March 21, 2006 4:00 AM PST

An inside look at Windows Vista

Now set to ship in January 2007, Windows Vista will be Microsoft's first major operating system release since it introduced Windows XP in 2001.

The new OS is designed to offer a shiny new user interface, better security, improved data organization and near-instantaneous search. It will be a major gaming platform release because it includes DirectX 10, an upgraded and rebuilt collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that, according to Microsoft, will offer six to eight times the graphics performance of DirectX 9.0. We're opening our series of Windows Vista features with a look at the most striking feature of Vista, the 3D desktop and the new Aero interface.

Look and feel

Windows Desktop Manager
The next version of Windows brings an end to 20 years of 2D desktop rendering. Windows Aero is actually just a theme, or skin type, used by the Desktop Windows Manager, a new graphical system built into Windows Presentation Foundation. While Windows Vista is Microsoft's DirectX 10 vehicle, the 3D Desktop Windows Manager requires only DirectX 9.0. The switch to 3D rendering means that Windows will now have a use for that fancy $400 graphics card on the desktop.

The use of a 3D accelerator gives Windows Vista much more flexibility in creating imaginative interface displays on the desktop, such as animated wallpaper. In past Windows versions, the desktop could display graphics only in 2D. Youngsters may not believe this, but the very first 3D graphics cards were actually add-on cards that worked in conjunction with an existing 2D graphics card already in the system. The Windows Presentation Foundation uses DirectX to take advantage of your 3D graphics hardware to convert the 2D windows surfaces into textures that can be rendered onto the desktop.

Related story
Vista debut delayed
New operating system now not expected until 2007

Instead of displaying plain old windows, the new 3D user interface elements will be able to scale, rotate, and be manipulated with ease. The new desktop paves the way for new navigation features, like Flip3D and an improved Alt-Tab application-switching interface. Flip3D lets you navigate through all your application windows by pulling your open windows together and arranging them into a 3D rolodex format that you can cycle through and select by using your mouse or arrow keys.

The new Alt-Tab interface presents thumbnail shots of the contents of each window, as opposed to the Alt-Tab interface found in Windows XP, which provides only an icon of the program. As is the nature of beta software, nothing is set in stone; the look and functionality might change considerably.

Windows Aero
Aero is Microsoft's new default 3D desktop theme. Gone are the bright blues and smooth color gradients of Windows XP. The new transparent Aero theme features subdued colors and unobtrusive, rounded corners ready for the Web 2.0 era. Transparencies and soft fade effects give Aero a polished look. The borders of each window blur objects lying under them, leaving the window you are working on in focus while giving you a hint of what lies beneath. It's all very pretty.

Mouse over a navigation button, and the button will glow and spill light onto neighboring windows or onto the background. New windows slowly materialize into existence, and, when minimized, they fade and shrink downward.

Video
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CNET Reviews: Peek at Vista
New features are designed to appeal to nonbusiness users.

To accommodate for no-frills power users, Microsoft will include a classic Windows theme that closely resembles desktop elements found in Windows 2000. However, in our hands-on testing with Beta 1 we noticed that the austere theme doesn't feel as snappy as the Aero interface, which is strange considering that the Aero theme has a lot more visual complexity. We'll chalk that up to the beta status of the product--performance tweaks will likely wait until the end.

3D performance

Graphics card requirements
Windows Vista doesn't have official minimum system requirements yet, but Microsoft has recommended at least 512MB of memory, a "modern" Intel or AMD processor and a DirectX 9.0 graphics card for the current Windows Vista Beta 1. You'll need to have the right hardware to get the full Windows Vista experience. Yes, your system can run Vista if you don't have a DirectX 9.0 card, but you won't be able to enjoy the full Aero desktop effect because the system will default back to 2D mode.

You can't have just any DX9-compatible card either. According to Andrew Dodd, product manager for ATI's software group, the quality of the graphics card can impact the performance of the Aero desktop because it's now just like any other 3D application. Using a new Windows Vista driver from ATI, we tested a handful of ATI DX9 video cards on Windows Vista to see if we could get the system to lag on the desktop. Our 256MB Radeon X1900 XTX and Radeon X850PE cards performed flawlessly when we dragged a window over 10 open Internet Explorer windows. Our 128MB Radeon X300 SE showed some slight hitching when we got up over seven windows, but we had to frantically whip around the mouse to make it noticeable--we wouldn't have seen any signs of strain with normal usage. Current discrete DirectX 9.0 video cards should be able to handle Aero without a problem.

If you're thinking about upgrading your video card for Windows Vista, consider waiting a little while for ATI and Nvidia to release their DirectX 10 graphics cards. DirectX 9.0 cards will work great on the desktop and in legacy DX9 games, but you'll need DirectX 10 hardware for advanced Windows Vista games.

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61 comments

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Add your comment
MS should stick to games only with (Asta-la) Vista
At least then the poor quality of MS products won't kill people, harm busineeses, etc. in mission critical applications?

Does anyone want to be having a heart attack, only to find the MS powered heart monitor is being rebooted...give it a minute...

No Mr Jones, you can't withdrawl money from your account while the main systems are down with today's MS virus...
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And NASA...
...needs to release the sound stage footage of the moon landings!
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
Don't feed the trolls, kids
Do all you anti-MS (that's the same as "M$" if you don't recognize it) ever get any new material or are you just going to keep spouting the same tired (and entirely irrelevant, for that matter) arguments until you're blue in the face?

You're angry. We get it.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
MS should stick to games only with (Asta-la) Vista
At least then the poor quality of MS products won't kill people, harm busineeses, etc. in mission critical applications?

Does anyone want to be having a heart attack, only to find the MS powered heart monitor is being rebooted...give it a minute...

No Mr Jones, you can't withdrawl money from your account while the main systems are down with today's MS virus...
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And NASA...
...needs to release the sound stage footage of the moon landings!
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
Don't feed the trolls, kids
Do all you anti-MS (that's the same as "M$" if you don't recognize it) ever get any new material or are you just going to keep spouting the same tired (and entirely irrelevant, for that matter) arguments until you're blue in the face?

You're angry. We get it.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
No thanks!
Not looking forward to Vista in any way. I read this article because
it mentioned that it would talk about Vista in relation to heavy
gaming, but it seemed more like a paid article from M$. It didn't
mention at -all- the fact that having DirectX as a primary backbone
for the system is going to further decrease the usage of OGL,
making it harder and less cost effective for any devs to try to write
for OSX at the same time. I think I'll keep my XP box.... I'd go back
to 2k if I could.
Posted by Mori-neko (56 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It'll be some time before you see a game
that uses DirectX10. There's a simple reason for that, since DX10 won't be ported back to XP any game written to use DX10 automatically cuts off that portion of the market. Only when Vista and it's successors have a sizable portion of the market will DX10 games show up in anything other than "demonstrators" from MS.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
No thanks!
Not looking forward to Vista in any way. I read this article because
it mentioned that it would talk about Vista in relation to heavy
gaming, but it seemed more like a paid article from M$. It didn't
mention at -all- the fact that having DirectX as a primary backbone
for the system is going to further decrease the usage of OGL,
making it harder and less cost effective for any devs to try to write
for OSX at the same time. I think I'll keep my XP box.... I'd go back
to 2k if I could.
Posted by Mori-neko (56 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It'll be some time before you see a game
that uses DirectX10. There's a simple reason for that, since DX10 won't be ported back to XP any game written to use DX10 automatically cuts off that portion of the market. Only when Vista and it's successors have a sizable portion of the market will DX10 games show up in anything other than "demonstrators" from MS.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Nifty Visual Features
... are pretty much the first thing to turn off after a fresh install of WinXP, aren't they?
Sure it looks neat the first couple of times but gets old rather fast.
In my opinion they should spent less time working on those visual effects but instead on Windows Vista SP1
Posted by MaxRock17 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nifty Visual Features
... are pretty much the first thing to turn off after a fresh install of WinXP, aren't they?
Sure it looks neat the first couple of times but gets old rather fast.
In my opinion they should spent less time working on those visual effects but instead on Windows Vista SP1
Posted by MaxRock17 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Has Windows Bought into Strong DRM
I have been told Vista has very strong DRM. DRM is a problem for my clients now and I cannot recomend a switch fron XP pro if Microsoft has bought into these Hollywood intervention's into fair use of copywrited materals. Microsoft has been very coy on this subject. DRM can make a computer very user unfriendly. My clients are leaning to open source. I think Microsoft will have a hard sell if the DRM restrictions are strong.
Posted by bigjtk (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is one area...
That I am worried about as well. I am afraid that Vista is going to be a Police OS and try to arrest anything it deames in appropriate.

I don't know, if it is heavy handed like I am sure Hollywood and the Recording Industry would like it may be a junk OS right out of the gate.

Time will tell. I also like that the article noted that it was supposed to ship at the end of the year when everything else they have done said middle of 2006. It seems things keep slipping. I just don't understand why 6 years wasn't enough to get it out on time and with ALL of the features Microsoft promised.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
DRM is anti-consumer.
DRM is there to limit and restict the general public. It has no function that consumers want but yet we have to pay added on costs for its inclusion in the products that use it. MS must feel embarrassed by its inclusion in Vista. MS realise that DRM does not sell any type of product and that is why they don't want to highlight the DRM limitations of Vista
Posted by Frogfart (3 comments )
Link Flag
Has Windows Bought into Strong DRM
I have been told Vista has very strong DRM. DRM is a problem for my clients now and I cannot recomend a switch fron XP pro if Microsoft has bought into these Hollywood intervention's into fair use of copywrited materals. Microsoft has been very coy on this subject. DRM can make a computer very user unfriendly. My clients are leaning to open source. I think Microsoft will have a hard sell if the DRM restrictions are strong.
Posted by bigjtk (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is one area...
That I am worried about as well. I am afraid that Vista is going to be a Police OS and try to arrest anything it deames in appropriate.

I don't know, if it is heavy handed like I am sure Hollywood and the Recording Industry would like it may be a junk OS right out of the gate.

Time will tell. I also like that the article noted that it was supposed to ship at the end of the year when everything else they have done said middle of 2006. It seems things keep slipping. I just don't understand why 6 years wasn't enough to get it out on time and with ALL of the features Microsoft promised.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
DRM is anti-consumer.
DRM is there to limit and restict the general public. It has no function that consumers want but yet we have to pay added on costs for its inclusion in the products that use it. MS must feel embarrassed by its inclusion in Vista. MS realise that DRM does not sell any type of product and that is why they don't want to highlight the DRM limitations of Vista
Posted by Frogfart (3 comments )
Link Flag
Love the features of VISTA
These features have been working great on my $500 Mac Mini for six months now. And I didn't even need to purchase a $400 video card to make them work great. VISTA is going to be awesome.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree......
Stay put with your Mac-Mini and OSX, until you can aford a REAL operating system like VISTA...., then you can switch over and start enjoying what millions of XP users are looking forward to ...:)
Posted by sokorie (18 comments )
Link Flag
Love the features of VISTA
These features have been working great on my $500 Mac Mini for six months now. And I didn't even need to purchase a $400 video card to make them work great. VISTA is going to be awesome.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree......
Stay put with your Mac-Mini and OSX, until you can aford a REAL operating system like VISTA...., then you can switch over and start enjoying what millions of XP users are looking forward to ...:)
Posted by sokorie (18 comments )
Link Flag
No mention of all the new DRM
Will I be able to watch DVD's? Will I be able to copy a DVD? Will I be able to play or copy MP3's?
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not if
you buy the home version ya wont....heheheh
Posted by theoscnet (36 comments )
Link Flag
No mention of all the new DRM
Will I be able to watch DVD's? Will I be able to copy a DVD? Will I be able to play or copy MP3's?
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not if
you buy the home version ya wont....heheheh
Posted by theoscnet (36 comments )
Link Flag
My concerns...
I'm not completely anti Vista. I'm not even completely anti Microsoft for that matter. But I do have legitimate questions about Vista that have yet to be answered by any of the numerous articles I've read about it.

How bad is the DRM in this OS going to be? I know this has been asked in previous comments, but I'm just as curious to know, and it seems like all these articles about it either completely skip the issue or dodge around it. What about the obvious *and not so obvious* problems I see possibly arising from Vista's "security" features? Again, all the articles I've read about Vista glorify and detail the security of it, without even beginning to explore the ways it could be compromised. How about those of us that DON'T want our OS to use much of our system resources? This article mentioned that with the Aero theme turned off, the OS didn't seem as snappy - which gives me reason to suspect that the Aero theme never gets turned off, just skinned over. What about system stability? I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience an application crashing in XP only to take the entire system down with it, requiring a cold shut down.

So I'm just going to wait and see what the users have to say about it when Vista comes out, the hype has died down, and the nasties have had their time to play.
Posted by vixenk (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My concerns...
I'm not completely anti Vista. I'm not even completely anti Microsoft for that matter. But I do have legitimate questions about Vista that have yet to be answered by any of the numerous articles I've read about it.

How bad is the DRM in this OS going to be? I know this has been asked in previous comments, but I'm just as curious to know, and it seems like all these articles about it either completely skip the issue or dodge around it. What about the obvious *and not so obvious* problems I see possibly arising from Vista's "security" features? Again, all the articles I've read about Vista glorify and detail the security of it, without even beginning to explore the ways it could be compromised. How about those of us that DON'T want our OS to use much of our system resources? This article mentioned that with the Aero theme turned off, the OS didn't seem as snappy - which gives me reason to suspect that the Aero theme never gets turned off, just skinned over. What about system stability? I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience an application crashing in XP only to take the entire system down with it, requiring a cold shut down.

So I'm just going to wait and see what the users have to say about it when Vista comes out, the hype has died down, and the nasties have had their time to play.
Posted by vixenk (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ever used a mac?
If you have, you would know that 98% of these features have been
avaliable for a few years now, without all of the security headaches
in OS X. How can you write a story like this and not put it into the
context of other operating systems?
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wish...
You Mac people has saying Mac has had this or Mac has had that. When will you learn that we Windows users don't give a flying snowballs worth of spit what your Mac has or doesn't have.

Just so you know Apple is just as bad a monopoly as Microsoft. The difference is Apple doesn't have enough users for the government to fool with. You can only buy Mac's from Apple. They are constantly comeing out with programs that cause other companies to stop developing similar ones (Adobe is one such company). iTunes only works on iPods. So can the bull we don't give a flying flip.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
yeah
i agree , the mac does all vista does and more and has done it
for a long time ,



g4 dualcore will finally give a comparison (with bootcamp) and
show this hopefully


rok on mac
Posted by olegnep (23 comments )
Link Flag
Ever used a mac?
If you have, you would know that 98% of these features have been
avaliable for a few years now, without all of the security headaches
in OS X. How can you write a story like this and not put it into the
context of other operating systems?
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wish...
You Mac people has saying Mac has had this or Mac has had that. When will you learn that we Windows users don't give a flying snowballs worth of spit what your Mac has or doesn't have.

Just so you know Apple is just as bad a monopoly as Microsoft. The difference is Apple doesn't have enough users for the government to fool with. You can only buy Mac's from Apple. They are constantly comeing out with programs that cause other companies to stop developing similar ones (Adobe is one such company). iTunes only works on iPods. So can the bull we don't give a flying flip.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
yeah
i agree , the mac does all vista does and more and has done it
for a long time ,



g4 dualcore will finally give a comparison (with bootcamp) and
show this hopefully


rok on mac
Posted by olegnep (23 comments )
Link Flag
Hillarious
Wow, you need a kick-butt graphics card just to run Vista in it's normal setting?!?!? Awesome job MS!! I still have my 300MHz Mac running OS X without a fancy graphics card. I love it!! I think it's funny that in order for PeeCs to run properly you have to turn off all the eye candy or just simply UPGRADE. I think the only thing interesting in their "new" look is the 3D roladex windowing thing.
Posted by theoscnet (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hillarious
Wow, you need a kick-butt graphics card just to run Vista in it's normal setting?!?!? Awesome job MS!! I still have my 300MHz Mac running OS X without a fancy graphics card. I love it!! I think it's funny that in order for PeeCs to run properly you have to turn off all the eye candy or just simply UPGRADE. I think the only thing interesting in their "new" look is the 3D roladex windowing thing.
Posted by theoscnet (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes we've all used Macs, and we know they suck
Which is why the Aero interface is a piece of s--t. Just designed for morons who want "style" over functionality.
Posted by georgegliddy (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
? functionality ?
if by " functionality" you mean viruses

oh and if "the Aero interface is a piece of s--t" then why is vista
trying to copy it

hmmmmmm
Posted by olegnep (23 comments )
Link Flag
Yes we've all used Macs, and we know they suck
Which is why the Aero interface is a piece of s--t. Just designed for morons who want "style" over functionality.
Posted by georgegliddy (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
? functionality ?
if by " functionality" you mean viruses

oh and if "the Aero interface is a piece of s--t" then why is vista
trying to copy it

hmmmmmm
Posted by olegnep (23 comments )
Link Flag
Message has been deleted.
Posted by georgegliddy (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: Mac "jackasses" [sic]
re: << Look you Mac jackasses, .... >

My, such hatred and vitriol! It never ceases to amaze me how
much some of the most rabid Windoze fanbois (yes, YOU,
George) despise those Mac users. Please explain why you have
such hatred for them.

I know that some of them-- sometimes-- can be a little
annoying with their smugness, etc. But have you ever
considered that they are mostly being defensive. The reason
they are defensive is that they consider the Mac OS to be vastly
superior to any Windoze version and yet that fact is not
recognized by the general computer-buying public (both
corporate and consumer.) The reasons for this include a highly
effective marketing strategy by MS, a lack of that from Apple,
corporate commodity buying habits, and many more. Ah, but I
digress...

Yet, even given the above-- is that a cause for such bitterness?
Gee, maybe it's Windoze that has made you bitter...
Posted by keyboard55 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Ditto Windows Jackass
I was thinking about pointing out that you could see pretty much
the same silliness on a six-month-old Mac, but you'd have to
get the owner to reset it to its defaults. My mother - she'll be 90
in July - saw all that genie-effect stuff and the rotating cubes
and things and asked me if I couldn't make it go away ...
PLEASE???

There's been a lot of restraint in Windows upgrades these past
few years. Which is too bad because I understand the newer stuff
is worth the pain and cost of the upgrade. Much less of the
traditional BSoD and such. If there weren't a gazillion script
kiddies all looking for ways to zombie your systems for a DoS
attack on Fox News or to flood the nation with more spam, we
Mac types wouldn't have much to feel smug about these days.
Posted by dlmeyer (6 comments )
Link Flag
Can't Wait it looks great!!!
There are so many new and neat features that I cant wait to get my hands on and check them out.

It really is a big step forward, just a shame that it has taken this long. Cheers and congrats on a great feature set.
Posted by (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can't Wait it looks great!!!
There are so many new and neat features that I cant wait to get my hands on and check them out.

It really is a big step forward, just a shame that it has taken this long. Cheers and congrats on a great feature set.
Posted by (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Gaming?
I noticed the article made a big deal about DX 10 and how great it would be for gaming but I've heard no mention of anyone actually trying to play a game on this power hog. With all those resources being consumed by the OS will EQ II be playable at all?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Gaming?
I noticed the article made a big deal about DX 10 and how great it would be for gaming but I've heard no mention of anyone actually trying to play a game on this power hog. With all those resources being consumed by the OS will EQ II be playable at all?
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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