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Vital Stats About Vista

An at-a-glance look at some of what Vista has to offer, from Gadgets to 3-D graphics.

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Vista is visually impressive, especially when run on large flat-screen monitors. That makes room for Vista's expanded pane, Windows Sidebar, and funky little applications called Gadgets that can be placed there. Gadgets range from the playful--games and photo albums--to your daily calendar or even a billing application for by-the-hour professionals.

IT pros are more concerned about the nuts and bolts. In an October survey of those pros by InformationWeek Research, 89% rated Vista's security improvements as an area of interest, followed by improved performance (74%). They're not so keen on Vista's user interface (31%) or Sidebar (5%).

The sticker price on Vista is the same as it's been for Windows XP for the past five years. The Business edition costs $199 for an upgrade, $299 for the full version. Microsoft is steering large companies toward the more expensive Enterprise edition. You'll need it if you want Vista's BitLocker encryption, single-image rollout, built-in support for Unix applications, and other high-end capabilities. The catch: You need Software Assurance or an Enterprise Agreement from Microsoft to qualify for the Enterprise edition.

Microsoft recommends that IT departments test applications for Vista compatibility. Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 is intended for just that.

PC hardware requirements are a gray area. Microsoft claims Vista will run on any system with an 800-MHz processor and 512 Mbytes of memory, but company officials acknowledge you really want more than that. "A gigabyte and above of memory is certainly what I would recommend," says Windows VP Mike Sievert.

A new imaging format promises to make Windows rollouts and upgrades easier. IT departments no longer must deploy different operating system images for various hardware configurations or for different countries where employees are based. One image fits all. Thankfully, software patching should become less onerous, too.

Vista supports miniapplications called Gadgets that can be arranged in the customizable Sidebar
(click image for larger view)

Vista supports miniapplications called Gadgets that can be arranged in the customizable Sidebar
Some security features could be perceived by users as intrusive. A Group Policy Object lets IT managers set security policies that apply to groups of employees. You might block the use of USB memory sticks, for example. Such proactive security won't always be popular.

Search shows up everywhere. There's a search box for Office documents, another in Vista's help and search center, on the control panel, in the media player, on the Start button, and in Internet Explorer 7. You can search by keyword within an application or use Start button search to scan the entire system. Microsoft also offers enterprise search, but you need SharePoint Server for Search for that.

One of the coolest mobility features in Vista is the ability to create ad hoc networks of two or more systems. Colleagues could gather in an airport terminal, set up a peer-to-peer network, and use Windows Meeting Space to collaborate. No Wi-Fi needed.

Check your PC's graphics card. Features like Vista's Aero interface, which offers a 3-D graphics experience and transparent window borders, will dial down if your graphics card is lacking. If you haven't upgraded your PC in a while, you could end up losing a lot of the visual bells and whistles.

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