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What is Windows Vista?

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 3/9/2010

Just mention Windows Vista to your friends and you get a variety of responses. It seems like everyone who has a computer has an opinion they've either heard from someone, or come up with themselves. This article will help break down some of the mystery behind Microsoft's newest OS.

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    What is Windows Vista?

    Windows Vista Did you know that a search for “What is Windows Vista?” in Google, with the quotes included, returns 327,000 results as of March 2010? As much as Vista gets demonized by some members of the press as well as some PC enthusiasts, it is apparent that a lot of people out there want to know what Windows Vista is all about. This article should help to explain what is Windows Vista and how it works.

    First and foremost, Windows Vista is an operating system from Microsoft. It’s the latest edition in a long line of graphical user interfaces that first became popular with Windows 3.1, which eventually grew into Windows 95, then Windows 98, then the black sheep that was Windows ME, then Windows XP, and now Windows Vista. In between there are a couple of others like Windows NT and Windows 2000, which are based around networking environments. There are a few different versions of Vista like Home and Professional editions. In short, Windows Vista is not an upgrade to XP – it’s a whole new deal.

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    Windows Vista System Requirements

    Does your computer have what it takes to run Windows Vista? If your computer is more than a couple of years old, chances are you shouldn't bother even considering the upgrade. I've always thought the base system requirements on most software, especially computer games, is kind of a joke, and I feel the same way about Vista.

    For the basic Home version of Vista, Microsoft says you need a minimum 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor and 512 megabytes of RAM. I wouldn't want to know how slow Vista would run on just half a gig of RAM. If it were me, I wouldn't even consider putting it on a machine with less than a full gig of memory. On top of that, your computer needs at least 32 megs of video memory and a video card chipset that supports DirectX 9 graphics. If your video is built into the motherboard, keep in mind that it most likely is sharing the system memory. Finally, Vista Home needs a minimum 20 gigabyte hard drive with 15 of those gigabytes free. Yeah, it's a space-hog.

    For the Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions of Vista, the requirements are a little higher. It takes twice as much memory (1 gig RAM minimum) and twice as big a hard drive (40 gigabyte minimum), plus a pretty hefty video card with a minimum 128 megs of RAM and support for Pixel Shader 2.0. The reason is because Vista has so many flashy little graphical perks that you practically need a gaming PC to run them.

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    What's New in Windows Vista?

    I think the bigger question here is not just ‘What is Windows Vista’, but more like ‘What is new in Windows Vista?’ For starters, Windows Vista is very pretty, and it includes some things for users with high-end video cards to take advantage of. For example, mousing over a minimized window will show a pop-up of that window and even plays video or whatever else you have going on. You can also tile windows in a similar manner to the way an iPod does album covers. Each version of Windows has included visual improvements over the past one, and Vista really looks nice, including translucent window borders and more. In addition to better visuals, Vista includes more layers of security for better control over user accounts.

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    What is Windows Vista and How Does it Work? The Vista Control Panel and MoreWhat is Vista and How does it work? Windows Vista is an operating system from Microsoft and has been around for a while now. This second part of the article will cover some of the basics as to what is different in the Control Panel, known issues with legacy hardware and software, and why you are eventually going to have to upgrade, anyway. Should you upgrade to Windows Vista? Read here and decide.windows, vista, xp, upgrade, microsoft, legacy, drivers, control panel, what's new, search, security, features, problems
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    Windows Vista Control Panel

    Vista ControlPanel For those people like me who like to toy around with system settings, you’ll notice the Control Panel looks a lot different. Microsoft decided to rename and move around some of the familiar icons for performing certain tasks. It is a little more user-friendly in that the options are now more descriptive and obvious, but at the same time it’s a bit more to sort through. Once you learn your way around, you’ll find all the old options are still there, just not always in the same place as they were in XP.

    Vista is also supposed to be more secure, but apparently Microsoft's idea of added security is to prompt you for a password every time you try to do something. It is annoying as hell, and many people end up turning off the option. I know I did on my own machine, but that's also because I am a very advanced user and don't need it. If you are not fully comfortable with the inner workings of Windows or have a kid who likes to download random junk on your PC, then this new security feature, called User Account Control, might actually work better for you.

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    Windows Vista Legacy Drivers

    Windows Vista is known to have some problems with legacy hardware drivers, so that’s something to consider. At my work, we have not made the switch from XP to Vista because of both software and hardware we use that is not compatible with Vista. On top of that, a lot of the older machines out in the field can’t even run Vista, or would run it so slowly that the user would stay mad at the IT department. I work for a City government and we use a lot of specialized hardware and software in our Police and Fire departments. While some of that stuff can be upgraded to work with Vista, it would be a very expensive task to replace all the computers to go along with the upgrade, especially while things are still working fine as they are. You had best contact the manufacturer about your hardware's compatibility before diving into a Vista upgrade, otherwise your old hardware or software may no longer work.

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    Windows Vista - Resistance is Futile

    Personally, I like Windows Vista. I bought a new HP brand desktop PC a little over a year ago and it came with Vista pre-installed. I had to relearn how to change some of the settings, but I managed to figure it all out. My experience with Vista over the past year has been a happy one, and I have not encountered any major problems or instability, which is a lot more than I can say for my experiences with Windows XP.

    Windows Vista has been around for a while now and is here to stay. Many new computer buyers are still resistant to it, and I do understand their hesitation to make the switch, but sooner or later you’re going to have to step up. When Microsoft starts pushing a new version of something, you pretty much have to assimilate sooner or later. Resistance is futile.