ARTICLES IN THE BOOK
A GUIDE TO WINDOWS VISTA
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Windows Aero is the graphical user interface for Windows Vista, an operating system released by Microsoft in November 2006. Its name is an acronym (or backronym) for Authentic, Energetic, Reflective and Open. Intended to be a cleaner, more powerful, more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing user interface, it includes new transparencies, live thumbnails, live icons, animations and eye candy. It replaces the Luna visual theme which popularized its predecessor, Windows XP. Aero also encompasses a set of user interface design guidelines for Microsoft Windows.
Until the release of Windows Vista Beta 1 in July 2005, little or nothing had been shown of Aero in public/leaked builds. Previous user interfaces were Plex, which was featured in Longhorn builds 3683-4029; Slate, which was featured in build 4051 and was available until build 4083; and Jade (build 4074 and 4083, actually an early preview of Aero). Microsoft started using Aero in public builds since build 5048. The first build with full-featured Aero was build 5219. Build 5270 (released in December 2005) contained an implementation of Aero which was virtually complete, according to sources at Microsoft, though a number of stylistic changes were introduced between then and the operating system's release.
Originally, Aero was to have three levels available, one code-named "To Go", which had the Desktop Window Manager (DWM) composition engine (previously known as DCE) disabled. The next was to be AeroExpress, lacking many features of the highest level code-named Aero Glass. However, in December 2005, Microsoft announced that there would only be two levels available, "Windows Vista Aero" and "Windows Vista Basic", with the previous "Express" level integrated into the new "Windows Vista Aero" level. A control panel was added to enable the user to fine tune this functionality, such as being able to turn off the "glass" translucency effect. These levels are provided so that the Aero interface (to some extent) can be used with a relatively low-end graphics card.
Initially, a variation of Aero, codenamed "Aero Diamond", was slated to be the user interface for the Windows Vista Media Center experience. Although there has been no official mention of Diamond for a number of years, it may refer to the expectation that the interface will be written in pure XAML (as was Aero initially) but this has not been confirmed.
For the first time since the release of Windows 95, Microsoft has completely revised its user interface guidelines, covering aesthetics, common controls such as buttons and radio buttons, task dialogs, wizards, common dialogs, control panels, icons, fonts, user notifications, and the "tone" of text used.
"Wizard 97" has been the prevailing standard for wizard design, visual layout, and functionality used in Windows 98 through to Windows Server 2003, as well as most Microsoft products in that time frame. Aero Wizards are the replacement for Wizard 97, incorporating visual updates to match the aesthetics of the rest of Aero, as well as changing the interaction flow.
Notifications allow an application or operating system component with an icon in the system tray to create a pop-up window with some information about an event or problem. These windows, first introduced in Windows 2000 and known colloquially as "balloons", are similar in appearance to the speech balloons that are commonly seen in comics. Balloons were often criticized in prior versions of Windows due to their intrusiveness, especially with regard to how they interacted with full-screen applications such as games. Notifications in Aero aim to be less intrusive by gradually fading in and out, and not appearing at all if a full-screen application or screensaver is being displayed – in these cases, notifications are queued until an appropriate time. Larger icons and multiple font sizes and colors are also introduced with Aero's notification windows.
The Segoe UI font is the new default font for Aero with languages that use Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic character sets. The default font size is also increased from 8pt to 9pt to improve readability.
The Vista User Experience Guidelines also address the issue of "tone" in the writing of text used with the Aero user interface. Prior design guidelines from Microsoft had not done much to address the issue of how user interface text is phrased, and as such, the way that information and requests are presented to the user has not been consistent between parts of the operating system.
Research done by Microsoft had informed them that users were finding Windows difficult to use and understand. Users were dissatisfied or felt insulted because of the phrasing of some messages. In particular, computer terminology and jargon were overused and used inconsistently, creating a barrier to understanding for newer users, and messages were unclear or perceived as patronizing.
The guidelines for Vista and its applications suggest messages that present technically accurate advice concisely, objectively, and positively, and assume an intelligent user motivated to solve a particular problem. Specific advice includes the use of the second person and the active voice (e.g. "Print the photos on your camera") and avoidance of words like "please" and "sorry".
Microsoft has listed the following requirements for what they call a Vista Premium Ready PC. A PC that meets or exceeds these requirements will be able to use the new Aero technologies.
The minimum requirements for graphics cards from the major vendors include the Radeon 9500 from ATI Technologies and the GeForce FX 5200 from NVIDIA.
A note on minimum graphics requirements: though Microsoft has listed 128 MB of Video RAM as a requirement for "Premium Ready" PCs, it does not mean a 128 MB integrated graphics processor is required to run the Aero glass theme. A 64 MB integrated graphics processor, combined with at least 1 GB of system memory, will be able to run Aero at certain resolutions. However, a Vista-specific driver for any given graphics processor is also required to run the Aero glass theme, which may or may not be available at the time of Windows Vista's commercial release. Users who believe their hardware meets Aero's minimum graphics requirements are encouraged to check their graphics processor manufacturer's website for a Vista-specific driver if they are unable to run the theme.
Amongst others, WinSuperSite reviewer Paul Thurrott has noted many similarities between Aero and Aqua; he suggests that the use of translucency in the interface is going to make comparisons with Mac OS X's interface "hard to avoid." Long-time Mac columnist and book author John Rizzo wrote in an eWeek article, "Microsoft seems to have taken many cues from Mac OS X with the user interface and features, right down to some of the terminology. Even some of Vista's icons are amazingly similar to those in Tiger."