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Technology: Vista Wide Open

3 minute read
Wilson Rothman

The long wait for Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows Vista, is almost over. Dramatically redesigned, the new OS features tighter security, slicker visuals and friendlier–one might be tempted to say Mac-like–applications for managing photos, movies and music. Microsoft gave TIME a chance to play with Vista before its January launch. Here’s what’s new and why upgrading from XP is smart.

DYNAMIC FEEL

Microsoft designed Vista with high-resolution graphics and lots of animations, conveying a dynamic, in-motion feel. Every window has a translucent border. Alongside the main screen runs the Sidebar, a panel of little helper applications called gadgets, among them a news reader, a calculator and a currency converter. A key visual highlight is the window flipper: with a click, your open windows form a single-file line and parade past for your review.

TOUGH ON VIRUSES

Vista is safer. The Network and Sharing Center allows you to view other computers on your home network, including maybe your neighbor’s laptop that has been piggybacking on your wi-fi router. Backing up files to a DVD or an external hard drive is easier. PC-industry analyst Rob Enderle says a “big chunk of viruses” won’t work on the new OS. Unlike Windows XP, Vista almost always asks the user for permission to install new software, so it catches many more sinister programs before they strike. Says Enderle: “Vista is much more like the Mac OS, Linux and Unix in the way that it behaves and the way that it is secured.”

FOOLPROOF PHOTOS

Taking a page from the book of (Steve) Jobs, Microsoft has integrated programs for managing photos and making movies. The Windows Photo Gallery lets you add homemade tags (“Cats,” “Billy’s 21st”) to images for quicker searches and will automatically resize collections of pictures and attach them to e-mails. Photo and movie applications are integrated so you can take foolproof steps to turn a set of photos into a movie, then burn it onto a DVD.

FASTER ACTION

Gamers, rejoice! Vista lets you automatically locate an Xbox 360 on your home network, sending movies, photos and music to the console. (Vista is not compatible with the original Xbox, however.) You’ll find all your favorite games collected together in an easy-access folder, and parents can set controls on the Games folder. Vista systems are even compatible with Xbox 360 controllers and accessories. Soon Xbox 360 and Vista PC gamers will be able to face off over the Internet.

CAUTION: UPGRADES AHEAD

Depending on the version, upgrading to Vista will cost from $100 to $260. Most year-old computers will run some form of the OS, although the cool graphics effects generally require separate graphics cards. New computers that are “Windows Vista capable” may not offer the full menu. Check windowsvista.com/getready for complete hardware requirements.

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