There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding Windows Vista. Do flourishes like transparencies and fade effects improve productivity? Maybe not, but the new version of Windows is more than a mere repaint. I’ll give you a few examples of what’s new. There is a lot to see.


When you start up Vista, the first thing you’ll notice is the new Windows Sidebar. As the name suggests, it sits unobtrusively on the side of the screen. You can use it to open Gadgets, miniature programs that handle simple tasks.

Vista comes pre-packed with several Gadgets. You can keep an eye on news headlines, stocks and the weather. My current favorite is the CPU meter, which reveals how hard the processor is working and how much RAM is in use.

There is a growing bank of additional Gadgets on Microsoft’s Web site. Anyone with the right skills can create a Gadget and post it on the site.

Parental Controls

Another significant addition is Parental Controls. It covers all the basics without the need for extra software. I think the most popular feature will be time limit settings for kids’ accounts. XP could manage this, but only with the aid of some command-prompt acrobatics.

Parental Controls also allows you to restrict computer games based on their ESRB ratings. More details on these ratings are in my previous tip about choosing appropriate games. You can even block specific games by title.

You get the same degree of control over which programs your children can use. There are other options for the Internet, which is too useful to simply block. Parental Controls includes a Web content filter that can block sites containing pornography, drugs, hate speech and other inappropriate material. The filter works with any Web browser.

Parental Controls offers activity reports to keep you informed. You can see which programs the kids use, which sites they visit and what they download.

Small but useful

Among Vista’s new visual effects are some genuinely helpful details. One example is Live Icons. As you browse your documents, you’ll see most as miniature true-to-life previews. You don’t have to open a document to see if it’s the one you want. This is an improvement over what XP does with only photos.

Vista also features some easy ways to sort and switch between all your open programs and files. Flip 3D is an example. It shows all your open windows as snapshots in three-dimensional space. Simply click on the one you want to work with.

There are just too many enhancements and new features to discuss here. You can read about other great features like built-in desktop search, easier backups and DVD burning in my recent column.

You can see some of Vista in action through Microsoft’s Test Drive site. I mentioned it recently in my weekend newsletter. In case you missed it, here’s the address Windows test drive
Provided by Kim Komando.