ZDNet has a lot of coverage on the forthcoming release of Microsoft Windows Vista next Tuesday, as does every major news outlet – I'm looking at the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, and LA Times this morning in my suite at the Beverly Hilton and Vista is everywhere. A majority of the coverage I'm reading and listening to is trying to help people decide whether they need Vista.
It's all done with the best of intentions bit I think the real question is not about need. I think it's about want. I spent a marathon 13-hour session yesterday talking to investors and stock brokers yesterday about Foldera and, in the course of many of those conversations, I was asked my opinion about Vista and whether I thought it was a worthy upgrade. My answer, in classic consultant mode was, of course, "It depends."
The more technically oriented folks at the event had pretty much decided that they'd wait until they bought a new PC before taking the plunge. Those who have no real fondness for tinkering with their PC or software were much more decisive – their current PC was just fine and until it either broke or was rendered obsolete they were sticking with what they have. Only the gadget freaks and software junkies in attendance talked about Vista in terms of "want".
I think it does depend. Do you need to upgrade to Vista right away? The broad consensus among most people who, like me, have been using the new OS for months is that there's no single killer feature that justifies a universal "yes" answer. Vista is chock full of interesting, useful, nicely crafted, and occasionally irritating or frustrating new features. For example, the UAC (User Access Control) security feature is a royal pain in the hindquarters but something I completely understand the need for. Yes, you can modify its intrusiveness or even disable it completely. Most people probably should just resign themselves to the irritation because the value it provides in warning you about something you might not want to happen to your PC offsets the extra clicks it demands. Power users will hate it (and many have already said just that).
The new UI – and not just the high end Aero experience which has relatively steep hardware requirements that many older PCs can't meet – is a nice refresh. But you can achieve a similar facelift of your existing XP installation using any number of skinning and theme tools like Object Desktop from Stardock. Many of the other visual treats in Vista can similarly be added to XP with free or inexpensive utilities.
The new applications included with Vista including Windows Mail (the successor to Outlook Express) and Windows Calendar are not particularly interesting – they look nice but don't offer any breakthrough features that aren't available from any number of third-party apps you can just as easily add to XP. The included Media Center capabilities (I'm running Vista Ultimate) are nice if you're into using your PC as a media device. The fact that Tablet PC features are baked right in as you can access at least part of the Tablet PC experience on a conventional laptop or desktop with the right peripherals. But again, I'm not sure how compellng any of that is for the typical Windows user.
Is Vista more secure? A little. Not a lot of what's in Vista isn't included or easily added to XP unless you're an Enterprise edition user (this edition can only be acquired under a volume license so it doesn't affect most of us).
If you really enjoy playing with the latest bright shiny object you should go ahead and get Vista. I think you'll be impressed by the graphic refinements (especially if your hardware supports the full Aero experience) and there's a lot to poke at and discover. I like Vista... really I do. I have my Dell D620 set up to dual-boot XP and Vista and everything is running nicely. I've found a small number of driver-related issues that make some of my peripherals problematic or downright useless under Vista but I fully expect those problems will continue to shake out following the public release. And I can switch back to XP when and if I need to.
So do what you think is best depending on what type of user you are but understand that, IMO, it all comes down to want and not need.