Does Vista Give You Too Many Choices?

It's great to have options, and being able to pay for the software features you want, and not have to waste money paying for features you don't want and will never use, seems like a great idea. We got a taste of that with Windows XP: if you're a business user or a home power user who needs to be able to connect your computer to a domain or wants to encrypt files with EFS or connect to your system from somewhere else via Remote Desktop, you could pay extra for XP Professional. If you only want to do simple home computing tasks such as checking email and surfing the web and running a word processing program, you could save a few bucks by getting XP Home instead. There are also a couple of special purpose editions, for Tablet PCs and Media Center home entertainment computers, but those operating systems come installed on the systems.

Now, with Windows Vista, there are even more choices - and some users are a little confused by the plethora of options that are expected to be available. Pundits are making fun of the abundance of choices; see this humorous article claiming that "Windows Vista to Ship in 33 Different Versions":

In reality, Microsoft now lists five editions on the Vista web site:

Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate editions (back in February, Microsoft announced six editions which included Vista Starter Edition, a very restricted version for "emerging markets" - read third world countries - only). Although pricing hasn't yet been officially announced, we expect the cost to rise approximately in that order. How do you decide which one you need?

Home Basic will be the lowest priced of the retail editions and will be very, well, basic, much like XP Home. Perhaps most notably, it won't support the cool Aero glass interface with its translucent windows and other eye candy. Cynics might wonder, if you don't get Aero, why not just continue to run XP? Basic will, however, include security enhancements, parental control, improved search capabilities, Windows Mail, Calendar and Contacts, and other new features. Home Premium offers additional features, such as EFS encryption, as well as both Tablet PC and Media Center PC functionality and a host of entertainment applications such as DVD authoring, photo management, and extra games. Home Premium supports twice as much RAM as Home Basic (16 GB vs. 8 GB).

On the business side, you now have two choices, two - well, sort of. Business Edition is comparable to XP Pro. It includes IIS (web server software), fax support, Remote Desktop, and dual processor support, among other business oriented features, as well as most of the features of Home Premium except for Media Center. Companies that enter into a Software Assurance or Enterprise Licensing agreement with Microsoft can go a step further and get Enterprise Edition, which adds BitLocker drive encryption (enhanced security for company laptops that contain sensitive information), a built-in version of Virtual PC that runs a single VM session at a time, UNIX application support and better multi-language support. This version won't be available to individuals through retail or OEM channels.

Finally, there's the best (and most expensive) of all possible worlds: Vista Ultimate. It has all the features of Enterprise Edition, along with the entertainment features of Home Premium, including Media Center, and is the high end option for both home users/gamers and business users who are multimedia professionals.

To confuse matters a little more, there are also expected to be "N" editions of both Home Basic and Business editions, which don't include Windows Media Player. These are made to comply with EU regulations and will only be available in the European Union.

All these choices may cause some folks to agonize a bit when they decide to take the upgrade plunge, especially home users. Should you stick with Basic, spend a little more for Premium, or bite the bullet, empty your wallet and go all the way with Ultimate?

The good news is that, if you start out conservatively and later discover that you want more features, Microsoft is making it easy for you to upgrade one version of Vista to another. The Anytime Upgrade licenses will be sold by PC vendors and solutions providers. If you have Home Basic, you can upgrade to either Premium or Ultimate. If you have Business Edition, you can upgrade to Ultimate. You can read more about the program, which started beta testing this month, at:

Do you want to un-install Vista?

Uninstalling Vista from a dual boot machine is relatively straightforward - most of the time. Nonetheless, we recommend that you back up everything before you start. Then follow these steps:

Put your Windows XP installation CD in the CD-ROM drive and reboot the computer (be sure the BIOS is set to boot from CD).
Start the Recovery Console from the CD (see "How to Start the Recovery Console in XP" above).
Run Fixboot from the Recovery Console.
Run Fixmbr to reset the master boot record.
Exit the Recovery Console and reboot the computer.
Edit the boot.ini file to remove the Vista entry.
Format the partition on which Vista was installed.

How much will Vista cost?

We get asked that all the time, and although Microsoft hasn't officially announced the pricing for Vista at the time of this writing, Amazon recently put up their "pre-order" prices for the various Vista editions, as reported on several web sites last week:

New Vista Networking Features

Microsoft completely rewrote the TCP/IP stack in Vista, making a number of improvements. Some of these, such as native support for IPv6, won't mean much to the average home or office user. Others, like the new algorithms that should result in a considerable improvement in network speed/improvement for those with fast broadband connections, will be welcome by all.

The new Network Center, which replaces My Network Places, may take a little getting used to. I like the graphical map of the network, and it's nice that you can use the Personalize feature to change the name and icon of a network connection. This is especially useful when connecting to wireless networks that were previously identified by their SSIDs (which was often something generic like Linksys3345).You can read more about Vista's new networking features at:

Don't like the Secure Desktop? Here's How to Turn it Off

One of the things complained about most in Vista is the intrusiveness of some of the new security features. For example, if you try to install a program or perform other tasks that require elevated privileges, your screen goes dark and the rest of the desktop locks until you complete the dialog box asking you to enter admin credentials or, if you're logged on as an administrator, asking if you want to continue. This is called the secure desktop, but if you don't like it, you can get rid of it without getting rid of those dialog boxes themselves.

In the Administrative Tools menu, select Local Security Policy (you'll get the security prompt). In the left pane of the console, expand Local Policies and click Security Options. Scroll down in the right pane to the item labeled "User Account Control: Switch to the secure desktop when prompting for elevation" and double click. This policy is enabled by default; click Disable to turn the behavior off.

Microsoft Vista Help & Support web page:

Vista Sidebar and Gadgets

One new feature in Vista that beta testers seem to either love or hate is the Sidebar, which appears by default vertically aligned on the right side of your monitor screen and contains a variety of "gadgets," little quickly-accessed applications like a notepad for typing or pasting quick notes, an RSS feed display, weather forecasts, CPU and memory monitors, a slideshow that displays the photos in your Pictures folder, a stock ticker, clocks, a calculator and much more. See the sidebar here:

You can choose from the gadgets included in Vista, or download new ones from the Microsoft Windows Live Gallery web site. You can move the sidebar to a secondary monitor or to the left side of the screen, and you can turn it off if you don't like it taking up screen real estate.

Vista Performance Information Feature

Vista has a new feature called the Windows Experience Index that lets you find out the base score for your system and individual scores for different components such as the processor, memory, hard disk, and graphics card. You find it in Control Panel, labeled Performance Information and Tools, and you can use the score to compare one system to another, to evaluate new PCs or the effect of hardware upgrades, and when buying software, to determine whether it will run properly on your PC. My system got very respectable 4 and 5 point something scores on processor, memory and hard disk, but my ATI Radeon X600 with 256 MB of RAM proved to be the "weak link" at 3.6/3.8. You can read more about it on the Vista team blog at:

Vista goes to sleep

A cool new feature in Windows Vista is "sleep" mode, which combines the benefits of Standby and Hibernation. Standby mode in XP saves your data in RAM and goes into a power-saving mode, and Hibernate mode saves it to the hard disk and then shuts down completely. This new power management option, Sleep, saves your current data to both RAM and the hard disk, and then goes into a very low- power-consumption state where only a few key components such as RAM and CPU are turned on. When you press a key or move the mouse, the computer "wakes up" almost instantaneously (2 to 3 seconds).

It works a little differently with laptops. When you go into Sleep mode, the data is saved in RAM. If the battery level gets low, the machine will power itself back up to the level needed to save the data to the hard disk, then shut off completely. This makes you less likely to lose data. Although Sleep mode will be the default when you push the power button, you can still shut down completely from the Start menu.

WGA in Vista: a growing concern

There's a growing concern about the way Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft's anti-piracy technology, will be implemented in Vista. It's been reported that if your copy of the OS doesn't pass the test, some functionalities won't work, including the Aero interface and Windows Defender (the built-in anti-spyware software). Microsoft says the operating system itself won't be "shut down" for failing to pass the "genuineness" test, but it will run in "reduced functionality mode." Now, you might be able to get along okay without Aero, and you could always install a good third party anti-spyware product like CounterSpy, but according to the following, another little "functionality" that will be shut off (after one hour) is your Web browser. Read more here:

DreamScene: ultimate cool wallpaper

DreamScene, an "Ultimate Extra" for Windows Vista Ultimate edition, is finally available for download. This is a technical preview, and it will show up as an optional update in Windows Update. It allows you to set a video as your desktop wallpaper instead of a still graphic. That means you get a moving picture as your background. I tried it out with a video loop of a flock of birds taking flight by the ocean, and it was impressive, spread across three monitors. However, it pegged one of my processors at about 50% (with nothing else running) and caused slight but noticeable latency when I tried to type an email message with the video background running. So I turned it off. It does, however, offer a peek at what's possible in the way of Vista "eye candy" and maybe the final release will be less processor-intensive. You can read more about it here:

You can extend the Vista activation grace period to 120 days

When you install Vista, you have thirty days before you have to activate the product before it goes into "reduced functionality" mode - unless you know the secret of extending that trial period. It seems there's a simple command that can be run up to three times to extend for an additional 30 days, which gives you 120 days in all. According to a recent ComputerWorld article, Microsoft has confirmed that this is not a violation of the EULA. Read more here:,129148-c,vistalonghorn/article.html#

What's the difference between the Vista editions?

Last week, reader Kit B. wrote to say: "If you are going to write about certain features in Windows VISTA, please tell us which versions of the OS include the feature, since many of us have not yet purchased VISTA at all." That's an excellent point, and I do try to do so - but I may sometimes forget. For those who may be wondering about specific features, here's a handy chart that compares the features of the four editions of Vista that are available through retail channels (Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate):

How can I get Vista to stop being an overprotective mother?

Is there any way to stop Vista from asking "are you sure" you want to do this? It REALLY is getting annoying. For the love of Pete, I hope you know a solution. Please!!!!

Vista's "overprotective" behavior is one of the biggest complaints we get. Just like with an overprotective mom, User Account Control (UAC) really is for your own good - but if you want to take the risks, you can disable the prompts.

This is done through the Local Security Policy settings in Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate editions. At the command prompt or in the Search/Run box on the Start menu, type secpol.msc to open the LSP console. Vista will, of course, ask for your permission to continue (but this could be the last time). In the left pane, expand Local Policies, then click Security Options.

In the right pane, scroll down to User Account Control: Behavior of the Elevation Prompt for Administrators in Admin Approval Mode. Double click it, and on the Local Security Setting tab, click the down arrow in the drop-down box and select Elevate Without Prompting. Now, when you're logged on with an administrative account, you won't get that annoying "are you sure?" dialog box (and you also won't know when programs are elevating privileges). Click OK, and you're done.

Click here for even more Vista tips and tricks

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Copyright 2001 Jon A Martinez Computers LLC. All rights reserved.