NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2006
Microsoft Windows Vista
By Mike Moore, President,
Bowling Green Area Microcomputer User Group, KY

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In many respects, Microsoft’s dominance in the areas of Internet Browsers, Office Suites and of course Operating Systems is puzzling, at least in the past few years. Open Source software such as the free OpenOffice.org suite has come into its own and the latest Apple MacIntosh™ computers are brought to market with an operating system featuring iron-clad Unix underpinnings and a cheeky marketing campaign designed to turn PC users away from Windows.

And yet, due to the sheer number of PCs out there with Microsoft branding, Windows still commands a staggering market share, in spite of no major upgrades to either Internet Explorer or WindowsXP in 3 and 5 years, respectively.

Microsoft’s answer to the rapidly changing personal computing scene has been a complete rethinking of Windows from the ground up.

Vista, a new operating system due out around January of 2007 and now in beta testing around the world, seeks to redesign the way we use computers, particularly internet and media-enabled computers. Previously code named “Longhorn,” this release is about as far removed from XP as XP was from the old text-based DOS operating systems.

Although Microsoft is still hard at work finalizing the features of this blockbuster operating system, you can look forward to these new features, which will in most cases require a pretty beefy computer for support:

Aero is the name given to a new and visually stunning 3-D like graphical interface, which is currently known as the Desktop and Windows Explorer. In Vista, Microsoft introduces the Desktop Window Manager that will feature new technologies for application developers, transparent window effects, animations and file previews that all told will knock your socks off. See some of the previews of this interface at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/ .

The full set of Aero features will be available on computers that support DirectX 9.0 and beefy video cards, so prepare to upgrade (and prepare to donate your existing computer to Gene Iglehart!)

Microsoft has completely turned internet security on its head in the new Vista vision, choosing to de-fault a normal windows user to a limited access, virus-armored profile, as opposed to the current de-fault of a normal user having unlimited rights to the file system. Users that require more permissions on their accounts will have to make conscious and hopefully well-informed efforts to undo the protection Vista has built in to each account.

Quick Search
Windows 2000 and XP relied on indexed search techniques that were effective to a point, at a cost of much hard drive overhead and a key-word based search methodology. Vista takes this a quantum step farther and looks for both file content and something called meta-data, which will increase the relevancy of our searches for information on our machines, and will also help integrate local hard drive searches with internet searching.

For example, file name searches are often useless when looking in a directory of photographic image files where the digital camera has named them with non-descriptive serial-number like file names. Imagine describing a photograph to your computer and having it go out and look for, say, a photo with a white church steeple, or a recorded song file that sounds like a tune you hum into a microphone. With Vista and other search engine companies like Google, we are poised at the brink of an explosion in searchability – a good thing considering all of the information that is out there!

WinFX is an applications interface that supersedes the Win32 standard introduced in 1993. An Applications Programming Interface (API) is a set of standards and library routines that serve to control Windows – everything from the way applications are installed to all of the various standard ways in which a program can manipulate a window. The API is the way that many thousands of programs, hardware drivers and video games are able to communicate with Windows without Microsoft having to license the Windows operating secrets to each vendor. If you think of each way in which a particular windows feature can be controlled as being closed black box, the API standards are the knobs, buttons and dials on that box. WinFX means that developers with designs for software that is to run under Vista ought to be ready to study hard, because WinFX changes everything. The new API also means that we are bidding goodbye to our beloved DOS command line pretty much for good, running Vista.

As different as WinFX is, it should be thought of as a superset of Win32, which means that we won’t necessarily have to buy all new software, at least not right away.

WindowsXP is my favorite operating system to date, and I predict that Microsoft will have to float some pretty good deals, and computer vendors will need to price sharply to get mainstream users to up-grade. Computer experimenters, those individuals that get really steamed when their cousin gets a faster computer than they have, will likely upgrade immediately, and hopefully BGAMUG will be able to refurbish what equipment they cast off in the quest for Vista!

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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