Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP,
is the latest Microsoft operating system for PC
users at home, work, and school. Feature for
feature, Vista is better than XP, but to make
people want to upgrade to Vista, Microsoft
put special effort into:
The user interface. The new UI, called Aero,
is slick and lets you find and launch your
stuff instantly no matter how your files and
folders are organized (or disorganized). The
Start menu, the taskbar, Windows Explorer,
and other redesigned controls retain enough
of their old personalities to let you jump in.
Security. Vista protects you against malicious
websites, viruses, spyware, and other online
threats. You also can control what your children
or guests view and play. Vista's reduced-privilege
mode (turned on by default) defends even
administrators against attacks.
Connectivity. It's easy to connect quickly
(and wirelessly) to people, data, and devices
that you need to interact with.
Performance. Vista scales to your machine's
hardware and, provided that you feed it
enough memory, is faster than XP. Vista's
broad driver support means that your existing
hardware and software will work right
(in most cases).
What Windows Does
Windows-like every operating system,
Microsoft or otherwise-is software that
The user interface. Windows manages
the appearance, behavior, and interaction
of the windows, buttons, icons, folders,
mouse pointers, cursors, menus, ribbons,
and other visual elements on your computer
screen, either directly or indirectly through
Storage. Windows' file system allocates
space for and gives access to files-programs
and documents-stored on disk or in memory.
Other software. Windows is a launching
platform for programs. When you run
Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, The
Sims, or any other Windows program, it
relies on the services and building blocks
that Windows provides for basic operations
such as drawing a user interface, saving files,
and sharing hardware.
Peripheral devices. Windows controls or
syncs with peripheral hardware such as your
mouse, keyboard, monitor, printer, scanner,
USB flash drives, digital camera, PDA, and iPod.
Networks and security. Windows controls
the interaction of a group of computers and
peripheral devices connected by a communications
link such as Ethernet or wireless.
Windows also protects your system and
data from harm or loss.
System resources. Windows handles the
allocation and use of your computer's low-level
hardware resources such as memory (RAM)
and central processing unit (CPU) time.
Task scheduling.Windows acts like a traffic
cop, setting priorities and allocating time
slices to the processes running on your PC.
Freeware and Shareware
Many of the third-party (meaning non-
Microsoft) programs that I recommend
in this book are freeware or shareware.
Freeware is software that you can use for
an unlimited time at no cost, whereas
shareware is software that you can use
for a tryout period-usually 30 days-
before you're expected to pay for it. I say
"expected to" because much shareware
keeps working beyond the trial period, so
you can escape payment. Paying the fee,
however, often gets you a keycode that
unlocks features or turns off nag messages.
If you pass along copies of shareware to
others, they're expected to pay too.
Freeware and shareware are copyrighted
and have licenses that may impose restrictions
("free for personal, noncommercial
use," for example). Unlike commercial
software, freeware and shareware isn't
shrink-wrapped or sold in stores but is
downloaded from the internet (or provided
on magazine cover disks). I give the
publisher's website for each recommended
program, but you also can browse download
sites like www·download·com,
www·tucows·com, and www·fileforum·com
or an index like http://dmoz·org/Computers/
Software. http://sourceforge·net has
lots of free high-quality software. Also,
to keep up with the latest releases, try
If a popular free program isn't labeled
"public domain," "public license," or "open
source" (www·opensource·org), you should
check it for spyware. See "Defending Against
Viruses and Spyware" in Chapter13.