This article appears as part of our comprehensive guide to Windows Vista in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents. Click here to visit our dedicated Windows Vista forum.

Vista looks very Mac-like, but then Microsoft has always borrowed from the best. Key to a lot of what's new in Vista is the much-anticipated opaque and sometimes 3D Aero interface – but to use it, you'll need adequate hardware and one of the pricier versions of the OS.

Within Aero, windows maximise and minimise with a visual swoosh. The Alt, Tab command for switching between open windows now invokes Windows Flip, which displays thumbnails of open windows. Flip 3D ups the ante, stacking windows so that you can flip through them like playing cards.

Flip is an upgraded version of the Alt, Tab Task Switcher from earlier versions of Windows. The key combination gives you a palette of all open programs – you hold down the Alt key and cycle through those programs with the Tab key. The one that’s selected when you let go of the Alt key will then open up front and centre on your screen. What's different is that instead of names of programs with static icons, Flip uses the live thumbnails for those programs, which makes it a good deal easier to find what you want.

Two other notable new elements are the Sidebar and Live Thumbnails. Hover your mouse over a minimised window on the taskbar and a thumbnail pops up with its contents, plus the program and document name or website. We’re particularly fond of the Sidebar gadgets. These interactive applets display information, such as RSS feeds, stock tickers, clocks and weather reports. Vista comes with a dozen or so, and there are many more online.

While similar to Google Desktop Gadgets or Yahoo Widgets, they're actually more like the Mac’s Widgets in that they're built directly into the operating system and so may use its underlying architecture. For example, one gadget displays RSS newsfeeds you’ve subscribed to using Internet Explorer 7.0's RSS Reader.

The Start menu is more compact and useful than XP's, while the Control Panel is more logically organised. It has several new Centers, such as the Network and Sharing Center and the Sync Center. The latter handles functions of ActiveSync desktop software you previously had to install for Windows Mobile devices.

But for some odd reason several differently named links bring you to the exact same location. For example, in Control Panel, Network and Internet, if you click 'Network and Sharing Center' or 'View network status and tasks' or 'Set up file sharing', each of these choices will take you to… the Network and Sharing Center.

This can make using Control Panel feel like getting directions from a dotty old aunt.

Windows Vista: Specs

  • 800MHz processor
  • 512MB system memory
  • DirectX 9.0-compatible graphics processor
  • 800MHz processor
  • 512MB system memory
  • DirectX 9.0-compatible graphics processor

OUR VERDICT

Windows' new interface is distinctive and eye-catching. Colours are subtler and the overall look is less cartoonish than Windows XP's. Some may say this is mere eye candy that won’t affect your real productivity. Maybe so. But it makes life at the keyboard fun again. And for our money, that's right up there with productivity as a selling point.

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