What you should know to make the switch
Next-generation operating system Windows Vista hits retail shelves this week. Until now, it's been available only in limited quantities to PC vendors who are bundling the new operating system with their computers, and to some volume buyers in business. Now it's time to figure out how many -- and what kind -- of upgrades you'll need for your home and business computers, and learn how to prepare your system to install the newest operating system.
What's with all these different versions of Vista?
Windows Vista's mitosis into five retail flavours is nothing new. Though Windows XP came in only two retail editions -- Home and Professional -- Microsoft also released two versions for vendors to preload on systems (OEM versions): Media Center Edition and Tablet PC Edition. In effect, the features of XP's four editions are being recombined into four new retail Vista editions.
Picking the right one for you isn't as hard as it may seem. If your hardware barely meets the new operating system's minimum requirements, you don't care about Vista's slick new Aero interface, you don't connect to a Windows Server domain, and you don't need Media Center or Tablet PC features, you can choose Home Basic -- but under those circumstances you probably won't get much out of Vista, anyway. For another US$60, Home Premium gives you Aero and Media Center.
If you connect to a Windows Server domain, you need the Business edition. If you want Media Center plus business features (who knows -- maybe you have to record TV shows for your job, or work remotely from the living room), you'll have to spring for the Ultimate edition, which includes every Windows Vista feature there is.
Vista's role in the Windows family
What about product activation? Are there any changes from the procedure that Windows XP uses?
Microsoft's product activation -- software that profiles your system's hardware and uploads a fingerprint-like profile to a database maintained by the company -- is alive and well, and in Vista it isn't optional. Microsoft can change the stringency of its product activation system, but rest assured that the company will be checking to make sure that you don't install your copy of Windows Vista on more than one PC at a time.
What's next after Vista?
We don't know many details. The next major version of Windows, once dubbed "Blackcomb," is now known as "Vienna"; it's part of a series of Microsoft code names that refer to great cities of the world. As Wikipedia reports , rumors about this OS date to before the release of Windows XP, and include the possibility that it will introduce a completely new user interface with intriguing-sounding elements known as the GroupBar and the LayoutBar, as well as sandboxing technology designed to prevent rogue applications from having any impact on other programs.
When it will appear is anyone's guess, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that the more-than-five-year gap between Windows XP and Vista will never be repeated. If that's the rule, Vienna should arrive sometime before early 2012.
Whatever happened to WinFS
WinFS was supposed to replace Windows' underlying file system with a database designed to make searching and sorting data immeasurably easier. Microsoft had to abandon the project, though, because it was just too tough to implement. The company doesn't like talking about WinFS these days. In fact, it seems unlikely that Microsoft will try to put it into the next version of Windows.