November 18, 2005

Windows Vista — A Progressive View

SEATTLE -- Retailers are expecting this year's holiday shopping season to be one of the best in recent years for PC sales, but consumers may want to think ahead as Microsoft Corp. prepares to launch a new version of Windows in 2006.

Windows Vista, due out in the second half of next year, is the software giant's biggest upgrade since     Windows XP was launched in 2001 and is designed to deliver better graphics, security and search features.

Such features, however, may also require users to consider buying a PC with more advanced, and costlier, hardware.

Microsoft and big personal computer manufacturers say that most PCs sold today will be able to upgrade smoothly to Windows Vista.

At the very least, they recommend that computer buyers purchase a PC with a "modern CPU" -- the central processing unit that crunches the computer's data -- which would translate into a chip that has a speed of at least 1.5 GHz.

Any computer meant to be upgraded to Windows Vista should also have at least 512 megabytes of RAM -- the memory used to run programs which most affects a PC's performance -- and a graphics card with enough dedicated memory to smoothly display complex graphics.

"The key thing to keep in mind is that Windows Vista is going to scale with the hardware," said Michael Burk, a product manager for Windows Vista, "when you buy a little more you're going get a little more."

Dell Inc., the world's biggest PC maker, is recommending two of its models -- a $1,750 desktop PC and a $2,700 laptop -- for Windows Vista on a section of its Web site http://www.dell.com/vista designed for the migration to the new operating system.

"We're starting to hear questions around what Vista is, when that is coming, and 'How do I get ready for Vista?'," said Sam Burd, Dell's director of client product marketing.

Apart from the raw computing requirements, Burd also recommended that users consider upgrading their monitors to larger, higher-resolution models -- a product line Dell is marketing aggressively -- that will also enhance the graphics capabilities available on Windows Vista.


Despite some of the purchasing guidance provided by Microsoft and its hardware partners, some analysts say that there remains some risk that a segment of users will be disappointed by the upgrade if their current PCs aren't equipped to harness some Windows Vista's features.

"There's the risk of consumer dissatisfaction if the experience that some users get is different from their neighbor's PC," said Joe Wilcox, analyst at Jupiter Research.

Windows Vista will offer a new user interface option called "Aero Glass" that allows users to see faintly through translucent windows to information beneath. That feature is expected to require advance graphics hardware, but it is not a requirement for Windows Vista and can be turned off.

In fact, Windows Vista will be designed to automatically adjust its settings for weaker hardware.

That's why Wilcox recommends that users hold off on buying any laptops meant to be upgraded for Vista, since they often lack the powerful features of a desktop PC and are more expensive.

Although Microsoft hasn't indicated what different editions of Windows Vista will be offered -- Windows XP comes in several editions, including Home, Professional, Media Center and Tablet PC -- the company indicated that it would offer products more in line with users' needs.

"We haven't announced a formal lineup, but I think it's safe to say that customers will have an easier time choosing which version of Windows Vista works for them," said Microsoft's Burk.

Even so, the more difficult question of whether to buy a PC right now or wait until later next year looms large for most users.

Microsoft, however, has an answer to that on their Web page http://www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/evaluate/hardware/ vistarpc.mspx for Windows Vista's hardware requirements: "There's No Reason to Wait."