What’s new on the Windows Vista desktop?
Let’s assume that you’ve just powered up your new or upgraded Windows Vista PC for the very first time. What wonders await you? Here are some of the most obvious differences.
OK, so it’s only a theme, and enthusiasts with super-charged graphics cards and third-party applications have long created similar effects, but Windows Vista’s default face to the world is a winner.
Transparency has a softening effect on your working environment, and the effect is enhanced by rounded corners and drop shadows. Buttons in applications, dialogue windows and even web pages glow when you point at them, and the default OK or Apply button in a dialogue box fades in and out subtly (it took us a while to notice this). It’s all terribly relaxing and pleasing to the eye, but we also found it to be a more comfortable working environment than the brashness of Windows XP.
Beautiful backgrounds, interactive animations, transparency everywhere: that’s Aero Glass.
Flip and Flip 3D
In Windows XP, you can switch between open applications using the Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut, which displays a pop-up menu that shows an icon for each open program. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to tell one icon from another, particularly if you’ve got umpteen instances of Internet Explorer open simultaneously. You can use the same shortcut in Windows Vista, but as you’ll see, the results look very different.
Instead of little icons you get large, ‘live’ thumbnails that show the actual contents of each window – including any animation or video. For instance, if a web page is showing a Flash movie or you have a DVD playing in Windows Media Player, you’ll see the action in these thumbnails. This is Flip 3D, and it’s undeniably cool, both just because it looks good and because it helps you find the window you want. To flip between windows, tap the tab key while still holding down Alt. Cooler still is Flip 3D. Use the Windows key + Tab and you get a much larger display of open windows, presented in a revolving stack. Each tap on the Tab key brings the next window to the fore, repeating in a loop. Alternatively, use the mouse scroll wheel (or keyboard arrows) to flip between windows. Both Flip and Flip 3D include an icon for the Windows desktop, which is a useful way of minimising all open windows. If you reckon that the Windows XP Alt + Tab Replacement PowerToy for Windows XP is just as good, prepare to change your mind.
One small caveat: if you have multiple tabs open in Internet Explorer, Flip only thumbnails the tab that is currently active. (It would be nice to be able to cycle through all open tabs in Flip and land immediately on the appropriate web page…)
Thanks to Flip3D, navigating between open windows using the keyboard is much easier and much more fun.
The live thumbnail theme continues to the taskbar. Move your mouse over a Taskbar button and up pops a thumbnail of the related window. Again, these thumbnails show the actual contents of the window, helping you make a selection. Oddly, though, you can’t actually click these thumbnails: move your mouse towards one and it disappears.
Windows Sidebar and Gadgets
In a column on the ride side of your new Windows Vista desktop, you’ll find that things are happening: there’s probably a clock ticking over in there, and likely some pictures cycling in a small window. These are gadgets, or mini-programs, and they live in the Windows Sidebar.
How (and indeed whether) you use the Sidebar will depend upon which gadgets you find to be handy or indispensable. Third-party suppliers will doubtless flood this particular market opportunity with all manner of wonders and weirdness.
Novelty soon becomes necessity when you realise how much of a difference gadgets can make.
The new, improved Start Button
The Start button still turns the computer off, but it has evolved from Windows XP. The two visible turn-off options on the Start menu are Sleep and Lock. Sleep mode is similar to Hibernate in the sense that it saves the current state of the system and open programs in order that you can resume work instantly from where you left off; but it kicks the computer into a low-power state that allows you to recover much more quickly than is possible with hibernation. Lock simply returns the system to the Windows Welcome screen and prompts for a user account password.
Hibernate is still available in Windows Vista, as are Restart and Shut Down, but you need to click the arrow next to the Lock button to find them. This reorganisation means that Sleep is now effectively the default option. Given that it combines the convenience of hibernation with a surprisingly fast restart, this is a sensible option for desktop PCs. Laptop owners will still prefer the power-down Hibernate mode (or a total shut down) because even a low-power state sucks a battery dry eventually.
The start button provides you with several different ways to close down your computer, but Windows Vista pushes you towards Sleep Mode.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2007 at 19:39 and is filed under Guides. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a comment, or trackback from your own site.