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Microsoft introduced Vista as the latest version of the Windows operating system in 2007. The new operating system designed to replace Windows XP offered a number of claimed improvements. The main categories of improvement were accessibility, graphics handling and the look and feel of the interface, easier file handling and a fast return from sleep modes. It was offered in a range of versions, with distinct flavors targeted at business and home users. Business users got encryption but no games: home users got their own Games Explorer to bring all their games together in one place.
Accessibility features were a response to new legislation in Europe and America. They include an in-built basic screen reader, the ability to make the screen easier to read and a one-stop shop accessibility center.
Vista came with version 10 of the graphics handling technology DirectX. This facilitated a much more sophisticated look to the interface with 3D facilities being widely trumpeted. File handling was also a target area for improvement. The interface was built around a single file view replacing two in XP, and the Windows search was much more closely integrated into the system. Facilities for synchronizing with external devices were much improved and the networking functions were made more accessible.
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Criticisms of Vista and the reasons for them
In spite of the range of new features the new operating system was heavily criticized. At launch, the system was criticized for being unreliable and many corporate clients delayed deployment. Whilst there were some inherent problems, many problems arose from incompatibility with either old applications or third party applications, and a new version of Windows is always an attractive target of hackers and producers of malware. Unreliability was exacerbated by the resource requirements, especially the memory requirements of the new system, and the pressure on graphics cards to handle the new visual effects. Running the new system on existing hardware at the margins of acceptable resources led to slow performance and in some cases system crashes.
The new interface attracted less criticism but the more advanced features were disabled in simpler versions or unavailable to users with less memory. One of the confusing factors here is that Vista was launched almost simultaneously with the 2007 version of Microsoft Office: this underwent a much more radical change to its interface and this has also been much criticized. Some users in my experience wrongly attributed their unfamiliarity with their new screens to Vista instead of the application running under Vista.
The file management improvements aid clarity, but the incorporation of search has been less successful. The speed of the search is heavily dependent upon indexing of the drives and for most users, while local hard drives can be rapidly searched, network drives and removable drives such as USB pen drives are not indexed and therefore much slower. If files are located on a home hub of some form and accessed over a home wireless network, then performance is even worse.
The simplified search facility can also make it harder to implement specific searches than in XP.
Performance has improved since the launch of Vista. A series of upgrades, security patches and a service pack have helped fix known problems. Users are using newer hardware which is more powerful and better suited to Vista, and third party suppliers have improved their products.
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Implications for the next generation of Windows
The next version of Windows is on the way. Some users are waiting for this, and skipping Vista altogether. It is likely to be more stable because it is a more evolutionary change than from XP to Vista and Microsoft also seems to have responded to criticism, thus they are allowing more time for testing. Features such as the User Access Control from Vista, which was designed to prevent insecure actions, but deemed to be too obtrusive have been modified to make them more flexible in pre-release versions of Windows 7. It will also benefit from the lessons of Vista, which ironically is likely to achieve reliable maturity around the time it is replaced.