<!-- HEADLINE -->For New Windows, New Requirements
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As you probably know, Microsoft's Windows team sits at the top of an enormous economic pyramid whose base encompasses millions of people all over the world. A new version of Windows means that all those people will buy new computers to run it. Those sales provide enormous boosts to PC companies like Dell and HP. Their company stock climbs. Investors get rich. <!--END BIG AD-->
A new version of Windows may also require a new version of your favorite software program. Millions of people buy new copies of thousands of programs, triggering yet another economic wave.
Windows Vista, the upcoming new version of Windows, has been delayed, delayed and delayed again; Microsoft is now aiming to ship it to consumers in January 2007. The company has taken a P.R. beating with these delays. But I'm with Microsoft here; they say, better to get it right than to rush out something that's not ready for prime time.
Last week, Microsoft at least nailed down the Windows Vista system requirements (or "sys-reqs," as the Windows team calls them). You can read the full document here, but here's the gist. To run all features of Windows Vista, your PC needs, at the very least:
* 1 GHz processor.
* 1 GB of memory.
* A graphics processor that runs Windows Aero2. (What does that mean? You got me; the Microsoft Web site above explains, but in pure technospeak. Just be sure to ask if the graphics board qualifies when you're buying a new PC.)
* 128 MB of graphics memory.
* 40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free; a DVD drive, speakers, and Internet access.
Needless to say, these are minimums; more and faster is better.
Now, you'll be able to run Vista on a lesser machine (click the link above), but it won't be attractive. The Mac OS X-like visual design scheme called Aero, which features glass-like transparent window edges and other niceties, will drop away. (Good luck to people who intend to write books about Windows Vista--I'm among them--who have to figure out how to illustrate two completely different looks for Windows.)
Why am I bringing this up now, seven months before Vista? Because you might intend to buy a new computer in the meantime, and you'll be kicking yourself if you buy one now that's not capable of running Vista. You need to think ahead.
So how is Vista looking, now that it's hit Beta version 2?
The controversy is already swirling, but I can tell you a few things that you have to look forward to.
First of all, it's great-looking and filled with nifty features. Both the looks and the new features owe a heavy debt to Apple's Mac OS X. ("Some people will say some of the features are kissing cousins to features they've seen elsewhere, and that is true," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted to eWeek.com. "I'm not apologetic about the fact that we...study and learn and benefit from the work others have done.")
One huge advance comes from the tiniest little change: a new system font that just gives the whole affair a cleaner, more refined, more modern look.
Windows will be a LOT more secure; Microsoft realizes that the eyes of the world are upon it in this regard. The whole virus-spyware thing has spun out of control on Microsoft's watch, and the company says that it has hunkered down to fix things in a serious way.
Unfortunately, making Windows more secure also makes Windows even naggier than it already is. Expect to be interrupted far more often with dialog boxes asking if it's OK to install this or download that.
This will be annoying, yes, but also reassuring, because these are moments of vulnerability that used to pass without your knowledge. For virus and spyware writers, these blockades that now require your personal OK. (For one columnist's take on this phenomenon, see this Computerworld story.)
Some long-needed fixes are coming, too. Windows's notoriously confusing and sometimes flaky standby/hibernate/shutdown routine has been elegantly simplified. Now the basic "I'm not using it" condition is called Sleep. It keeps the PC using minimal power but in a ready-to-wake condition--but if you don't, in fact, wake it for several days (or whatever period you specify), it drops into a deeper slumber that uses no power. Badly written programs that used to wake up your closed laptop in order to display some dialog box (the "hot laptop" syndrome, and the reason Windows laptops often arrive at your destination with a dead battery) will be summarily shut up.
Note, by the way, that there will be at least FIVE different versions of Windows, each containing a different set of features. The corporate versions won't have Media Center (TV-recording) features, for example, and the basic versions won't have Tablet PC (handwriting-recognition) features. Once again, good luck to book authors!
I've ordered a new PC that can run Vista (the beta) myself, and I'll be reporting on more details as soon as it arrives. Meanwhile, don't buy a PC without checking the sys-reqs.
P.S.--Last week, I reviewed a flaky GPS system given to me by a relative. Many of you wrote in fury and disgust that I "publicly trashed" a gift that someone spent a lot of money on.
Fear not; the relative's feelings are intact. This person has no Internet access and received only the warmest praise and thanks from my wife and me. My wife (the relative's relative) approved the column and is confident that my writeup will remain our little secret.
P.P.S.--The new Pogue blog (http://nytimes.com/pogue) is amazing. Not the blog itself, but rather, the part YOU write. I found your comments in response to two of the entries, in particular, truly useful and well-informed. You answered two reader questions: "Can I transfer my old 8mm movies to high definition?" and "How can I stop junk faxes for good?"
Check it out.
This week's Pogue's Posts blog.
Visit David Pogue on the Web at DavidPogue.com.