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Vista's attractions remain obscure

Microsoft has issued a new version of Windows, Vista. Dr Fraser Hadden tried it out.

As a shameless techie, I have been using Microsoft's Vista operating system since it was launched in January. However, the previous incarnation, XP, will be supported for years yet, so it may not be worth rushing to upgrade.

Why upgrade?
According to Microsoft, one of the advantages of Vista is extra security, but some of the most worthwhile security enhancements are confined to Vista Ultimate (one of five options).

It is true that all versions offer an improved firewall and back-up software, but this is still clumsier than many free alternatives.

The user account control feature is useful, and allows you to stop people unwittingly making changes to the system.

Visually, the new Aero interface is beautiful, but it offers no more functionality.

The search facility is wonderful and much improved from XP, as is the 'breadcrumb' navigation technique that lets users keep track of their location in programs or documents. Windows Media Player has had a facelift but is still slow.

The sidebar, which links to services such as news, weather, eBay and so on, has some usefulness but is hardly crucial.

Then there is the expense. The upgrade for a home PC costs about £150 (or about half that when bundled with a new machine). Vista Ultimate, intended for the work setting, costs around £370 (although Microsoft's website was displaying special offers in mid-June).

Another issue is the suitability of your existing kit. My three-year-old 3.2GHz Pentium 4-based desktop machine runs Vista adequately in its most demanding Aero display mode. Laptop computers, however, tend to have less capable graphics chips so may restrict your display options.

To avoid hardware incompatibilities, it is more important your machine is recent than fast. Some external hardware will prove incompatible. Flatbed scanners pose the greatest difficulties and some software will also prove incompatible.

An XP-compatibility mode addresses some of these problems, but there are plenty of hardware-dependent applications that will still not work.

Gains and losses
In my view, much has been changed and next to nothing gained. For instance, the control panel has been revised so that XP migrants will be unable to find things easily, if at all.

Many of the claimed advantages can be obtained by bolting on free downloads to XP - Internet Explorer 7 and Media Player 11, for instance.

Technically, Vista is immature. There is nothing new you can do with it that you cannot do without. My advice is not to upgrade, or at least to wait until the first service pack is issued.

Dr Hadden is a GP in Suffolk



  • Excellent search facility and navigation technique for keeping track.
  • Some new bundled applications.
  • Costly, so look for discounts.
  • Compatibility problems.

Verdict: wait - at least for the service pack to be issued.

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