Windows Vista / Getting Started

Should I Bother Switching to Windows Vista?

Microsoft releases a new version of Windows every few years. If you bought your PC between 2001 and 2006, you have probably grown accustomed to the mechanics of Windows XP. That leaves the nagging question, why bother upgrading to Windows Vista when Windows XP works just fine?

Actually, if Windows XP's running just fine, then you probably won't need Windows Vista. But Microsoft hopes the following improvements in Vista will push your hand toward your credit card.

Improved security

Windows Vista's tougher new exterior helps make it more difficult for evil programs to louse up your PC. For example, Vista's built-in Windows Defender program constantly searches your PC for any spyware - small programs that spy on your activities, often showing you pop-up ads and slowing down your PC in the process. Microsoft constantly trains Windows Defender to recognize and squash the newest breeds of spyware.

Windows Vista comes with WindowsDefender, a free spyware eradicator that Microsoft automatically updates to recognize the latest breeds of spyware.

The other parts of Vista's security regime are not as simple, unfortunately. See, PCs recognize programs as mere strings of numbers, and they can't tell a good string - a word processor, for example - from a bad string, such as a virus. To solve the identification problem, Vista simply dumps the decision onto your shoulders: Whenever a particularly powerful program tries to run on your PC, Vista states, "Windows needs your permission to run this program." Then it leaves you with two choices: Allow or Cancel.

And although Windows Defender keeps you covered from spyware, Vista does not include a free antivirus program. Instead, Microsoft invites you to subscribe to its new Live OneCare antivirus program ( for $49 dollars a year.

New Internet Explorer version

Vista's new Internet Explorer 7 lets you surf the Web more easily and securely with the following new features:

Tabbed browsing:
In the past, keeping two Web sites open on-screen meant running two copies of Internet Explorer. With Vista, Internet Explorer displays several Web sites simultaneously, each running in a separate page with a clickable tab at the top for easy switching. That tab makes it easier to compare prices from several different shopping sites, for example, or read one Web site while others load in the background. You can even save a group of Web sites as your home page: Whenever you load Internet Explorer, your favorite sites will already be waiting for you, each living in its own tab.

Phishing filter:
An evil new industry called phishing sends e-mails that pretend to be from finance-related companies, such as banks, PayPal, eBay, and others. The realistic-looking e-mails pretend to alert you to some security problem as they try to trick you into entering your name and precious password. Internet Explorer's new Phishing Filter, sniffs out the phishing Web sites before you enter your information, keeping your name and password safe.

Built-in Search box:
Tired of racing off to Google to find a Web site? The top of Internet Explorer 7 sports a tiny Search box for on-the-fly searches. Although it is programmed to search on Microsoft's own MSN search.

RSS feeds:
Short for Really Simple Syndication, this feature lets you see headlines from your favorite Web sites in a short drop-down box. By ogling the RSS box, you can catch up on the latest news headlines, for example, without stopping to visit your favorite news site. RSS feeds also let you know if your favorite sites have any new articles, sparing you a wasted visit. RSS feeds speed up your browsing and, conveniently, leave out the ads.

Internet Explorer's new Phishing Filter alerts you to fake Web sites that try to trick you into entering your name, password, or credit-card information.

New Media Player and Media Center

Vista's new version of Media Player sports streamlined, easier-to-use controls. The big star, however, is Vista's Media Center, which not only plays DVDs and music but lets you watch TV on your PC and even record shows onto your hard drive for later viewing.

Recording TV shows requires two important things, however: a TV tuner in your PC and the proper version of Vista. Installing a TV tuner can be as simple as plugging a box into your PC's USB port or sliding a card inside your PC.

DVD burning

More than five years after DVD burners hit the market, Windows can finally take advantage of them without third-party software. Windows Vista lets you copy files and movies to DVDs as well as CDs.

In fact, Vista's updated version of Movie Maker lets you turn your camcorder footage into DVDs that play back on a normal DVD player and TV. Mail them to your friends and prepare for a deluge of incoming vacation DVDs, as well.


For the first time, Windows now sports a calendar, for keeping track of your appointments. You can even publish your calendar to other PCs or Web sites, keeping your appointments synchronized with the calendars of your friends and coworkers.

Easier searching for files

Windows XP really drags its feet when searching for files. Searching for a filename takes several minutes on a crowded hard drive, and if you are searching your files for a particular word or phrase, you are in for a long weekend. Vista, by contrast, spends its idle time fine-tuning an index of every word on your hard drive.

The built-in Calendar program in Vista tracks your tasks and appointments, as well as synchronizes your calendar with others to coordinate meetings.

Instead of sending you on a constant search for your files, Vista automatically remembers your files' locations. For example, search for every document mentioning "Celery," and Vista instantly lists those files' names, ready for opening with a double-click. Whenever you create new documents mentioning "Celery," Vista automatically remembers their locations, too, making for quick and easy retrieval.

Vista places a Search box on the Start menu, atop every folder, in the Help and Support window, and in a few other key spots. The handy Search box and Vista's up-to-date index make it faster than ever to find the files and programs you want.

Vista even updates its index with words on Web sites you have visited recently, letting you quickly reread that headline you scrolled through last week.

Vista looks prettier

Microsoft spent some time decorating Vista with a three-dimensional look, a treat available only to PCs with powerful graphics capabilities. When you can't find an open window, for example, press the Windows and Tab keys: All the windows appear on your PC in a Flip 3D view.

To see a 3D view of your currently open windows, press Tab while holding down the Windows key. Press Tab or spin your mouse's scroll wheel to flip through the windows and then let go of the Windows key when your window is on top.

Hover your mouse pointer over any name listed on your desktop's taskbar, and Vista displays a thumbnail picture of that window's current contents, making your window much easier to retrieve from the sea of programs.

[Previous] [Contents] [Next]