Visual Tour: 20 Reasons Why Windows Vista Will Be Your Next OS

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NEW APPLICATIONS

15.
A blizzard of new applets, utilities and Control Panels

Vista includes Windows Media Player 11, Windows Movie Maker with new effects and HD support, Windows Calendar, DVD Maker, Contacts, Fax and Scan, Disk Defragmenter with scheduled defragging, Windows Easy Transfer, Memory Diagnostics Tool, mildly improved Task Scheduler, and many other smaller tools.

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The new Control Panel has over a dozen new applets

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Microsoft is also blurring the distinction between Control Panels and onboard utilities, adding several tools in Vista's Control Panel that are more like stand-alone utilities than settings dialogs. Backup and Restore, Parental Controls, Performance Rating and Tools, and Windows Defender are all new small application-level Control Panels. More conventional Control Panel additions or revisions include AutoPlay configuration, Color Management, Device Manager (which always should have been a Control Panel), Digital Identities (smart-card management), Indexing Options for the integrated search functionality, Mobility Center, Network Center, Network File and Printer Sharing, and Power Options.

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Microsoft added many new bundled apps and utilities in Vista

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Collectively, this spate of new programs, utilities and configuration controls represents the single largest update of bundled software since the Windows 95 time frame. They may sound like bells and whistles -- and on their own, few of these additions are really anything major -- but they're not useless either. Every one of the ones I've called out does something small but useful. In the case of Backup and Restore and Windows Defender, the functionality is a notch above minor. Backup and Restore, for example, is able to do scheduled, automatic backups to optical media or network volumes. It brings Windows' onboard backup utility into the 21st century.

16.

Windows Sidebar

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Microsoft's new Sidebar houses single-purpose mini apps

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Anyone who has seen Apple's Widgets in OS X Tiger will immediately get the idea when I say that the Sidebar is designed to display Gadgets, little single-purpose, .XML-based applets that will (hopefully) offer useful functionalities. The Windows Sidebar is bit better designed than Apple's Widgets in OS X 10.4. Both operating systems let you drag mini-applets to the desktop, which have about the same level of potential functionality. The beauty of Microsoft's solution is in the Sidebar itself.

Sidebar uses transparency to excellent effect. You don't feel like part of your desktop is taken away. Even when you set the Sidebar to its most aggressive screen-robbing setting, "Sidebar is always on top of the other windows," it doesn't shrink your desktop size. Other program windows that overlap the Sidebar merely slide under it, and you can still see them because the Sidebar column is transparent. Two other settings give you full control. You can make it so that all windows appear on top of the Sidebar, so it's just part of the background. And, of course, you can turn it off.

I noted Sidebar's major shortcoming in 20 Things You Won't Like story, which is a lack of Gadgets. There's not much point to the Windows Sidebar without having a big pile of Gadgets to choose from and install. Another point I would suggest is that Microsoft create a user-configurable area on the Sidebar.

17.
Internet Explorer 7+

I'm on record as saying that Internet Explorer 7 "has no soul," and I haven't changed my opinion one jot about that. Microsoft was moved enough by Firefox and Opera to actually make changes to its market-leading browser, but the changes are very minor, and few of them have any originality at all.

However, significantly improved security of IE7+ with protected mode browsing and antiphishing is worth cheering about. Like UAC, IE7+ prompts you endlessly about whether you want to run applications and so forth, without any ability to remember your answers by specific Web site or application name. While there are good security reasons for doing that, it takes the joy out of Web surfing, at least for me.

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Internet Explorer 7+'s is much more secure than IE6

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Additionally, the fact that IE7+ offers tabbed browsing means it's no longer operating in the user-interface Dark Ages.

Perhaps the best news, though, isn't about features in IE7+, but about Internet Explorer's future. Bill Gates at WinHEC and also Gary Schare, Internet Explorer 7's lead product manager, have committed to major updates of Internet Explorer on a roughly every-18-month time frame. That means the next release of Internet Explorer, probably sometime in 2008, could be a far more interesting product.

I'm still not a big fan. I still use and prefer Mozilla's Firefox. Internet Explorer 7 doesn't change that. But for confirmed Internet Explorer users, there is no downside to IE7+. It's a much better browser than IE6. Next page: Versions and Editions 

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