Windows Vista FAQ

The Basics

Q. When was Vista originally supposed to ship?
Q. When is it finally coming out? I hear dates ranging from November 30 to January 30.
Q. Why the name "Windows Vista"?
Q. On the continuum of Windows-upgrade importance from Windows 95 (a giant leap forward) to Windows Me (a step backward), where does Vista belong?
Q. How does Windows Vista stack up against the most recent Apple OS?
Q. What are Windows Vista's system requirements?
Q. Are there any tools to help me figure out whether my PC is up to the job?
Q. Can I upgrade my existing Windows installation to Windows Vista, or do I have to back up my data and reinstall from scratch?
Q. Can I back out of an installation?
Q. Can I install Windows Vista on a system that doesn't have a DVD drive?
Q. What about product activation--any changes from the version that XP uses?
Q. What's next after Vista?
Q. Whatever happened to WinFS?

Q. When was Vista originally supposed to ship?

A. Initial scuttlebutt had it that Windows XP's successor would arrive in 2003, and would be a modest update to fill time between XP and "Blackcomb," which was supposed to be the big-deal XP replacement. Then Microsoft announced that the supposedly minor upgrade, code-named "Longhorn," would appear in late 2004. This was followed by slippage and more slippage, most famously in March 2006, when the company announced that Vista wouldn't appear in a consumer version--or preinstalled on new PCs--until early 2007.

Q. When is it finally coming out? I hear dates ranging from November 30 to January 30.

A. Unlike previous Windows launches, Vista's debut has been divided into two extravaganzas, presumably in part because the upgrade will miss the holiday 2006 season due to scheduling delays.

On November 30, Microsoft unveils the corporate version of the new OS (and Office 2007), and companies with volume license agreements will theoretically be able to get Vista right then and install it on PCs they already own.

But the bigger Vista rollout can't happen until Microsoft duplicates millions of DVDs, puts them in boxes, and ships them to retailers--and until PC companies design, manufacture, and ship systems with Vista preinstalled. So for home users, small businesses, and anyone who wants to buy a new Vista PC, the date that matters is January 30. That's when Vista will officially be launched as a consumer product.

Q. Why the name "Windows Vista"?

A. Back in July 2005, when the name was announced, Windows director of product development Brad Goldberg told News.com that the name was the result of eight months of research into words that convey a sense of clarity. It's supposed to refer to the upgrade's focus on information management, security, and easy connectivity. Plus, Moon Pie was already taken.

Q. On the continuum of Windows upgrade importance from Windows 95 (a giant leap forward) to Windows Me (a step backward), where does Vista belong?

Somewhere in the middle: Call it a medium-size stride in the right direction. In terms of new features, it offers lots of small yet worthwhile improvements--but no breakthroughs. On the other hand, if the upgrade's new emphasis on security makes it less susceptible to viruses, spyware, and hacker attacks, that would be a strong argument in its favor.

Windows Vista offers better support than XP for today's powerful hardware, such as 64-bit CPUs and cutting-edge graphics cards, providing the structural basis for potent applications that could never have been written for Windows XP. As those applications begin to appear, Vista should grow into a more compelling upgrade than it is on day one.

Q. How does Windows Vista stack up against the most recent Apple OS?

In our 2005 World Class Awards, we named Apple's OS X 10.4 ("Tiger") the third-best product of the year, while Windows XP wasn't mentioned at all. But Windows Vista at least narrows the gap between operating systems that hail from Redmond and Cupertino. In part this is because Vista adds so many features--from decent integrated search to Gadgets (aka Widgets) to fancy 3D effects--that Tiger already has.

With Leopard, the next generation of OS X, due out next spring, Mac owners will get some new features that may put Windows users farther back in their rear-view mirrors. For instance, judging from previews, Leopard's Time Machine continuous-backup utility may be superior to Vista's Backup, System Restore, and Previous Versions data-recovery features.

Q. What are Windows Vista's system requirements?

A. That depends. To run Windows Vista Home Basic, the minimums are an 800-MHz or faster processor, 512MB of memory, graphics hardware capable of SVGA (800 by 600) resolution, a 20GB hard disk with at least 15GB of free space, and a CD-ROM drive (though you'll have to request a set of installation CDs from Microsoft if your system lacks a DVD drive). If you want Vista's Aero interface (and you do), you'll need a graphics card that can handle DirectX 9 graphics APIs with Pixel Shader 2.0 3D texturing, has a Windows Vista Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver and at least 128MB of graphics memory, and supports 32 bits per pixel.

Q. Are there any tools to help me figure out whether my PC is up to the job?

A. Your first stop should be PC Pitstop's Vista Readiness test, which runs right in your browser (Internet Explorer required) and offers a brief comparison of your system's hardware to Vista's minimum and recommended system requirements. Microsoft's own Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor provides a more thorough assessment. After you download and install the program, it scans your system and prepares a report analyzing your system's basic hardware compatibility (CPU, memory, and disk space), and detailing whether your installed applications and drivers will work with Vista.

Q. Can I upgrade my existing Windows installation to Windows Vista, or do I have to back up my data and reinstall from scratch?

A. Whether or not you perform an in-place upgrade (where Vista replaces your existing operating system, but leaves your current files and installed programs in place), you should back up your data first. You can always perform a clean installation (where you begin by wiping the hard-disk partition and its contents clean). This is often the best choice--first because it may be faster than upgrading (even if you include restoring data files and reinstalling applications), and second because it minimizes problems and conflicts stemming from old applications and drivers. In-place upgrades may be more convenient, but you can't upgrade every existing Windows version in-place. Our feature article "Everything You Need to Know About Windows Vista" includes a chart that lists which versions can be upgraded in place.

Q. Can I back out of an installation?

A. If you upgrade over a previous version of Windows and the upgrade fails (as several of ours did), Windows Vista will restore your previous version of Windows automatically. Once Vista is installed, though, there is no easy way to return to your previous operating system.

Q. Can I install Windows Vista on a system that doesn't have a DVD drive?

A. Yes, but you'll have to request replacement installation CDs from Microsoft. As we went to press, the company hadn't yet determined their price or the method by which customers could request the CDs.

Q. What about product activation--any changes from the version that XP uses?

A. Microsoft's product activation--software that profiles your system's hardware and uploads a fingerprint-like profile to a database maintained by the company--is alive and well, and in Vista it isn't optional. Microsoft can change the stringency of its product activation system, but rest assured that the company will be checking to make sure that you don't install your copy of Windows Vista on more than one PC at a time.

Q. What's next after Vista?

We don't know many details. The next major version of Windows, once dubbed "Blackcomb," is now known as "Vienna"; it's part of a series of Microsoft code names that refer to great cities of the world. As Wikipedia reports, rumors about this OS date to before the release of Windows XP, and include the possibility that it will introduce a completely new user interface with intriguing-sounding elements known as the GroupBar and the LayoutBar, as well as sandboxing technology designed to prevent rogue applications from having any impact on other programs.

When it will appear is anyone's guess, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that the more-than-five-year gap between Windows XP and Vista will never be repeated. If that's the rule, Vienna should arrive sometime before early 2012.

Q. Whatever happened to WinFS?

A. WinFS was supposed to replace Windows' underlying file system with a database designed to make searching and sorting data immeasurably easier. Microsoft had to abandon the project, though, because it was just too tough to implement. The company doesn't like talking about WinFS these days. In fact, it seems unlikely that Microsoft will try to put it into the next version of Windows.

Subscribe to the Daily Downloads Newsletter

Comments