Vista Aero and Applications

Aside from the many changes to the internal guts of Windows Vista, some changes are more obvious. Vista includes a new user interface Microsoft calls "Aero" as well as new and updated applications.


Depending on your point of view, the new "Aero" interface on Windows Vista is either fancy eye candy or a major effort to leverage the horsepower in today's high-end gaming PCs. Aero will allow effects like 3D animation, transparency, blurring, shadows in motion, scaling of images and text, accelerated rendering and motion, and more. Vector-based graphics allow for high-quality images that can be infinitely scaled in size.

Vista itself leverages these advancements in subtle ways such as using transparency to see what windows are behind the active program, without detracting from usability. That may sound hokey until you are trying to find one document out of 20 open windows. "Live" icons of documents show scalable images of the document itself for easy selection. Flip 3D upgrades the Alt+Tab task switcher to show an angle view of all open windows at once, rotating between them.

Making life easier was a goal of Vista: Start menu and Control Panel allow users to type in text to easily find programs. Explorer provides pull-down "bread crumbs" to facilitate navigation backwards to higher level folders on your disk. All Explorer windows sport a common Favorite Links area to hold shortcuts to often-used folders and documents.

Since it requires some hefty hardware, the new Aero interface is not available on Windows Vista Home Basic, and will not run on PCs that don't meet minimum hardware
standards. For more details, see our online article on the five editions of Windows Vista.


Windows Calendar finally brings a free, advanced calendar program to the masses. Outlook users may still want to stick with that calendar, but for the home users in particular Windows Calendar is a great way to share calendars with other users on the same PC. It is also iCalendar compatible to allow users to easily import appointments or subscribe to calendars posted on the Web.

The gadgets found on Vista's Sidebar are very similar to the widgets of Mac OS X, providing information such as a stock ticker, weather, notepad, and CPU/RAM usage. The Feed Headlines gadget captures Internet news feeds and display clickable headlines throughout the day (see What's New). Sidebar can be set to various levels of transparency, making it seem like it doesn't take up much screen space.

Backup appears to be a weak point of Vista, with its all-or-nothing backup strategy preventing backup of individual files or folders. Likewise, Meeting Space lacks a common whiteboard and voice-chat feature.

Windows Movie Maker and DVD Maker (found in Home Premium) are major upgrades, and Photo Gallery provides easy organization of photos with basic editing tools such as red eye reduction. Business and higher editions of Vista include Fax and Scan.

E-mail is still included for free, but is renamed Windows Mail instead of Outlook Express, which keen users probably noted was not included with Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP.

January 2007

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