What’s it like using the upcoming Windows Vista operating system? Im seeing more and more questions like this one appear in many of the Microsoft newsgroups. Im also answering similar questions from colleagues at work and from friends and family about the test versions of Microsoft Windows Vista (formerly referred to as Longhorn) that Ive been using.
The Windows Vista end-user experience is mostly about being able to visualize, organize, and manage views within a rich and consistent graphical interface. The Windows Vista graphical user interface is, at its best, three-dimensional and includes animations, transitions, and fades. While not all computers will be able to take advantage of each one of the new graphical visualization capabilities, new search and organizational features will be available to everyone.
The Windows Vista end-user experience also ensures that those programs, dialog boxes, and menus can work in a consistent and easy-to-understand manner. Microsoft describes the Windows Vista user interface as clear and confident. Confident is described as enabling a new level of confidence in your computer. Clear is described as clear ways to easily organize, see, and use your information.
This column is based on build 5270, which is an interim build as Microsoft works toward releasing milestone build Beta 2. Whereas Beta 2 and other subsequent releases—including the final version—may change and include additional features, build 5270 looks and feels very different from Microsoft Windows XP. This column highlights my experience with the Clear interface and with some of the new features of Windows Vista, including:
Experience the new Windows Vista desktop
Rich graphics, animations, and transitional effects are available in build 5270 with many ATI and Nvidia video cards. These new transparent and three-dimensional visualizations require a graphics card that supports a new graphic driver model called the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). These effects are part of the Windows Vista Aero desktop experience and include glass effects, advanced window management features, and a more stable experience through desktop composition. This rich graphical functionality is built on the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) graphics subsystem, formerly called Avalon. Aero is what give the Windows Vista Desktop its exciting new look and feel. You can read more about the desktops technical details on Microsoft TechNet.
If you arent lucky enough to have a WDDM-capable video card, your experience with Windows Vista will be at least as good, if not better than, your experience with Windows XP. While the Windows Vista Basic desktop experience provides users with an improved experience, Aero builds on the Basic experience and provides users with a premium, more stable, and more visually stunning desktop experience. Tip: You can toggle between Windows Vista Aero and Windows Vista Basic experiences if you have a supported card by using CTRL + Shift + F9.
The Windows Vista desktop experience is customizable. Right-click on the desktop and select Personalize Computer from the shortcut menu, and then select Color Scheme. You can also select Start, Control Panel, Appearance and Personalization, then Customize Colors. The Change your color scheme window display is shown in the image below.
Multiple controls allow complete customization and personalization of the Vista desktop experience.
The default Aero color scheme (clear glass) is active by default if you have a supported video card. Aero allows you to see other items behind your window through a slightly blurred glass effect. If you dont want your desktop to use the default transparent glass, you can tint your glass by selecting from the included Frost, Smoke, Seafoam, Heritage, Sky, Heart, and Candy color schemes. Theres even an advanced color control setting that allows you to disable transparent glass, specify the intensity, and even custom-mix colors and specify color saturation so that you can really get the look you want.
Note: Ive been using the x64 version of Windows Vista build 5270 on an Acer Ferrari 4000 laptop powered by an AMD Turion 64-bit processor. The Windows Vista end-user experience on this laptop is awesome. This notebook computer has a wide screen and includes an ATI Mobility X700 video chip. After installing this build on my laptop, full Aero UI was automatically enabled as the ATI WDDM driver installed. The screen shots in this column were taken on the Ferrari 4000, saved in the version of Windows Paint that is included in 5270, and cropped, resized, and edited in Adobe Photoshop CS2, which I installed on the Ferrari 4000.
WDDM supports Aeros glass effects and animations, in addition to new ways of managing countless open windows such as a new Task Manager view codenamed Windows Flip 3D. You can launch Flip 3D by pressing the windows and tab key. The image below illustrates Glass transparency (you can see the desktop behind the title bar of running applications) and the Flip 3D view of currently running applications. (Note that in current builds, Flip 3D displays open programs only and not those minimized to the task tray.) Here is how the new Windows Flip 3D function is accessed and used:
Note the transparency of the title bar in this screen shot of Windows Flip 3D.
Tip: Keyboard users can press Tab-Windows Key to invoke the new Windows Flip 3D view.
(Note: Windows Flip, invoked by pressing the Alt + Tab keys, lets you flip through your windows using a more classic view)
I can easily have eight or more programs and documents of various types open on my desktop. Even when I dont have a lot of programs open on the desktop, a large image can block the view of a program underneath and I cant tell from viewing the taskbar what I have open. A new Windows Vista feature shows thumbnails of open windows as my mouse hovers over an individual item on the taskbar. In the image below, while I cant see Internet Explorer on the main desktop as it is hidden by other windows, I can find it and then click on it, and make it the active window using the new hover thumbnail feature.
As I move my mouse and hover over an icon on the taskbar, Vista displays a thumbnail of that window.
Find your programs on the Start menu
I’m sure that most people install programs using the default choices (some install programs don’t offer any options at all). On my computers running Microsoft Windows XP Professional and Media Center Edition, there is a labyrinth of nested program groups. I think the steps to run Remote Desktop in Windows XP, if it isn’t pinned to the Start menu, are excessive. In Windows XP, I have to drill down by selecting Start, All Programs, Accessories, Communications, and Remote Desktop Connection. In Windows Vista, all of that has changed. I don’t even have to know the full name of the program I want to run; I can type one to three letters and the search engine will display content that begins with those letters or includes those letters within the body of the name (as shown in the image below).
As I type the letters "rem" to search for Remote Desktop Connection, Windows Vista starts displaying content with partial matches.
The results are displayed instantly. The default setting is Search Computer. If I need to find content on the Internet, I can click Search Internet and a browser window will launch with the results of an Internet search displayed. Unlike Windows XP, where users hitting the start/programs button must wait 2-3 seconds for the first cascading menu to appear, Windows Vista uses a modified "expanding folders" view to display all the programs installed on your PC. You won’t have three to six (or more) cascading, nested menus to select from.
Sort your documents and files
Windows Vista is not just a pretty face drawn on top of old functionality. The end-user experience includes easy and powerful ways to view what’s on your computer and on other computers on your home network.
In Windows Vista, you’ll be able to sort and group your files by various criteria, including date, author, type, and keywords. Keywords will use metadata that is included in files stored on your computer. You’ll be able to add keywords to your data files, including your image files that Windows Vista will index. You’ll even be able to create Stacks using a new feature that lets you stack by date, author, and type as a three-dimensional view of the content presented.
Use Advanced Windows Shell functions
In previous versions of Windows, advanced functionality in the Windows shell was available through registry edits or unsupported "power toys." You can easily change the default location of where documents are saved from within Windows Vista. For example, you can now change the location of Documents. The new Locations tab on the properties page for Documents allows you to move the location. You can, optionally, rename the new target folder to Documents and move the existing contents of the default Documents folder. The default Pictures and Music folders can also be moved in the same manner.
The steps to move the default location of these system files are as follows
Another "power toy" function that has been included in the Windows shell functionality is "Open Command Prompt Here." To invoke a command prompt while using Windows Explorer:
The image below shows the Shortcut menu with Open Command Window Here. This option only is displayed when I right-click and press the Shift key.
Shortcut menu with Open Command Window Here is displayed when I right-click on a folder and press the Shift key.
Enjoy rich new Live Icon views of files and folders
Windows Vista lets me graphically view the content saved to my computer (and on all the computers on my home network) in ways that enable me to better visualize what is inside a folder or file. In the image below (which is cropped and not a full window view), the contents of three files are displayed graphically.
A 3D view of files inside folders enables me to easily identify and visualize the contents inside the folders.
As I drill down inside an individual folder, a flat but graphical view of the contents is displayed as shown in the image below.
The rich tile view of the contents of a folder allows me to instantly recognize what is contained in a group of files.
Tip: In the image above, a tile displays a thumbnail preview of Microsoft Word 2003 documents. Word does not save previews by default. To save a preview image in a Word document:
The default view in Windows Explorer, like that of Windows XP, is graphical. Changing the default view in Windows Vista is done by moving a slider bar that ranges from a large Live Icon tile view to a list view.
While I like the improved graphics in the tile views that are driven by available metadata, I sometimes want to view details and range select files from a list to move or copy while viewing complete file details. By default, Windows Vista does not display classic navigation menus in Windows Explorer. The default Windows Explorer view is shown in the first of the two images below. You can turn the Classic menu on or off using the Explorer Layout drop-down in the menu bar. Currently, this is a three-pane graphical button with no text that can be found to the left of Views on the menu bar. Tip: To turn on Classic menus without making them permanent, press the ALT key. The second image below shows Classic menus displayed in Windows Explorer.
Default Windows Explorer View.
Classic Menus displayed in Explorer View.
Enjoy an better Web browsing experience
A new and safer Internet browsing experience using Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) is included in Windows Vista. There are several new features that greatly enhance the visual browsing experience, including tabbed browsing with Quick Tabs and Tab Groups. Tab Groups enabled me to have multiple "home pages" so that the browser would open multiple Web sites every time I started Internet Explorer or On Demand. With my Comcast High Speed Internet broadband connection, opening multiple home pages just takes a few seconds and I can see the progress as each of the pages loads. I think that Quick Tabs will change the way you browse the Internet.
I’m now able to save the group of sites I visit most often as a multiple home page configuration using Quick Tabs.
Another one of my favorite new features in Internet Explorer 7 is the ability to print exactly what I want on a single page. I can use a new "shrink to fit" mode or even select only the text I want to print.
Additional Internet Explorer 7 features include anti-phishing technology, an on-demand special protected mode to guard against rogue Web sites, stronger parental controls, and an ActiveX opt-in for stronger security. RSS feeds (which are currently termed Feeds in current builds) are easily accessible in IE7. When the RSS button turns orange, click it to expose available feeds. You can subscribe to an RSS feed and enable IE7 to download new content automatically. Redesigned Favorites and History interfaces, along with the new RSS subscriptions functionality, are included in the new Favorites Center. Click the star icon in IE7 to access the Favorites Center.
Preview more features of the Vista User Experience
There are more great new features to come in future builds of Windows Vista. I’ll be writing about them here in the months ahead. These include:
Discuss Windows Vista with other Windows users
Have questions on Microsoft Windows Vista or questions on this column? Until the CPP version of Windows Vista is available, you can discuss the features of Windows Vista in the Windows Longhorn General Newsgroup. See you in the newsgroups!
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