ARTICLES IN THE BOOK
A GUIDE TO WINDOWS VISTA
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Windows Vista (formerly codenamed Windows "Longhorn") has many significant new features compared with previous Microsoft Windows versions, covering most aspects of the operating system.
This article discusses the changes most likely to be of interest to non-technical users. The companion article, Technical features new to Windows Vista, discusses the technical advancements in Windows Vista, while the article Security and safety features new to Windows Vista discusses the security advancements.
Premium editions of Windows Vista include a redesigned user interface and visual style, named Windows Aero. Aero is intended to be cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing than previous Windows versions, including transparencies, window animations and eye candy. Windows Aero also features a new default font (Segoe UI) with a slightly larger size, a streamlined style for wizards, and a change in the tone and phrasing of most of the dialogs and control panels.
In addition to the Windows Aero visual style, Windows Vista includes three other variations: "Standard" which is Windows Aero without the transparencies and glass effects, "Basic" which more closely resembles Windows XP with elements of Aero, and is geared towards lower-end machines that aren't able to use the Desktop Window Manager, and "Classic" which is similar in appearance to Windows 2000.
For all Vista Premium Ready PCs, when using Alt+Tab to switch between open windows, a preview of each open window appears instead of just the program icon. In addition, Windows Flip 3D enables you to flip through a cascading stack of your open windows using the mouse scroll wheel. Windows can be stacked and rotated in 3D to provide views of all of them simultaneously (keyboard shortcuts for Flip 3D are Win+Tab and Ctrl+Win+Tab). The window buttons on the taskbar show a thumbnail image of the window, when the mouse hovers over the button.
Another new feature is that the copy-screen-to-clipboard facility (PrtScrn key alone or with Alt) can now be pasted directly as a JPEG into applications such as Windows Live Messenger.
The new shell includes significant changes from previous versions of Windows such as improved filtering, sorting, grouping and stacking. Combined with integrated desktop searching, the Explorer shell allows users to find and organize their files in new ways, such as "Stacks". The "Stacks" view groups files according to the criterion specified by the user. Stacks can be clicked to filter the files shown in Windows Explorer.
A new type of folder known as a Shadow Folder can revert its entire contents to any arbitrary point in the past. Shadow Folders utilize Transactional NTFS, a transaction feature for file system operations, in the NTFS release that accompanies Windows Vista.
Windows Explorer also contains modifications in the visualization of files on a computer. Though previous versions would only display thumbnails for images and videos, Windows Vista allows any file to display its graphical thumbnail to show its content. Furthermore, different imagery is overlayed on thumbnails to give more information about the file, such as a picture frame around the thumbnail of an image file, or a filmstrip on a video file. Thumbnails can be zoomed on. The preview panel allows you to see thumbnails of all sorts of files and view the contents of documents, similar to the way you can preview email messages in Outlook, without opening the files.
The address bar has been modified to present a breadcrumbs view, which shows the full path to the current location. Clicking any location in the path hierarchy takes the user to that level, instead of repeatedly pressing the Back button. This is roughly analogous to what is possible today by pressing the small down-arrow next to "Back" and selecting any folder from a list of previously accessed folders. It is also possible to navigate to any subfolder of the current folder using the arrow to the right of the last item, or to click in the space to the right of this to copy or edit the path manually.
Users can view and edit some textual metadata, such as 'Author' and 'Title', in files that support them within Windows Explorer. A new type of metadata called tags allows users to add descriptive terms to documents for easier categorization and retrieval. Some files support open metadata, allowing users to define new types of metadata for their files. Out-of-the-box, Windows Vista supports Microsoft Office documents and most audio and video files. Support for other file types can however be added by writing specialized software to retrieve the metadata at the shell's request. Metadata also include thumbnail previews, called live icons, which show a graphical preview of the contents of the file. Unlike previous versions of Windows, all metadata is stored inside the file, so that it will always travel with the file. However, users will be able to add metadata to only a few file types, especially at first.
It is now possible to install and select non-English languages on a per-user basis which transforms the shell and applications into Arabic, French, German, Japanese or Spanish from the next login, for multilingual enterprises and households.
Check boxes allow the selection of multiple files. Also, when renaming a file, Explorer only highlights the filename without selecting the extension. A Favorites pane on the left contains commonly accessed folders and prepopulated search folders. Seven different views are available to view files and folders, namely, List, Details, Small icons, Medium icons, Large icons, Extra large icons or Tiles. It is possible to change the layout of the Explorer window by using the Organize button. Users can select whether to display Classic Menus, a Search Pane, a Preview Pane, a Reading Pane, and/or the Navigation Pane. Document Properties are available from the common 'Open' and 'Save' dialog boxes, so it is easier to add information to the document.
Windows Vista features system-wide integrated search, called Instant Search, throughout the Explorer user interface, Start menu, Open/Save dialog boxes etc. Beyond searching for files, search works with Help, Control Panel, Networking, and more. In Control Panel, for example, typing "firewall" will instantly return all applets that have to do with the system firewall. The search engine uses indexing to allow for a quick display of results for a given search. The indexed search platform is based on Microsoft's Windows Desktop Search 3.0 release. This is in contrast to the search engine of Windows XP, which takes some time to display results, and only after the user has finished typing the search string. The Windows Vista search allows users to add multiple filters to continually refine search results (Such as "File contains the word 'example'").
Searching can also be done from the box at the bottom of the start menu, so it possible to start a program from here by typing its name, for example "Calc" to start the calculator, "Word" to start Microsoft Word, "Mail" to open Windows Mail, a web address to start the default browser at a particular site, the default search engine, or even a folder name, filename or network share name.
Advanced options allow to choose for a specific file type how it should be indexed, the properties only or the properties and the file contents or exclude it.
There is also the ability to save searches as Saved Searches where opening a folder will execute a specific search automatically and display the results as a normal folder. These virtual folders are also distributable via RSS.
The Windows Vista search and organize capabilities are built on the Windows Desktop Search engine and platform, allowing third-party applications (e.g. Microsoft Outlook 2007) to use the indexing platform to store metadata and perform searches on Windows Vista or Windows XP (with the Windows Desktop Search redistributable installed). Searching in Windows Vista also allows users to search across RSS and Atom feeds, straight from Windows Explorer.
Windows Vista also uses IFilters that are used today by Windows Desktop Search. The IFilter interface can be implemented by software makers so that files created by their applications can be better integrated with search and indexing programs. Another new aspect of Vista's search capabilities is Query Composition, this feature gives the user the ability to build searches on top of each other.
Unique to Windows Vista over Windows Desktop Search on Windows XP are the following:
Windows Vista also features an enhanced file content search for non-indexed locations, whereby the files being scanned are processed by the same IFilters that would be used for indexing, therefore offering more consistent results between indexed and non-indexed searches as well as the ability for third-parties to add support for additional file formats to have their content searched.
Windows Sidebar is a new panel on the right-hand side of the screen where a user can place Desktop Gadgets, which are small applets designed for a specialized purpose (such as displaying the weather or sports scores). The gadgets can also be placed on other parts of the desktop, if desired. By default, Windows Vista ships with thirteen gadgets: Calculator, Clock, CPU Meter, Currency Conversion, Feed Viewer, Feed Watcher, Notes, Number Puzzle, Picture Puzzle, Recycle Bin, Slide Show, Stocks, and an egg timer. Additional gadgets are published at Microsoft's web site, which offers both Microsoft-created and user-submitted gadgets in a gallery.
Gadgets are written using a combination of DHTML for visual layout, JScript and VBScript for functional code, and an XML file for defining the gadget's metadata (author name, description, etc.) The gadget is then distributed as a ZIP file with a .gadget extension. Displaying the gadget using DHTML allows the same gadget to be used on Microsoft's Live.com and Windows Live Spaces sites. Alternatively, on Windows Vista, the gadget can detect that WPF is available and take advantage of its graphical abilities to display in a different way from the web.
Windows Vista includes the latest version of Internet Explorer, which adds support for tabbed browsing, Atom, RSS, internationalized domain names, a search box, a phishing filter, an anti-spoofing URL engine, fine-grained control over ActiveX add-ons, thumbnails of all open tabs in a single window (called Quick Tabs), page zoom, and tab groups. Tab groups make it possible to open a folder of Favorites in tabs with a single click. Importing bookmarks and cookies from other web browsers is also supported. Additionally, there is now proper support for PNG images with transparency as well as improvements and fixes to CSS and HTML rendering.
On Windows Vista, Internet Explorer operates in a special "Protected Mode", which runs the browser in a security sandbox that has no access to the rest of the operating system or file system, except the Temporary Internet Files folder. This feature aims to mitigate problems whereby newly-discovered flaws in the browser (or in ActiveX controls hosted inside it) allowed hackers to subversively install software on the user's computer (typically spyware).
The Windows Vista and XP version of Windows Internet Explorer 7 additionally feature an update to the WinInet API. The new version has better support for IPv6, and handles hexadecimal literals in the IPv6 address. It also includes better support for Gzip and deflate compression, so that communication with a web server can be compressed and thus will require less data to be transferred. Internet Explorer Protected Mode support in WinInet is exclusive to Windows Vista.
Windows Media Player 11, which is also available on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, features a fully revamped interface. Windows Media Player 11 in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate Editions natively supports playback of HD DVD. Specifically, Windows Vista supports the MMC-5 commands, the driver commands for the AACS content protection scheme, as well as the UDF file system, although UDF is currently a part of the BD-R file system and not HD DVD. Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate Editions also natively include the VC-1 and the MPEG-2 video decoders, as well as the Dolby Digital (AC-3) 5.1 audio decoder. H.264 video and other multichannel surround sound audio standards still require third party decoders. Blu-ray playback also requires third party components to be installed. The Media Library is now presented without the category trees which were prominent in the earlier versions. Rather, on selecting the category in the left pane, the contents appear on the right, in a graphical manner with thumbnails – a stark departure from textual presentation of information. Search has been upgraded to be much faster.
Other features of Windows Media Player 11 include:
Windows Media Player 11 for Windows Vista is a superset of features of what is in the version for previous Windows versions.
Media Center in Windows Vista, available in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions, has been upgraded significantly, including a considerable overhaul of the user interface. Each button in the main menu, which contains sections such as "Music", "Videos", and "TV", gets encased in a box when selected, and for each selection, a submenu comes up, extending horizontally. When any of the options is selected, the entries for each are presented in a grid-like structure, with each item being identified by album art, if its an audio file, or a thumbnail image if it is a picture, a video or a TV recording, and other related options, such as different views for the music collection if "Music" is selected, extend horizontally along the top of the grid. Similarly, other items are identified by suggestive artwork. The grid displaying the items is also extended horizontally, and the selected item is enlarged compared to the rest. Other features of Windows Media Center include:
Windows Vista includes Internet Information Services (IIS) version 7, which has been refactored into a modular architecture, with integrated .NET extensibility. Instead of a monolithic server which features all services, IIS 7 has a core web server engine, and modules offering specific functionality can be added to the engine to enable its features. Writing extensions to IIS 7 using ISAPI has been deprecated in favor of the module API. Much of IIS's own functionality is built on this API, and as such, developers will have much more control over a request process than was possible in prior versions.
A significant change from previous versions of IIS is that all web server configuration information is stored solely in XML configuration files, instead of in the metabase. The server has a global configuration file that provides defaults, and each virtual web's document root (and any subdirectory thereof) may contain a web.config containing settings that augment or override the defaults. Changes to these files take effect immediately. This marks a significant departure from previous versions whereby web interfaces, or machine administrator access, was required to change simple settings such as default document, active modules, and security/authentication.
IIS 7 also features a completely rewritten administration interface that takes advantage of modern MMC features such as task panes and asynchronous operation. Configuration of ASP.NET is more fully integrated into the administrative interface.
Previous versions of IIS included with Windows XP had hard limits on concurrent connections and defined web servers; these limitations have been removed.
Beginning in early 2002 with Microsoft's announcement of their Trustworthy Computing initiative, a great deal of work has gone into making Windows Vista a more secure operating system than its predecessors. Internally, Microsoft adopted a "Secure Development Lifecycle" with the underlying ethos of, "Secure by design, secure by default, secure in deployment". New code for Windows Vista was developed with the SDL methodology, and all existing code was reviewed and refactored to improve security.
Some of the most significant and most discussed security features included with Windows Vista include User Account Control, Kernel Patch Protection, BitLocker Drive Encryption, and address space layout randomization. In addition to features intended to improve the security of Windows, Vista includes a range of parental controls, which give owners of a computer a set of tools to limit what other accounts on a computer can do.
The Desktop Window Manager (DWM) is the new windowing system available in premium (but not Starter and Home Basic) versions of Windows Vista. It enables the new Windows Aero user interface. The DWM handles the drawing of all content to the screen. Instead of windows drawing directly to the video card's memory buffers, contents are instead rendered to back-buffers (technically Direct3D surfaces), which are then arranged in the appropriate Z-order, then displayed to the user. This drawing method uses significantly more video memory than the traditional window-drawing method used in previous versions of Windows, which only required enough memory to contain the composite of all currently visible windows at any given time. With the entire contents of windows being stored in video memory, a user can move windows around the screen smoothly, without having "tearing" artifacts be visible while the operating system asks applications to redraw the newly visible parts of their windows. Other features new to Windows Vista such as live thumbnail window previews and Flip 3D are implemented through the DWM. Users will need to have a DirectX 9-capable video card to be able to use the Desktop Window Manager. Machines that can't use the DWM will fall back to a "Basic" theme, and use screen drawing methods similar to Windows XP.
Windows Vista includes a new version of Direct3D, called D3D 10. It adds a scheduler and a memory virtualiser to the graphics subsystem and forgos the current DirectX practice of using "capability bits" to indicate which features are active on the current hardware. Instead, Direct3D 10 defines a minimum standard of hardware capabilities which must be supported for a display system to be "Direct3D 10 compatible". Microsoft's goal is to create an environment for developers and designers where they can be assured that the input they provide will be rendered in exactly the same fashion on all supported graphics cards. This has been a recurring problem with the DirectX 9 model, where different video cards have produced different results, thus requiring fixes keyed to specific cards to be produced by developers.
According to Microsoft, Direct3D 10 will be able to display some graphics up to 8 times faster than DirectX Graphics 9.0c. In addition, Direct3D 10 incorporates Microsoft's High Level Shader Language 4.0. However, Direct3D 10 is not backward compatible with prior versions of DirectX. So computer games made for Direct3D 10 do not function on versions of Windows prior to Vista unless they also support Direct3D 9.
The Direct3D 10 API introduces unified vertex and pixel shaders. In addition, it also supports Geometry Shaders, which operate on entire geometric primitives (points, lines, and triangles), and can allow calculations based on adjacent primitives as well. The output of the geometry shader can be passed directly onwards to the rasterizer for interpolation and pixel shading, or written to a vertex buffer (known as 'stream out') to be fed back into the beginning of the pipeline.
D3D10 functionality requires WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) and new graphics hardware. The graphics hardware will be pre-emptively multithreaded, to allow multiple threads to use the GPU in turns. It will also provide paging of the graphics memory.
Direct3D 9 is also available under Windows Vista, as well as a new modified Version of it named Direct3D 9 Ex. This modified API uses the WDDM and allows Direct3D 9 applications to access some of the features available in Windows Vista such as cross-process shared surfaces, managed graphics memory, prioritization of resources, text antialiasing, advanced gamma functions, and device removal management.
Deprecation of other DirectX APIs:
In Windows Vista, only Direct3D features an overhaul. The DirectX SDK mentions that most of the other APIs have been deprecated. Specifically, DirectInput is deprecated in favor of XInput, from the Xbox team. Likewise, DirectSound is also deprecated in favor of XACT and is also not hardware accelerated. As of DirectX 9.0c, however, neither XInput nor XACT have all of the capabilities of DirectInput or DirectSound, and according to Microsoft's documentation, XInput is specifically designed for the Xbox 360 controllers. DirectPlay is deprecated in favor of Xbox Live whereas DirectShow will be gradually deprecated in favor of Media Foundation. DirectMusic lacks an equivalent modern API so far and therefore is the only component intact.
Icons in Windows Vista are visually more realistic than illustrative. Icons are scalable in size up to 256 x 256 (512 KB), resolution-independent and optimized for high-DPI displays. Required icon sizes are 16 x 16, 32 x 32, and 256 x 256. Optional sizes are 24 x 24, 48 x 48, 64 x 64, 96 x 96, and 128 x 128. Document icons show the actual document contents and several media types are distinguished by icon overlays (video, audio, photos). Windows Explorer can zoom the displayed icons in and out using a gradual slider. To optimize and reduce the size of large icons, icons may be stored as compressed PNGs. To maintain backward compatibility with earlier versions of Windows, only larger sized icons can use lossless PNG compression.
Windows Imaging Component (WIC) is a new extensible imaging framework that allows applications supporting the framework to automatically get support of installed codecs for graphics file formats. Windows Presentation Foundation applications also automatically support the installed image codecs. Third party developers can write their own image codecs for their specific image file formats. By default, Windows Vista ships with the JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PNG, BMP and HD Photo codecs. Codecs for RAW image formats used generally by digital cameras are also supported in this manner. Windows Explorer, Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Photo Gallery Viewer are based on this new framework and can thus view and export images in any format for which the necessary codecs are installed.
Windows Vista features Windows Color System (WCS), a platform for color management. Its goal is to obtain color consistency across various software and hardware, including cameras, monitors, printers and scanners. Different devices interpret the same colors differently, according to their software and hardware configurations. As a result, they must be properly calibrated to reproduce colors consistently across different devices. WCS aims to make this process of color calibration automatic and transparent, as an evolution of ICC Color Profiles.
Windows Color System is based on a completely new Color Infrastructure and Translation Engine (CITE). It is backed up by an new color processing pipeline that supports bit-depths more than 32 bits per pixel, multiple color channels (more than 3), alternative color spaces and high dynamic range coloring, using a technology named Kyuanos developed by Canon. The color processing pipeline allows device developers to add their own gamut mapping algorithm into the pipeline to customize the color response of the device. The new pipeline also uses floating point calculations to minimize round-off losses, which are inherent in integer processing. Once the color pipeline finishes processing the colors, the CITE engine applies a color transform according to a color profile, specific to a device to ensure the output color matches to what is expected.
WCS features explicit support for LCD as well as CRT monitors, projectors, printers, and other imaging devices and provides customized support for each. WCS uses color profiles according to the CIE Color Appearance Model recommendation (CIECAM02), defined using XML, to define how the color representation actually translates to a visible color. ICC V4 color profiles are also supported. Windows Photo Gallery and Photo Viewer, Windows Imaging Component, the HD Photo format, XPS print path and XPS documents all support color management.
Some significant changes have been made to Windows Vista for mobile computing.
In Windows Vista, 'Stand By' and 'Hibernate' have been combined into an additional 'Sleep' function which is active by default. When chosen, this new 'Sleep" mode saves information from the computer's memory to the hibernation file on disk, but instead of turning off the computer, it simultaneously enters Standby mode. After a specified amount of time (3 hours by default), it shuts down (hibernates). If power is lost during Standby mode, the system resumes from the existing hibernate image on disk. Sleep mode, thus, offers the benefits of fast suspend and resume when in Standby mode and reliability when resuming from hibernation, in case of power loss. Also, in earlier Windows versions, drivers sometimes prevented Windows from entering or reliably resuming from a power-saving state. This problem has been solved in Windows Vista. Applications can disable sleep idle timers when needed such as when burning discs or recording media. Away mode, which is not a power plan by itself but a feature, automatically turns off displays, video rendering and sound but keeps the computer working when the user is away from the computer. Optionally, it can also transition to sleep mode. Power settings are also configurable through Group Policy.
Category: Windows Vista