It's been five years in the making. Hundreds of thousands of man hours have gone into its development. Millions of words have already been written about it. Some have already written it off, others can't wait to get their hands on a copy.
Finally it's here. This is the latest episode in the Microsoft soap opera. This is Windows Vista. Has it been worth the wait?
On the face of it, Vista has its work cut out. There's no doubt that the move from XP to Vista was never going to be as dramatic or ground shaking as the move from the much-derided Windows 98 to XP, no matter how hard the Microsoft spin machine worked at convincing us it was. After all, there's not nearly quite so much to fix with XP, which has, by-and-large, done a decent job of running home, business and, latterly, entertainment PCs throughout the land for a good while now.
There has been the odd security bump along the way and, sure, it has the odd annoying foible, but apart from the fact that it's beginning to look a little long in the tooth, XP is still in rude health. Has Vista got enough in its locker to persuade millions of users to make the switch? Read on to find out…
Just Window Dressing?
Cynics will tell you that Vista is just XP with a brand new wardrobe - underneath it's just the same old operating system. And yes, to a certain extent that's true. But in the case of Vista's rather swish-looking Aero interface, it's more than just pretty version of XP. This is a makeover that's worthy of the name.
If your PC or laptop has the hardware (we'll deal with this issue in more depth later) you'll get transparent windows that let you see through them to what's behind and much more sophisticated animations than with XP. Minimised Windows fade out and gracefully slide into the taskbar, live previews appear as you hover over minimised application buttons in the taskbar, and the whole look and feel is a lot more mature than XP. If you've downloaded and used Windows Media Player 11, you'll already have a good idea of how Vista shapes up – it's slick, no doubt about it.
There are other ways in which Vista shows off its new 3D capabilities though, apart from the transparency and glass effects. There is now an alternative to the old Alt-Tab method of switching between applications called Flip 3D. Hit the Windows key and Tab and instead of flat, anonymous icons, you get previews of all your currently open windows stacked in 3D. Hit Tab while holding down the Windows key and the stack smoothly cycles through each one, just like a virtual Rolodex. The more frivolous sidebar is a nice touch too. This takes a similar - albeit altogether more attractive - approach to Google's Desktop sidebar. You can dock various 'gadgets' here, including a clock, sticky notes, an RSS news feeder, a photo slideshow, contact list and various other handy mini-applications.