Taking Vista for a Test Drive

With the recent release of Windows Vista Beta 2, Microsoft’s successor to Windows XP, we are one step closer to the official debut of Windows Vista.

Since this is the first general public release of Windows Vista I expect many of you will begin looking at its depth and functionality.


Microsoft released the hardware requirements in two categories: Windows Vista Capable and Windows Vista Premium Ready PC. All new computers will be designated with one of the above. Let’s quickly wade through the hardware requirements then get to the operating system (OS).

A Windows Vista capable PC computer requires a modern processor of at least 800 MHZ, a minimum of 512 MB of system memory and a graphics processor that is DirectX capable. Most computers that are a couple of years old will fit under this designation.

A Windows Vista Premium PC gives you all the bells and whistles. It is like buying the “fully-loaded” package on a car. Just because you do not buy the leather package doesn’t mean the car will not perform. It is the same case when running Windows Vista. I myself prefer the “fully-loaded” Vista package, but who wouldn’t?

The requirement for fully-loaded is a 32 bit or 64 bit processor. If you are buying a new computer, do yourself a favor and purchase the 64 bit processor. It is still compatible with your 32 bit software and this decision prepares your computer for growth.

You will also need at least 1 GB of system memory and a graphics processor capable of running Windows Aero, the marketing name for the new look and feel of the operating system. Almost all of the 3D video cards on the shelves today will support Aero.

Additionally, you need 128 MB of graphics memory, a DVD-ROM, a 40 GB hard drive, audio output and Internet access. Don’t panic with these specs; I have a computer that is over a year old and vastly exceeds these requirements.


Now that we have gone over the hardware requirements, let’s take a look at the OS.

When you first boot into the OS, a “Welcome Center” appears to help you quickly configure your new Vista OS with tasks such as configuring your Internet connection, adding a printer, adding new users, and configuring devices.

Another notable difference you will see on your desktop is the Windows Sidebar and the gadgets located there. (Microsoft calls them gadgets but the industry name for gadgets is widgets.) These gadgets are very handy and you can add and delete them as you see fit. Examples include RSS feeds, pictures, clock, etc.

Another vast improvement is the Start menu. You can now view programs in a tree-like structure or simply type the program you are looking for in the search field. Vista searches file names and metadata and finds the applicable program.

For example, if I want to run Microsoft Word, I can type word in the search field and then simply click the word executable. You no longer have to hunt and peck for programs in the Start menu. We all know how tedious that gets when you have 25-50 programs loaded.

Windows Explorer now has a toolbar that allows you to perform the following: instant search, navigation, command bar, live icons, preview pane, reading pane, and enhanced address bar. The new navigation in Windows Explorer is a feature I applaud.

Microsoft has bundled some new applications within the operating system as well. Windows DVD Maker, Windows Mail, Windows Calendar, and Windows Sidebar are a few of the new applications that come with your out-of-box Windows Vista.

You will also notice an improvement in networking and security as both have been rewritten for Vista. Microsoft takes security to the next level with user account protection (UAP) and bitlocker drive encryption.

UAP doesn’t allow a standard user to perform any administrative task without supplying credentials to do so. As an administrator, UAP prompts you prior to making any admin-level changes as well. Bitlocker drive encrypts your entire computer so that, in the event your computer is stolen, it is rendered useless.

Other security features include Windows Firewall and Windows Defender. Windows Firewall now includes an outbound and inbound protection, which is a welcomed feature to many Windows users. Windows Defender is an integrated anti-spyware solution to keep spyware off of your system.

The out-of-box experience Windows Vista comes with numerous enhancements. I have highlighted some of the main areas that I felt you would need to know. We are now at the point where you can take Windows Vista for test run and see first hand the improvements Microsoft has made.

In my next article on Windows Vista, we are going to take a look at how the release of Windows Vista will affect anti-spyware, virus, and firewall companies when Vista ships.

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, DatabaseJournal.com and, now, CIO Update. He is the author of “The VMware Workstation 5.0 Handbook” and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.