Hands On: A Hard Look at Windows Vista

Now that it's gold, here's an inside look at the best and the worst of Windows Vista

It's taken five years, enough lines of code to span the globe several times, countless thousands of hours of developer time, and so many builds, betas, and release candidates that you'd need a cluster-based supercomputer to keep track of them all -- but Windows Vista is finally here.

Vista development, which started with the Windows Server 2003 core, which in turn started with the Windows XP SP2 core, is in the same league with Microsoft's Windows 95 effort, and not far behind the gargantuan Windows NT undertaking. Whether you love Windows or not, whether you believe in Microsoft's ability to innovate or not, you can't fault the software giant's R&D efforts with Windows.

The question is, what does all that work mean to you and to businesses the world over? What are the benefits? What are the downsides? There can be no doubt that there are pluses and minuses to Vista, from easier installation and management to aggressive antipiracy features, from advanced video 3-D graphics to a notable bump up in the video hardware requirements, from hundreds of security improvements to the frustrating User Account Control user experience.

While Windows Vista is an ambitious total overhaul of Windows XP, in the end there's no big gotta-have-it feature or functionality, unless you're a big fan of Aero, its considerably improved and more elegant interface. From a user perspective, there are literally thousands of mostly small advances, but the sum of the parts isn't greater than the whole. Yet Vista is clearly a better operating system than XP.

But how can a major new version of Microsoft Windows not be compelling? That's the conundrum of Windows Vista. The vision behind Vista was in many ways about laying the groundwork for the future. So it could well be that the benefits will play out over time. In the meantime, the two big selling points are presentation and security.

Should Windows Vista be in your future? To help you evaluate, this article focuses on the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the product. You be the judge. At the end, we'll tell you what we think overall.

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