It's not very often that we have a chance to take a look at a new Windows operating system here at AnandTech. Not including the release of Windows XP x64 (the 64-bit version of windows) last year, Microsoft's premier operating system for workstation and home computer use has been Windows XP for nearly 5 years; that's an unprecedented period of time from Microsoft. However, that quiet period is about to come to a close early next year, as Microsoft begins to ramp up for the release of the next version of Windows: Windows Vista.

While Microsoft has been showing off Vista to various beta testers and developers for well over a year, including the first beta version released last July, it has only been since late May when Microsoft released Vista Beta 2 at WinHEC that a version has been available that is functional enough for testing. With the second beta, Microsoft has finally seen fit to release Vista to a wider audience of journalists and (for the first time) consumers, giving everyone a chance to see what is in store when Microsoft releases the final version of Vista next year. As the Vista customer preview version has just been released, we felt it was finally time for us to sit down and mingle with Vista and provide an official preview. We still have some reservations about the operating system, but we'll hold off on any final conclusions until Microsoft actually starts shipping Vista. In the mean time, Microsoft has managed to keep us intrigued with details of their OS that will replace the venerable XP.

For some time now, Microsoft has been in an interesting position of what to do after Windows XP. While Microsoft has had clear goals on what they've needed to deliver for each previous version of Windows, this hasn't been the case for Vista, which is part of the reason that it has taken so long for them to finish developing it. To put things in perspective, Windows 95 brought numerous new features including native 32-bit applications, an improved file system, a functional level of multitasking ability, and most importantly an immensely redefined user interface that made Windows much easier to use. Microsoft was able to follow that up with Windows 98, which added usable USB and AGP support, bringing Plug N Play to external devices and enabling the use of the next generation of graphics accelerators. Finally, with Windows XP, Microsoft ditched the DOS base of Windows and moved home users over to the NT kernel, vastly improving the stability and multitasking abilities of Windows to the level that business users had been enjoying for some time (courtesy of Windows NT/2000).

Herein lies the problem Microsoft has been facing since XP launched: what can you add to a (generally) stable OS that doesn't absolutely need any new hardware support or a user interface overhaul? Microsoft finally believes they have an answer to that problem, and today we'll be taking a look at what Microsoft will be bringing to your computers next year with the launch of Windows Vista. Perhaps for the first time since Windows first started shipping, Microsoft is in a position where they aren't shipping an OS where new technologies will carry it and the OS is just an enabler; instead with Vista the OS itself is the star.

The Many Faces of Windows
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  • dev0lution - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I'd happily boot into Vista everyday if all of my hardware devices would work. Not MS's fault, but rather my fault for buying a smaller manufacturer's product who has yet to post even beta drivers.

    In combination with Office 207 Beta2 and IE 7, Vista x86 has run fine and rather stable for me. It does tend to eat up a bit of memory, but I should probably add another GB anyhow. If I could just solve a couple app related problems and get Media Center (and MC remote) to change the channel on my set top box, I wouldn't be running from my MCE disk much at all anymore.

    I kind of like the new layout and explorer...
  • RogueSpear - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I've had been using Vista on one of my computers until shortly after the Beta 2 was released for public consumption. Once I saw that there was no appreciable improvements in that release, I finally decided to revert back to the relative comfort and superior performance of XP. First off, I have nightmares when I think of the mass confusion that will ensue among the mass of computer neophytes that are just now getting over the adjustment from moving off of 98/ME to XP. These will be trying days for help desk staff and even those are the "computer guy" in their family.

    More importantly, changes that are allegedly substantial, seem to me more cosmetic than anything. Yes, I realize that there are a lot of serious changes under the hood, but the benefits you can see and touch appear very superficial at best. This seems like an extreme makeover in an attempt to get people signed up for even more pervasive and hideous DRM. I know I'm living in the past, but I'll always be nostalgic for the days when my computer was actually my computer and the software/media I paid for were mine to use as I saw fit.
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I noticed this sentence: "As currently implemented, UAC surpasses Tiger's security features by giving more information about what application is requesting privilege escalation" Could you please elaborate a little on what "more information" exactly Vista provides in UAC dialogs that Tiger does NOT provide?

    From my experience Tiger gives the same information, I probably misunderstood you on that, could you please explain in more detail?
  • johnsonx - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    Our beta version of Vista came on two separate DVDs, one for x86 and one for x64, but we're not sure at this point if Microsoft is going to package Vista in a dual-layer DVD with an installer that can pick the right version, or if it will continue to come on separate discs. It's also worth noting that Vista will choose which version of itself to install based on the product key used, as now all versions (for x64 and x86) will use the same installation media, which will be a relief for doing reinstalls.

    Ok, these two sentences seem contradictory. First you say you don't know if 32-bit and 64-bit versions will come on the same disc with an installer that can pick correctly, then in the next sentence you say the installer will pick based on product key because both versions will use the same install media.

    So which is it, or there there something I'm not getting?
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    There's something you're not getting. A disc can install any variation of Vista(e.g. 1 disc can install Home Basic x86, Home Premium x86, Ultimate x86, etc); it can only install that bit-version of Vista however.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    it is difficult to say ... i think three different editors mucked around with that sentence :-)

    to try a different angle, both of these are true statements:

    1) the x86 disk can install any x86 version of vista

    2) the x64 disk can install any x64 version of vista
  • dhei - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    When you can, do a test to see how well they redid it please. Someone told me this would be noticable on those with broadband easily, not just LAN or network tests. Im really intrested in this aspect, though not sure how to really test it.

    Did you try a LAN benchmark vs winxp to see if any diffrence?
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    We did not do that, it was already a 12k word article + the time to run the benchmarks we did use. We'll be taking a much heavier look at performance once we have a final version of Vista to look at.
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    and read this while you're at it:">

    You can minimize the risk of a network service being used to attack your machine by using the firewall built into Mac OS X. Called ipfw, it can prevent potential attackers from reaching these services. As of Mac OS X 10.2, Apple has included a simple GUI for configuring ipfw. The GUI is good for adding simple rules to your machine; more complex rules will require you to use either the command line tools for manipulating the firewall, or a third-party GUI that has more features.

    Ryan, do you know what BSD ipfw is? It blows any XP firewall to ashes, Vista is only pathetic attempt to get to its level (well hopefully MS will get something similar in Vista, I really hope they do)

    Also read this:">

    That's another GUI to configure ipfw in OSX.

    Otherwise an excellent article, I'm impatiently wait for your review of the final Vista release, but please don't do such stupid mistakes again, Mac boys will hack and slash you for that ;-)

    "it's time for a full featured firewall for Windows and Mac OS X alike, and only the former has it" - what a funny lie :-) Please read about OSX ipfw (I gave you a couple of links) and fix it ASAP. Thanks.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I'm aware of IPFW, and what it can do(and boy is it nice!). But this is a competition among what the two OS's can do on their own, without significant intervention from the user. Out of the box, Vista's firewall is a full-featured firewall that can block inbound and outbound connections. Tiger's firewall can't do the latter, and in the age of spyware(and as you saw in our spyware test), it's sometimes the last thing keeping spyware and other malware from breaking out.

    Tiger may not have significant malware problems at this point, but there's no good reason why it(and more so Leopard) shouldn't have outbound protection too.

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