One of the big draws of upgrading to a new OS is the suite of extras that comes with it. And with Windows Vista, Microsoft overhauled the lot. The star attraction is Media Center, integrated into Home Premium and Ultimate, but Vista introduces several new programs, too. It also gives a makeover to the best apps in XP. Admittedly, some are the electronic equivalent of MDF, but others are genuinely useful improvements.
Compared to Vista, Windows XP is pretty bare when it comes to organisation tools. The closest you get to a calendar is looking up future dates in the Date/Time Properties, but Vista boasts a dedicated app. While Outlook users will stick with their current software, Calendar is a tidy, focused information manager that lets you add appointments, send invites and even share your calendar online. Support for iCal is an added bonus – visit Apple’s iCal directory (www.apple.com/ical) to see all the public calendars you can add, including UK public holidays.
XP’s Paint is a terrible photo editor by modern standards.
Less impressive is Windows Contacts. This update to XP’s Address Book (essentially a list of contacts) lets you add details such as birthdays, anniversaries, home address and work address, but Contacts is really designed to be accessed from other apps, just like Address Book. Although it’s an improvement over Address Book, with more fields for example, it certainly isn’t a compelling reason to upgrade.
The final organisational update is Outlook Express becoming Windows Mail. Outlook Express users won’t need to learn much, as it’s almost identical in terms of looks and the way it behaves, with the main improvements being better junk-mail handling and that Windows Search indexes all its contents, making it easier to dig out old mail.
Perhaps the biggest visual change on loading Vista is the Sidebar. Think of it as a dock for handy applets that you want to access quickly. It’s also relatively easy to program your own Gadget – utilities docked on the Sidebar – so businesses can write one for handling their expenses system, for instance. There’s nothing like Sidebar in Windows XP – that said, it isn’t hard to add similar features by downloading Yahoo Widgets (http://widgets.yahoo.com) or Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com).
Microsoft introduced Movie Maker with Windows ME, but it was only with the Windows XP version that it matured into a useful app. The version in Vista is a marginal but respectable improvement on its predecessor: it supports the recorded TV files created by Media Center, allowing you to edit adverts from recordings for instance, and the version of Movie Maker bundled with Home Premium and Ultimate offers support for HD as well.
You can also burn the end results to DVD thanks to Windows DVD Maker. It’s designed for ease of use rather than trying to rival advanced DVD-burning apps, but it’s a fine way to create DVD movies quickly.
Photos and music
Possibly the biggest change between now and 2001, when XP launched, is the explosion in digital photography. As such, XP had the woefully impotent Paint; Vista has Photo Gallery. Although Photo Gallery includes tools to touch up photos – removing red-eye, boosting colours, adjusting exposure and cropping – its main strength is as an organiser, especially if you tag photos with relevant phrases when importing them from the digital camera.