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

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Windows Mail

Outlook Express has been renamed Windows Mail. The interface is cleaner and far more pleasing to the eye, and a new toolbar makes it easier to accomplish common tasks like creating, sending and replying to mail. But other than that, there's not much that's different. There's only one surprise here: You can't use Windows Mail to send and receive mail from a Hotmail account, which you can do in Outlook Express.

A new look brightens up Windows Mail.
 
A new look brightens up Windows Mail.

(Click image to see larger view)

Backup and Restore Center

Remember the old backup program in XP? It was universally reviled, for good reason. You couldn't do something as simple as backing up to a network folder or a CD drive.

Well, the backup program built into Windows Vista will make you nostalgic for XP-based backup. If you want to back up data in Windows Vista, you'll be looking for a third-party program.

We won't go into all the gory details, but here's the ugly synopsis: You can't back up individual files...or individual folders...or even individual file types with Backup and Restore Center.

If you want to back up, say, 40 or 50 megabytes of .doc files, .jpg files and .zip files, you can't do that. Instead, you have to back up every single data file, every single graphics file, and every single compressed file on your entire hard disk -- and that includes the files that make up Windows. So you'll have to back up several hundred megabytes of files you will never use and never want to back up.

Don't bother with Vista's Backup and Restore Center.
 
Don't even bother with Vista's Backup and Restore Center. (Click image to see larger view)

Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker

Remember the anemic Windows Movie Maker built into Windows XP? Forget about it -- the one that ships with Windows Vista may share that application's name, but it's a surprisingly useful multimedia tool that makes it easy for anyone to create videos and then burn them to DVD. You can import media directly from digital video cameras, digital cameras or other devices -- or even a hard disk. Creating a video is as simple as dragging and dropping clips onto a timeline, then adding effects and transitions, soundtracks and so on.

You can then use Windows DVD Maker to burn them to DVDs that can be played on any DVD player. It may not turn you into Martin Scorsese, but if you've ever wanted to create videos to post to YouTube, you've just found a free tool of choice.

You Tube-wannabes will be pleased with the tools offered by Windows Movie Maker.
 
You Tube-wannabes will be pleased with the tools offered by Windows Movie Maker. (Click image to see larger view)

Windows Photo Gallery

This program won't make you forget a fully powered photo editor, but if you're looking for a simple way to organize and view photos and other media, as well as do some quick-and-dirty photo editing, you'll be quite pleased. You can tag and rate your pictures, which makes them much easier to organize and find; quick scroll through thumbnails; play a slide show of them; and more. The quick photo editing tools can handle tasks like adjusting exposure and color, cropping images and fixing red eye. There's also an auto adjust button that cleans up a photo with a single click.

Windows Photo Gallery does a nifty job of organizing pictures and doing quick-and-dirty photo editing.
 
Windows Photo Gallery does a nifty job of organizing pictures and doing quick-and-dirty photo editing. (Click image to see larger view)

Windows Meeting Space

Looking for a good way to hold virtual meetings over a network, so that you can share documents with others, view everyone's markups, and chat and talk while you're all in different locations?

Then don't look to Windows Meeting Space.

This application is supposed to let people create ad hoc virtual meetings over a network, including those at Wi-Fi hot spots. But it lacks so many basic features that it's hard to imagine anyone using it. There's no common whiteboard, no built-in VoIP feature, and its chat module is pretty much worthless. What's the point, you might ask? We did, too.

If someone sends you an invitation like this to join Windows Meeting Space, just say no — the application lacks many features, such as usable chat.
 
If someone sends you an invitation like this to join Windows Meeting Space, just say no — the application lacks many features, such as usable chat.
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