Every new edition of Windows also sees new additions and improvements to the bundled applications and Vista is no different. Many of you will be running Internet Explorer 7 and Media Player 11 already, of course, but with Vista there's a whole raft of other new and improved goodies to get your teeth into.
First, there's Windows Photo Gallery, which offers Picasa-like functionality and a handful of useful photo editing tools - red-eye, colour adjustment, exposure tweaks and cropping. It's not as good as Picasa, but a simple and effective tool that many will feel is not in need of replacement.
Other changes include the renaming of Outlook Express to, simply, Windows Mail. This is complemented, at last, by a halfway decent calendar application. Called Windows Calendar this brand new program has some surprisingly advanced features, such as the ability to set recurring appointments and specify attendees for meetings, who can then be invited via email.
Those purchasing the Home Premium version of Vista (see below for full details of what you get with the various different versions) get the fully functional version of Windows Media Center thrown in with all the features that entails, while other improvements on the multimedia front include a dramatic makeover for Windows Movie Maker. The latter now has wider codec support including the ability to compile and publish HD projects, plus many more transitions than before and a new auto-movie feature. Note though, that the HD features are only available in Premium and Ultimate Editions – not in Home Basic. Also included is the facility for transferring Movies from Movie Maker to DVD and to create and burn DVD movie projects, complete with menus, using Windows DVD Maker.
In addition to the Media Center functionality, Home Premium and up owners also get to play with Windows Tablet PC functions, which include very decent handwriting recognition. And last but by no means least you also get Windows Meeting Space - Microsoft's latest stab at enabling people to host virtual meetings, sharing documents, annotations and the like, over a network.
Alas there's still no word count feature in Wordpad or Notepad, but after waiting for that small addition since Windows 95 first hit our screens, I have to say I wasn't exactly surprised.
Security, security, security. That's the maxim, if any, that the Microsoft development team, will have had at the top of its features check sheet when Vista was first conceived. As a result Vista is a big improvement over XP here.
Let's start with what's new. First, there's Windows Defender, Vista's new anti-spyware software. It's not as good as the best commercial software out there but at least it's something where before there was nothing and it does include rootkit detection and live updates.
Next, Windows Firewall has seen a huge upgrade over the rather simplistic XP offering. This is far more configurable than before, with the ability to specify individual rules that apply to ports, specific applications and inbound and outbound traffic as well. We're a little concerned that there's still no virus protection included. But with packages such as AVG now freely available to download this is an easy hole to fill.
Vista also sees a dramatic upgrade for the backup tool. Though XP did have this facility, it was woefully short on features and very difficult to use. Thankfully, Vista's Backup and Restore Center is much better. Setting up scheduled backups of your documents, pictures, music files and so on is an absolute breeze, and you can now also backup an image of your entire system direct to CD or DVD media, in much the same way as you can with products such as Symantec's Ghost.