Monday, May 16, 2022
  • Home

From Longhorn to Vista-New features review Megapost!

January 13th, 2006 by Patrick S

Windows XP is almost 4 years old, and in that time the average size of a hard disk has risen tenfold. The MP3 revolution has taken the world by storm with many people now having more albums on their hard disk than in their shelves. Digital camera sales have raised so much that now it’s even hard to find 35 mm compacts. 

The general uses of PC’s have changed too. Most people, when asked what they want their new machine to do, have moved from ‘Oh, you know, word processing and stuff’ to ‘Oh, just email and web surfing’ in other word the PC is no longer seen as the utilitarian tool, but as a connected communications and media portal. 

Then there are the concerns that go with connection to the outside world. Newspapers really go a week without reporting the latest threat to your PC, while utilities like anti-virus and Internet security now account for half of all software sales. It’s quite obvious then that the main tasks of a new operating system, as far as the end user are concerned, should be to help you organise an ever-expanding collection of data, and keep that data secure. This huge change in focus is perhaps the main reason behind the painful, drawn out process that’s finally culminated into the beta releaces of Windows Vista, formally codenamed Longhorn. Microsoft has been following a moving target, and it’s notoriously sluggish in reacting to the winds of change. Preferring to dictate rather than follow, it failed to predict the Internet was going to take off in the way it has and then struggled to catch up. 

But now things have settled down enough for the big guns of Redmond to finally get the current market in their sights. However, the chopping and changing has meant that Vista isn’t the beast that Longhorn once slated to be. Windows XP’s NTFS filing system remains, the revolutionary WinFS having been summarily ejected due to its complexity slowing the project down. It’s set to be retrofitted after Vista’s release. 

Contrary to most other betas, the Vista Beta 2 release is pretty stable but there are a few gaps. What it does provide is the first true insight into what Microsoft’s next OS will deliver-not just in terms of its flash new graphics, but the power that lies underneath. Its new searching power will have a dramatic effect on the way we handle information, its hard-line approach to security could finally deliver the killer blow to hackers, while it emphasis on web services will inevitably have far-reaching effects on how we do business. 



Pre-beta Longhorn builds all featured one obvious UI enhancement; the Desktop sidebar, which housed a pretty analogue clock. In beta 1 this was dropped, but makes a return in Beta 2. This is perhaps one of the significant changes to the Windows desktop that has evolved almost linearly since “START” first graced our Pc’s in Windows 95 all those years ago. Indeed the desktop looks functionally identical to Windows XP, with the START Button, System Tray and Recycle bun all in their familiar positions. The difference is in the presentation: the recycle bin is a more 24-bit colour affair and the start bar is again more attractive. Microsoft has done well to update Vista’s look without making it too unfamiliar. 

This default look is known as the Windows Aero Glass theme, and it’s most obvious when u open a window, The Windows frames and borders are now translucent showing the contents of windows underneath, and all windows now have a pronounced drop shadow effect on the desktop below. Fade effects are everywhere, and window Minimise/Maximise and Close icons have a pleasing ‘activated’ glow when the mouse is hovered over them. Its all part of the DirectX 9.0-based Avalon display engine and, if Microsoft personnel are to be believed the effects present in Beta 2 are just the beginning. Later builds promise even further enhancements that can take full advantage of the hardware acceleration in current generation graphics cards to create truly beautiful desktops. Even giving Apple a run for its money. 




Click on the Start button, and again you will see something similar to what you see in Windows XP. However, the behaviour of the Start menu is no much saner: Click on All Programs and, instead of a list of programs popping up to the right and obstructing everything else on the screen, it appears within the confines of the left-hand side of the list. Click another sub-menu (for instance Accessories) and that list opens up in the same place. A back button at the bottom lets you retrace your steps. It’s a little unexpected at first, but much better than the old system of displaying lists and sub lists of programs halfway across the desktop. In addition, as soon as you click the start button, you’ll see a search box that automatically gains keyboard focus. Type the name of a program and Windows will show any matching Programs as you type (I.E. type ‘calc’, press Enter and Calculator appears right before your eyes) It’s a huge blessing for people with dozens of programs installed. And that search box is the first of many instances within an OS that, from a UI point of view, is almost entirely focused on searching and automatic data organisation. Open up the documents folder and you will find that Microsoft has removed the unbearably dainty ‘My Computer’ and ‘My Documents’ affectation-and you default view is not of your hard disk but of what Microsoft calls a ‘Virtual Folder’. These are clearly distinguished in the Explorer window by their blue colour, whereas ‘real’ folders on the hard disk are yellow. Virtual Folders build themselves around the mainstay service in Windows Vista-the Windows Search Engine. This is based on the indexing service that has been present since Windows 2000. Virtual folders present data on your hard disk based on content or metadata gained by the Windows Search Engine as it trawls your system, and not by location on your hard disk(s). There are several standard virtual folders predefined including Keywords, Rating and Type. The really powerful part is that you can create your own virtual folders based on custom searches built up within the new and powerful search box. This allows for searching not just by a simple match, such as a word in a file, but also multiple level searches. You could for instance search for all files with the keyword ‘computer’ excluding those with the word ‘Apple’ in their title. Or you could search for photos with a certain star rating but not those containing Jabez within the keywords. Once you have made the search, you can then save it as a virtual folder. This isn’t static” wherever a file matching the search criteria is added or removed, the virtual folder is updated to reflect this. 





But the interface as it stands is initially confusing, If you’ve ever used Media Player 10 and found its excess of drop-down menus-indicated only by small arrows-difficult to understand, you’ll understand what I mean. The interface is typically Microsoft in the sense that it gives you as many possible ways to reach the exact same end result. This can lead you round in circles. For example the appearance and function of Explorer windows changes subtly, depending on weather you’ve got to them via the Computer icon, you’re in the Pictures folder looking at virtual folders. The standard Explorer view onto the All Documents virtual folder contains 13 small arrows leading to drop-down menus that change the view in some way. None of them are labelled with text-you just have to click on them and see what they do. 

The second snag is that Microsoft is saddling us with more work: if our data isn’t tagged with star rating, keywords and author information (and whose is?) the standard virtual folder gets in the way. 


Vista is the beginning of a new era in data organisation, and if it’s going to work we need to be more careful with our drive contents. To get the most of our interface, we’re all going to have to put in some extra work and start tagging docs appropriately so the Search Engine stands a chance of organising things. At the very least, we’re going to have to set the date and time on our digital cameras. 


Phew what a post…I’ll take a break and write about Vista’s security later on. 

Posted in Windows Vista | 2 Comments »

This entry was posted on Friday, January 13th, 2006 at 6:14 am and is filed under Windows Vista. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses

  1. Aaron Tsychivinsky Says:

    dude, ur screenshots are way old – there is like a ball for the start menu now, not a normal button!!

  2. Patrick S Says:

    Yes i know…I didnt want to use my own screen shots unless its under NDA….so i got these off the net (Its still beta 2 is it not) (A)


    BTW did you read my whole post….did i get through to someone?