.
              q   Driver Support. It's still in poor shape, especially for gamers. This is partially the fault of both Microsoft and
                  hardware vendors. Microsoft failed to provide a stable OS to code against until very late in the game, and evidently
                  hardware manufacturers waited until the very last second even then to start putting serious effort into development.

       Final Verdict:

                  Overall, it's a solid entry into the Windows family, it fixes issues seen in previous versions, it's stable, and
                  offers a lot of promise. It's just that at this moment, much of that promise is yet to be fulfilled. Unless you're

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                  getting a copy with a new PC early this year, I'd wait to consider Vista for as a primary OS until at least the
                  middle of 2007, by then drivers, applications and such should be sorted out.

                  On issues of price and value, I can't really say. I personally wouldn't shell out $400 for a copy of Ultimate no
                  matter how fantastic the OS turned out being. So until I purchase a new computer at the end of the year, I
                  won't be running Vista at home. Not necessarily because of technical issues, but because I can't afford it.
                  Personally, because I do find myself working from home, and I do use my PC as a multimedia hub, I need
                  the functionality of both Business and Home Premium (i.e. Ultimate).

                  Pick up Vista when you buy a new machine starting around 3rd Quarter 2007.

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