Microsoft Windows Vista review

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Aero uses the new Desktop Composition Engine to render graphics in hardware, rather than the software-based GDI and GDI+ of previous Windows versions. This both reduces the load on the CPU and, in conjunction with the new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM), makes badly written drivers less likely to take down the entire Windows kernel when they crash.

Microsoft Windows Vista review

Some will dismiss the majority of Aero as a purely aesthetic frippery, but disabling the slick visuals could theoretically slow down Vista, dumping the composition load back onto the CPU. If you don’t like the transparency effect, you can tweak its opacity or colour over a wide range, or turn it off completely.

For PCs without sufficient 3D clout, you’ll be presented with the Vista Basic theme (or the very similar Windows Standard if you buy Vista Home Basic). That does away with the more complex graphics handling and transparency effects, but it still looks more mature than XP’s default Luna scheme.

In the longer term, the rewriting of the graphics engine also has some significant ramifications for developers and, in turn, the look of applications they can produce. Being able to utilise the power of graphics hardware via more sophisticated APIs gives interface designers more freedom, and Aero is just scratching the surface.

Another big change is that system text and icons are now vector-based rather than being bitmaps. This makes it much easier to scale the Desktop (and compatible applications) up and down in size, to suit your preferences and the resolution of your screen.

Windows Explorer

With an increasing number of files littering our hard disks, Vista introduces new ways of finding and organising them, as well as easier navigation. The new-look Explorer windows dump the cartoon icons of XP, hiding most of the options behind drop-down arrows. The menu bar is also hidden by default. The “breadcrumb trail” bar at the top of Explorer Windows takes some getting used to, but it’s a much easier way of navigating deep folder structures, and presents a friendlier nomenclature than XP’s absolute paths. The absence of the Up button is the most frustrating change, but you can generally achieve the same effect using a drop-down menu.

The window itself is divided into a number of optional panes. The new Links menu on the left-hand side of windows is a great addition – you can re-order, add, delete or rename shortcuts there, and it’s by far the quickest way to skip between folders. Disappointingly, however, you can’t Ctrl + click to open a new window instance from it. Underneath, there’s a Folder tree list, which can be slid up to join or replace it. It’s handy to have both, but isn’t an elegant implementation, particularly at lower screen resolutions, and it’s easy to end up with a mess of shortcut buttons.

The Properties pane at the bottom of Explorer windows is a handy way to view or edit metatags (supported on all file types), and you can also set a preview pane on the right-hand side. This will preview Office documents, or supported media formats, although it’s often only marginally quicker than invoking the actual application.

XP’s passive column headers have been replaced by more complex versions. Drop-down arrows allow you to sort or filter by name, date range, type or practically any other attribute. You can further sort into Stacks (effectively virtual folders, with a single item representing each division) or collapsible lists. In conjunction with the multitude of “view by”, “sort by” and “group by” options, you can display folders or files in hundreds of ways, with little regard to where they’re actually stored. As this uses the Instant Search index, you can create a Saved Search from this, and immediately recall a dynamically updated version in the future, complete with the same formatting. It’s a very powerful tool.


Software subcategoryOperating system


Processor requirementN/A

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?no
Operating system Linux supported?no
Operating system Mac OS X supported?no
Other operating system supportNone

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