Here comes Windows 8

Windows 8 launches this week.  In a world where all of the consumer attention on shiny new things focuses on the newest smartphone or tablet, Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95. When Windows 95 was released in 1995 it represented the biggest change in computing to that point.  While Windows 3.x was a user interface that worked, it was still a compliment to MS-DOS and for many users, significant time was still spent in DOS, which was a high barrier entry for most.  Windows 95 changed that.  It was the first PC operating system to bury DOS, though technically it still ran on top of DOS like Windows 3.x did.  And it represented a complete change in user interface.  Windows 95 introduced the Start Menu and task bar, and was the first PC operating system that truly felt like a multi-tasking, multiple window graphical interface.  It was the first time where users were truly able to have multiple things running on their computer at the same time, and manage/see them all.  And remember, Windows 95 even came out before the internet was even known to most people.  The first shipping version of Windows 95 did not include Internet Explorer or even include the ability to connect to the internet!

But even still, Windows 95 represented the foundation for PC computing for the next 17 years.  Even Windows 7 at its core is still very much based on the UI that was introduced with Windows 95.  The start menu is still there, as is My Computer (now called 'Computer').  The task bar, though re-vamped, still has much of the same core functionality.  Windows 7 may look completely different than Windows 95 in terms of spit and polish, but in reality over the past 17 years Windows has remained largely the same.

That changes this week, in a big way.  I'm going to re-iterate what I said in the first paragraph:  Windows 8 is quietly the biggest paradigm shift in personal computing since Windows 95.  That cannot be understated.  Take everything you've ever learned about Windows, and throw it away.

I have been using Windows 8 at home since February. And at work since August.  Through this one thing has come through perfectly clear to me:  Windows 8 is a mobile operating system, not a traditional desktop operating system.  Until now, Windows has always truly been at its best running on a desktop computer with a large screen (or two) and as much processing power that can be thrown at it.  That is not the case for Windows 8.  I would actually argue that Windows 8 gets worse as you throw bigger and more screens at it.  A tablet or a smaller touchscreen laptop really is the ideal solution for Windows 8.  My dual 24” monitor setup at my desk at work really shows the weaknesses of Windows 8.

That being said, it isn’t all bad.  I think that Windows 8 on a purpose built device, like a touchscreen laptop, will be a good experience for most users.  However, there are going to be some serious growing pains getting there.  This is the first time when people will truly have to re-learn how to use a computer they have been using for the better part of two decades, and that is going to be a disaster.

We must also remember Windows RT, which is what runs on Microsoft’s surface tablet, and many coming tablets.  Windows 8 and Windows RT may look the same, but they are very different.  I will talk about that in my next post.

Windows XP turns 10

10 years ago today, Windows XP was officially launched in New York City.  It was a different tie.  We were 6 weeks removed from the attacks of 9/11, computers were still not in every home, not everyone had broadband internet, and smartphones really didn't exist yet.  How far things have come….

Windows XP was the second most important operating system release in the last 20 years, behind only Windows 95.  Windows XP represented the final combination of the user friendly Windows 9x series and the stable, but business centric Windows NT series.  This may not sound like much to most, but it was important, and built the foundation that we still use today in Windows 7.

Windows XP was heavily based on the Windows 2000 codebase, which was developed before the internet was something that everyone had.  That meant a bumpy ride for most of Windows XP's life.  XP was basically designed well before what we use the internet for today.  the idea of computer viruses spreading over the internet really hadn't been conceived, and the term "malware" hadn't even been invented yet.  Quite frankly Windows XP was not well equipped to handle these.  Even with major updates, like the massive Service Pack 2 in 2004, Windows XP was never really secure from such threats, even with good antivirus software.

Despite the bad, Windows XP was still a wonderful operating system in its time.  It received three service packs, service pack 2 remains to this day the single biggest update to any windows version ever.  It introduced the start menu convention that is still used to this day in Windows 7, and many of the UI elements, while updated and given the aero glass treatment in Windows 7, can still be seen today.

That being said, Windows XP's time has long past.  For many years companies, even Microsoft, tried to bolt on features, programs, and systems that were never really designed to run in Windows XP.  Windows Desktop search is the best example of that.  Windows XP had to be updated to be able to support newer hardware (the original shipping version of XP only supported hard drive partitions 127GB or less, where today 3TB drives are in the market), and the support for wireless was rudimentary at best until later in the life cycle.

Windows XP came out 10 years ago.  If you are reading this on Windows XP, it is time to move on.  XP has been surpassed by Windows Vista and Windows 7 (admittedly moreso Windows 7).  Windows 7 is simply the best version of Windows ever made.  Windows XP changed computing and truly made it mainstream. Windows XP was something I used literally every day from 2001 until 2007 at home, and until 2010 at work.  It was a good soldier, but the sun has set on it, and it is time that we move on.

MacBook Pro - One year later

It has been about a year since I bought my first Apple Computer, a 13” MacBook Pro.  You can read my review here, and see my unboxing here.  What I want to do is revisit the MacBook Pro, and talk about my first year with it. First, the hardware.  I can say that even a year later the MBP is the best quality computer I have ever handled. It still feels solid, the hinge is still as good as it was when I first opened it, and nothing adverse has happened to the machine.  The build quality is seriously top notch, and I know that this computer will still be rocking like a tank long past it’s useful lifetime as an actual day to day computer.  The Battery life was advertised from Apple to be 7 hours.  When I first got the computer, under ideal circumstances I could get very close to that 7 hours, though around 6 was more realistic.  1 year later, and the battery is starting to degrade just a little bit, but nothing like other laptop batteries I have seen.  It does vary depending on use, but I am averaging around 5 hours of battery life, which is still very good, and battery life is rarely an issue for me.  A quick look at coconutbattery tells me I have discharged the battery about 175 times in the past year.

That being said, there are a couple of things I really wish the MBP had.  The screen resolution on my MBP is 1280x800, which is pretty low, even by 2009 standards.  Many 13” laptops come with 1366x768 displays now, which are capable of displaying 720p video full size.  Even the 2010 revision of the 13” MBP still only has a 1280x800 display.  This is one area where Apple really needs to step it up and catch up to it’s PC counterparts.  The other issue I have is with the limited USB ports on the computer. the 13” MBP only has 2 USB ports, and they are very close together.  For example, if I plug in my cruzer micro 16GB flash drive, it blocks the second USB port and I cannot use it.  the Cruzer Micro, despite it’s name, is not the smallest flash drive on the market, but it is definitely not large.  The casing is only about 1cm wider than the width of a USB port.  Apple really does need to space the USB ports out just a bit more.  I’d also really, really like a 3rd USB port.  9” netbooks have 3 USB ports, Apple really should put a 3rd USB port in.  There have been a few times where I really could have used it.

When it comes to the software side, I was really jumping into a new world. Sure, I’ve used OS X in the past, spent a couple semesters using Apple computers in school.  But beyond that, it was really my first foray into OS X.  I didn’t know much about the 3rd party software, and within a month of my computer purchase, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was released.

Long story Short, Snow Leopard is miles better than Windows XP, but that shouldn't be surprising, since Snow Leopard was released in 2009 and Windows XP was released in 2001.  Snow Leopard is also better than Windows Vista, but not by as much as people might think.  I’ve talked a lot about Windows Vista here, and won’t really rehash that.  Is Snow Leopard better than Windows 7?  No, it’s not.  Is Windows 7 better than Snow Leopard? The answer to that is also a no.  After a year of using both operating systems on a daily basis, I can honestly say that for the most part, they are pretty much comparable.  Sure, there are some things that Snow Leopard does better than Windows 7, and some things that Windows 7 does better than Snow Leopard, but at the end of the day, they are very comparable experiences.  I very much enjoy using Snow Leopard, but if someone took my MacBook Pro away from me and told me I had to use a Windows 7 laptop instead, I could do that without missing a step.  One of the main reasons I purchased an Apple laptop when I did is because I wanted to become proficient in both Windows ans OS X.  I am still better with Windows, I probably always will be, but I can also now switch between operating system environments without missing anything, or feeling like I’m lost, which really means that my goal has been accomplished.

One thing that I really have noticed in my time using both Windows and OS X, is that for probably 70% of what I do on a day to day basis, the platform I use doesn’t really matter.  Most of what I do regularily lives on the web. I use the gmail web interface, google docs, Facebook, and many more web applications.  I use desktop applications all the time as well, but some of them are even cross platform.  For the apps that aren’t, there are always equivalents on both platforms, and I have learned how to use most of them.  One of the only things I do now that I make a point of doing windows only is working with photos and videos, but the main reason for that is because my desktop computer is much more powerful and has much more screen space than my MacBook Pro.

The only applications I can honestly say that I was disappointed with has been the iWork suite.  Not so say the software itself isn’t good, but the fact that I work with word and excel documents all the time, and while Pages and Numbers support opening them, it is very hard to quickly work with and save .doc, .docx, .xls, and .xlsx files.  that was what actually finally pushed me to use google docs nearly full time.  I’m looking forward to trying Office 2011 for Mac, as I really do enjoy using the traditional Office suite.

Beyond that there really isn’t a whole bunch to say.  I love my MacBook Pro dearly, and really do think it is a wonderful computer, despite it’s few shortcomings.  Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned in the past year of using both platforms is that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what platform we use anymore.  Windows and OS X are each other’s peers, there is not one that is better than another, and so many people use the web so much now, that it truly doesn’t matter.  I know this is a tired argument, but I firmly believe that apple could hit a better market share if they simply lowered the price of their computers, but considering they just came out with their best quarter in the company’s history, I don’t see that happening.

Would I recommend an Apple Computer today?  Honestly, it’s not really a yes or a no answer.  If you are willing to spend more money for the computer, and don’t mind a couple weeks of a learning curve, by all means, go ahead.  But for most people, you don’t need to.  There will always be people who will buy only Apple Computers, and there is no problem with that.  If you really want to buy it, you will buy it.  If you don’t, I really don’t think anyone will miss a beat using Windows anymore.  Go with what you want, and what you are comfortable with.  You won’t be disappointed either way.

Windows 7 - Review

Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, is officially out on October 22nd. I’ve been running Windows 7 since early this year when the beta launched, and moved up to the Release Candidate, and I have been running the final version since July. Windows 7 has been highly hyped, and has brought much praise in it’s pre-release test versions. So how good is Windows 7? Read on to find out. desktop

The Default desktop of Windows 7

Windows 7 is based very heavily on Windows Vista, so much that in some circles it has earned the moniker “Windows Vista Second Edition.” This is not a bad thing, as I discussed in my three part series on Vista. Upon booting up Windows 7 for the first time, you’ll see a very familiar feel. the Start menu is very similar to Windows Vista, Windows Explorer looks nearly identical, except for the revised side bar, which I will discuss later. Many of the UI dialog boxes are almost identical. If you are coming from Vista, you will feel right at home here. If you are coming from Windows XP, as many people will no doubt be doing, there is a much higher learning curve, but it is not terribly difficult, and very similar to the learning curve going from XP to Vista. Lets start breaking down Windows 7.

The Taskbar


The Taskbar of Windows 7

taskbar apps

The Taskbar with Paint and Wordpad running

The Taskbar is by far the biggest change in Windows 7 if you are coming from XP, and is one of the biggest changes if coming from Vista. the Windows Taskbar remained virtually identical from Windows 98 all the way to Windows Vista. The basic design we’re all familiar with was, from left to right, Start Menu, quick launch, program bars, and the notification area. Windows 7 marks the first change to this paradigm in nearly a decade. To put it simply, the new Taskbar takes the best elements of the Windows task bar, quick launch, and Apple’s OS X dock, and rolled it into one package. Gone are the traditional long application bars and quick launch. In their place, a hybrid system. Much like the dock in OS X, a large icon now represents an application. Applications can be “pinned” to the task bar, so an application will always be there, regardless as to whether it is running or not. This allows many more applications to be put into the Taskbar at any given time. Window management has also received a significant overhaul. Along with the single icon for desktops comes application grouping. Application grouping has existed in since Windows XP, but Windows 7 is the first time where it really feels natural to me. Mousing over the application icon will show a live preview of every running window, and clicking on that window will bring that window to the front. The live preview, using Aero, will even show a video playing in real time in Windows Media Player. Regardless as to whether you are coming from Vista or XP, there will be an adjustment period to the new Taskbar, but after several months of use, I find it hard going back to Vista, and especially XP. If you simply cannot adjust to the new style, you can change the task bar back to the same behavior found in Vista.

The Start Menu

start menu start menu search all programs

The Start menu will feel instantly familiar to both users of Windows XP and Vista, slightly more so for Vista users.

Jump Lists


Another feature new to Windows 7 are jump lists. Jump lists are a a feature present all through the start menu, and in the Taskbar. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, very few apps take advantage of the features. Jump lists allow for an app to have quick access to important things pertaining to the application. The three apps that I have used that take good advantage of Jump lists to this point are Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Live Messenger. Each app uses jump lists in a different, and functional way. In Internet Explorer, the jump list displays recent web pages, in Windows Explorer, recent folders are displayed. Windows Live Messenger arguably takes the best advantage of jump lists, allowing you to change your status, sign in/out, go to your email inbox(if you use hotmail), and start an IM conversation, right from within the jump list. Jump lists are a feature of Windows that will become more useful over time, as more applications are updated to support them, and take advantage of them. I am excited to see what will be done with jump lists, and the creative uses that will be found.



A view of Libraries in Windows 7

Libraries actually are not a new feature in Windows 7. Nearly the exact same functionality existed in Windows Vista, but for Windows 7 Microsoft really brought the technology to the forefront and called it Libraries.

A library looks like a folder on the computer, but it is actually not. What a library is is essentially an aggregation tool. It allows the user to bring multiple folders into one container. In Windows 7, a user starts out with 4 default libraries. Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video. These do not replace the actual folders of the same names where the content would be stored, but rather sits on top of, and in front of them. When I first heard of the concept of libraries I wasn’t sold. In fact, when I started using the Beta back in January, I didn’t even use them. But over time i came to see their usefulness, and now make use of libraries on a daily basis. My largest example of how I use libraries is with video. I have video files across 3 different hard drives in my computer, in many different folders. Using a library, I can aggregate all of those folders across all of the hard drives into a single location, instead of having to find which hard drive the file is on, then which folder, I can click on a single icon, and everything is in one spot. Libraries will probably be the most under appreciated feature in Windows 7, but will eventually become one of the most useful.

As a side note, the same functionality also exists in Windows Vista, but Windows 7 really brings it into the forefront. What a library is is essentially a saved search, set to look at a single or multiple locations. Windows Vista has this same functionality built right in, but it was never really publicized, nor was it clear in Vista how to use it. Going back to Vista, i find myself actually using saved searches and making them into pseudo libraries.


homegroup1 homegroup2

The Homegroup screen

To go right along with Libraries, Microsoft has introduced a feature called homegroups. Homegroups is the latest attempt to make home networking easy. And for the first time, Microsoft has truly succeeded in that. The concept is simple. A homegroup is set up on one computer in the network and sharing center, and a homegroup password is created. Then on the second(or third, or fourth) computer, again from the network sharing center, enter in the home group password, and that’s it. The computers are connected. sharing a file, folder, or an entire library, is as simple as right clicking on it, and choosing the share with menu, where you can share it with anyone, the homegroup, or nobody. The homegroup menu appears in the left pane of Windows Explorer(what most people know as My Computer), where all computers, folders, and files in the homegroup can be accessed. I must give real credit to Microsoft here. They have finally made networking as simple as it can possibly be. The only caveat is that to get this ease of use, every computer must be running Windows 7, otherwise the previous folder sharing methods will still apply.



the “ribbon" first seen in Office 2007 is making its way into more and more applications

When talking about the applications in Windows 7, I’m actually more driven to talk about what’s *not* included, because that is the biggest news. Microsoft has stripped out many of the core applications we used to find in Windows, and made them separate downloads. Gone are Windows Messenger, Windows Mail(itself the replacement to Outlook Express), Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker. There are 2 primary reasons for Microsoft choosing to remove these applications. The first is the courts. As many of you know, Microsoft has been under fire for years for bundling applications with it’s operating system, even though it is a trivial matter to use another application instead. By not including them, Microsoft essentially eliminates that argument. The second is that by pulling these apps out of Windows, it is much easier for Microsoft to take the apps, and develop them at a faster rate than if they were built into Windows. So now, instead of including them, they are part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, which can be downloaded from The applications included in this suite are Windows Live Messenger, which is the most popular IM solution in the world, Windows Live Mail for email, Windows Live Writer, an excellent blog composing tool, Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is in my opinion the best photo organizer available, and Windows Live Movie Maker. Also included are a tool bar for Internet Explorer, a Parental control module called Family Safety, and 3 minor components, an Outlook Connector, the Office Live add-in, and Silverlight, Microsoft’s Flash competitor. Windows Live Essentials are just that, essential. I know that there will be some people who will not need any of the applications on that list, but in reality, most people will use at least one of those applications. Windows Live essentials are also available for Windows XP and Windows Vista, with the exception of Windows Live Movie Maker, which is only for Vista and Windows 7, and will not run on XP.

The only remaining Windows staples left are Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center, Paint, and Wordpad.

Paint and Wordpad bring in the ribbon interface first seen in Office 2007. Some users will not like this, but for those that have used Office 2007 extensively, the Ribbon is a large improvement to the traditional toolbars and is a welcome addition to Wordpad and paint. When it comes to Paint, that’s about where the changes end, beyond that it’s essentially the same application we’ve seen since since Windows 3.1. It is very simple, but it’s meant to be simple.

Wordpad actually got some significant improvements. It definitely can’t/won’t replace Word, but for those who only do the most occasional of document creation, Wordpad is actually a usable solution now, and should not be ignored. The only drawback is that Microsoft curiously removed .doc support from Wordpad entirely. It supports the .docx files that were introduced in office 2007, but does not support the .doc format used in office from office 97 until Office 2003. I understand that Microsoft wants to push the .docx format to the spotlight, but not having .doc support is very short sighted, as most documents today are still written in .doc. Wordpad can also natively save, and open, the open document .odt files, if you so desire.

I don’t personally use Windows Media Center very much, but from what I can tell, it’s gotten some subtle, but welcome improvements from Windows Vista, and looks to be a very goot 10-foot interface for those who will use Windows 7 as the base for a Home Theater PC.

Internet Explorer 8 is included in Windows 7. Unlike Internet Explorer’s of the past, IE8 is quite usable, and not nearly as vulnerable as previous versions, most notably IE6 are. I have no issues recommending IE8 for general purpose use for most people, however I personally don't use it as my default browser.

User Account Control


User Account Control was another feature born in Windows Vista, and another feature that was generally hated. And while Microsoft’s first attempt in Vista was not perfect, User Account Control represents the single largest measure of defense in protecting your computer from viruses and other malware. This feature is actually something that Microsoft has played catch up on. Apple’s OS X has had this feature since the very first version came out in 2001, and the various other Linux and Unix operating systems are based around this model. I wont’ get too technical with it, but User Account Control allows the computer to run a user in a state that cannot damage the computer, and must ask for permission when taking an action that makes major changes to Windows, like installing a program or doing Windows updates. While some people get annoyed with this, in Windows 7 it really isn’t an issue once the computer is set up. Once all of your programs are installed and all of your settings configured, User Account Control is barely even seen. With my computer running Windows 7 now, I see a User Account Control prompt maybe twice a week.

There are people who like turning User Account Control off, and that is a very bad decision. Turning it off not only gets rid of the prompts, but removes all of the security features around it, essentially making Windows 7 no more secure and safe than Windows XP. User Account Control is an important feature that should be left on at all times.


When Windows Vista was released, compatibility issues were huge. I have discussed previously that while Microsoft shares some of the blame for that, application and hardware developers also share much of the blame for that. But, that was in 2006. In October 2009, the good majority of those issues are gone. Almost all software runs in Vista now, and if it runs in Vista, it will run on Windows 7. If it’s a piece of software that will not run in Vista, well in my humble opinion unless it’s custom software that is truly mission critical to you, it’s time to move on and replace that software.

32-bit vs 64-bit

No compatibility talk would be complete without discussing whether to use 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7. Microsoft’s foray into 64-bit Windows on the consumer level dates back to Windows XP, where a 64-bit version of Professional still exists. In Windows Vista, a 64-bit version was also abvailable, but that suffered even more driver issues than it’s 32-bit sibling did at launch. Many hardware and software makers chose not to support the 64-bit platform in 2006. However, in late 2009, things are much different. To put it simply, 99% of all applications and hardware will work with Windows 7 64-bit. Unless you are running an odd-ball piece of software, or some custom written software, it will probably work. The same goes with hardware. Your 7 year old printer may not work in 64-bit windows, and any older hardware might not either. However, most recent, and all current hardware will. This is as much of a choice of the hardware vendors to not dedicate a team of workers to write new software for an old device as it is a marketing decision on their part, trying to get you to buy a new printer. The best bet is to simply do a quick Google search ahead of time to see if anything you have will not work

But wait, there’s more?

I’ve only touched on the most major of features with Windows 7. Microsoft literally went through windows with a fine tooth comb for Windows 7. Nearly every feature of the operating system has been tweaked or changed, and updated in some way. From usable, robust parental controls to improved networking to new versions of every included app, everything in Windows 7 has been cleaned up, and improved, if only slightly. I have been using Windows 7 for the better part of a year now and there are *still* some things in it that I'm finding.

Okay, but should I get it?


At the end of the day, that question is what it comes down to. I am not afraid to say that Windows 7 is the best version of Windows Microsoft has ever put out. Does that mean you should get it? Not necessarily. Most people will get Windows 7 when they buy a new computer, and for most people, that’s the way it should be. My general rule is that if you are someone who can put together your own computer, you’re capable of dealing with installing Windows 7 on your own. If you’re not, then it’s best to wait. I say this because while Windows 7 takes great strides in ease of install, and detecting all of your items, it still isn’t quite perfect, and you have to know how to handle yourself if something does not go right.

I really believe that everyone will be running windows 7 eventually, whether it be through an install, or by buying a new computer. It really is that good. I’m up to nearly 2300 words in this review, and there are several very good features that I haven’t even mentioned yet. In fact, I have read one review of Windows 7 that has 12 separate 1500 word parts. There is just that many new things to talk about. I will end by saying that Microsoft has delivered a massive success with Windows 7, and should be applauded for it. Any doubts with Vista have been completely erased now, and all that is left will be what will probably be the most successful version of Windows ever.

Why Windows Vista Failed, and why you have no one to blame but yourself - Part 3

This is the conclusion of the three part series about Windows Vista, for parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

In 2001, Windows XP was released to the world. At the time, it was Microsoft's best operating system release. Windows Vista improved on it in nearly every way. Let me say that again. Windows Vista improved on it in nearly every way. The biggest problem with Vista was the high barrier to entry, however, it was no more higher than the barrier to entry Windows XP faced in 2001. As I wrote previously, we were spoiled by lower hardware costs, and the fact that running Windows XP on cheap hardware from 2006 was akin to running Windows 95 on hardware from 2001. It could be run very well on very cheap hardware. In 2009, pretty much every computer except for the netbook class computer can run Windows Vista very well, and this is where Vista truly shines.

Many of the technologies that make Windows Vista so good are beyond the scope of this article, so I will concentrate on the features that the end user will see.

The first, and most useful, is start menu search. Windows XP had the add-on Wnidows Desktop Search software for years, however it was slow, not integrated into the OS, and in my opinion, just plain not useful. In my experience, it actually slows down a Windows XP PC quite a bit. Windows Desktop Search 4.0 for Windows XP did address some of those issues, but the simple fact is that Windows XP was never meant to have a built in quick desktop search application, and using an application like Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop really highlights that deficiency. Windows Vista was designed with the instant search built in. This instant search, appearing in the start menu, allows you to quickly find applications, documents, even specific email if you use outlook. simply hit the start menu, or press the windows key on your keyboard, and start typing. Usually the first few characters of the application is enough for what you are looking for to appear. Type "word" and Microsoft Word will be the first result. You can even search for a particular document, and open it directly. Start menu search has many more functions, but at it's core it is used as a fast way to launch a document. Ever since my first experience with the beta of Windows Vista way back in early 2005, it has been my preferred way of launching applications. I truthfully rarely even go into "All Programs" in Windows anymore, as start menu search is a much faster and more efficient way of getting to where I need to go.

Speaking of the start menu, it received an overhaul for Windows Vista as well. Gone is the word "Start" present in every version of windows since late 1994. Also gone is the multi-column all programs menu. Instead going into all programs places the menu in a scrolling list in the left side of the start menu. As someone who regularly dealt with 2, 3, sometimes 4 columns of applications in Windows XP, this change is welcome for the few times I need to go into all programs. Other changes are more minor, but appreciated, including more streamlined access to the networking section of Windows, and more.

The second feature, which is arguably the single most important feature of Windows Vista, and remains integral in Windows 7, is User Account Control(UAC). Windows Vista represented a fundamental shift in how Windows handles user accounts and security. In every Windows version up to, and including, Windows XP, a normal user ran as a system administrator, meaning that the user has unrestricted access to the computer, and can make any change without prompt. The "limited account" option that existed in XP was an attempt to stop this, but in reality the limited account was so restricted a user could not really do many day-to-day applications with Windows. This method of user accounts remains the single biggest security vulnerability in Windows XP, even after 3 service packs and hundreds of security updates. Many types of malware take easy advantage of the fact that that they can make changes to Windows, install applications and services, and generally have their run of the operating system. Windows Vista changed all that. Instead of operating with unlimited permissions, all accounts, even computer administrators, operate under the principle of least privilege. This means that a user runs as a limited user, and when a change is made that requires administrator access, UAC will display a prompt. A computer administrator may simply click continue, and a standard user must enter an administrator password to continue. This ensures that no operating system changes are made without the user's knowledge, and any changes that are made are done so as a direct result of user interaction. This is the security model that UNIX and linux based operating systems have been based off for decades, and what Apple as adopted for OS X, which is UNIX based, back in 2001. UAC in Vista is not perfect, and many people feel that it prompts too many times. This is partially true, however, many people turned UAC off because of this, and they really shouldn't. UAC is the biggest piece of the security puzzle in Vista, and while turning off may add some convenience to using Windows Vista, it is much more open to attacks. After Windows Vista is set up, and most of the users applications are installed, UAC is much less obtrusive, because 99% of the day to day operations of Windows do not require elevated permissions. UAC is also much improved in Windows 7, with the same security as in Vista, but with far fewer prompts.

Windows Vista also introduced Aero. The Aero desktop is the visible component of the Windows Presentation Foundation, which was a complete re-write of the Windows User Interface. the new UI design allows for Windows to use more advanced graphics effects, such as transparent windows, the "glass" look of the windows, live window previews, and new transition effects between Windows. Many skeptics of Aero in Windows Vista say it was nothing more than an attempt to make Windows Vista look "pretty" and did not offer any real benefits. On the surface, this is actually true. However, like many things in Windows Vista, the underlying system was completely re-written, and Windows Vista represented the growing pain, and Microsoft implementing a brand new system for it's user interface. The truly advanced elements possible in Aero are evident in Windows 7. Going from Windows XP, to Windows Vista, and up to Windows 7, it is very easy to see how Windows Vista is the stepping stone, and many of the advancements in Windows Vista are taken and improved upon in Windows 7.

These are just a few of the changes in Windows Vista. As I have stated, Windows Vista represents a change that was as big, if not bigger, than the leap from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Many of the changes are good changes, and many of the changes represent brand new ideas for Microsoft. For that, Windows Vista will fall in place as a transitional operating system. Is it perfect? No. There are many things in Vista that drive me crazy. But I do not let those things detract from what is otherwise a very solid operating system from Microsoft.

If I had written this 6 months ago, Windows Vista would have gotten a 100% recommendation from me. In fact, 6 months ago, I was urging people who were considering buying a new computer, but afraid because of the stigma of Vista, to upgrade. Very few people that I know that have purchased a new PC with Windows Vista on it have told me they dislike it. Give Vista a chance, a real chance, and you will generally be surprised with how good it is. However, with the release of Windows 7 just 2 months away, there truly is no point. Buying a new PC today will come with Windows Vista, but many will come with a free upgrade to Windows 7 anyway. I have no qualms telling people to run Vista, but cannot recommend people buy a new computer right now. Wait until Windows 7, and buy a new computer with the new operating system. In many ways, it is a shame, because many people will never really know just how good Windows Vista is, and how it provided the critical stepping stone to Windows 7, which is being regarded as the best release of Windows ever. So, as you move on to Windows 7, know that at it's core, you are using the technology of Windows Vista, and working day to day with everything Vista had to offer.