To Windows Vista, or not to Windows Vista?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007

Every few years Microsoft releases a new operating system, forcing most of the world to ask the question: Should I upgrade? The answer will usually be &uot;not yet,&uot; but in some instances it is worth the time and money.

Vista will most likely require you to upgrade. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your 3-year-old computer that runs Windows XP &uot;just fine&uot; will run Windows Vista; it won’t. Even if it will install on your existing hardware, you will not get the full effect of the new operating system, namely Vista’s new Aero graphical interface. Since the Aero interface is the most visible improvement in Vista it is important to make sure that you have the power to run it.

The question you should ask yourself before buying Vista is simple: What does Vista have that I don’t have already?

Here is a list of four new features in Windows Vista to help you decide if it’s time for an upgrade:

* The Aero Graphical Interface. This is Vista’s most drastic interface change since Windows 95 and requires quite a bit of computer to run it. It’s pretty, but not worth the upgrade by itself.

* Better search functionality. One of the most annoying tasks for any Windows XP user can be using the &uot;Search&uot; tool, which is slow and lacks a lot of features found in third-party utilities (such as the excellent Copernic Desktop Search). For business users or home users with lots of files, this feature is a huge time saver.

* Security Enhancements. Vista comes with much tighter security. That doesn’t always mean a better experience for the user, and in this case it means a never-ending stream of pop-up windows asking for permission to run things, but it should provide for fewer security threats down the road.

* DirectX 10. For gamers, DirectX 10 represents the next level of graphics in games. Not that it matters at the moment, since there are so very few games out that support DirectX 10. Eventually all gamers will have to upgrade to Vista, but not for some time to come.

If there is not anything on that list that you need, then wait another year for Vista to mature and software to begin to be adapted to its newer code. If you are ready for the upgrade, then it is time to figure out which flavor of Vista is right for you. Though there are four versions of Vista available for retail purchase, deciding which one you need doesn’t have to be complicated. Each version of Vista is tailored to a different type of user:

* Windows Vista Home Basic (Upgrade – New). This is the least expensive version of Vista and does not include the Aero interface, Media Center, Mobility Center or the ability to connect to Windows domains (servers). It is intended for performing the most basic of tasks, such as web browsing and E-Mail for home users.

* Windows Vista Home Premium (Upgrade – New). Includes Aero, Media Center, Mobility Center and the ability to connect to your Xbox. This is the version I recommend for most home users, as it provides pretty much all of the functionality a typical household would need.

* Windows Vista Business (Upgrade – New). Tailored for business use, Vista Business gives you the Aero interface and Mobility Center and adds the ability to connect to Windows domains. For business users or home users who don’t care about Media Center or Xbox connectivity, Vista Business is a good bet.

*Windows Vista Ultimate (Upgrade – New). Ultimate is just what you would expect from such a title; it includes everything found in the other versions and adds BitLocker Drive Encryption, which, when enabled, takes extra steps to secure the data on your local hard drive.

Still unsure? If you are a home user who doesn’t use the computer for any business purposes, Home Premium is usually the way to go. Otherwise, Vista Business is what you will need. I only recommend Ultimate for those who want everything and don’t mind paying for it, and Home Basic to those who simply want to check e-mail. It is also very important to verify that any software you use is compatible with Vista and doesn’t have any annoying &uot;known bugs.&uot;

The final question you should ask yourself is whether you need to upgrade your computer or buy a new one. You can run Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor to find out what Microsoft thinks about your situation, but my rule is generally to double their minimum requirements. That means at least a 2Ghz processor, 2GB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a DirectX 10 compatible video card with 256MB of graphics memory. This should give you an environment that you can actually enjoy using, not just look at.

It’s only a matter of time before Windows Vista finds its way into most of our homes. That doesn’t mean that it needs to come in to your home right away. The best advice I can give is for you to assess your situation carefully before upgrading. Vista is often an upgrade best left for the purchase of a new computer which will be less expensive and help ensure full compatibility.

Scott Carter is CEO of United Networks (, a computer sales and consulation company located in Franklin.