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Operating Systems: Vista Arrives...and Evolves

Windows Flip 3D: This feature of Vista's Aero interface lets you use the Windows and Tab keys to manage open windows in style.
Windows Flip 3D: This feature of Vista's Aero interface lets you use the Windows and Tab keys to manage open windows in style.
Windows Vista is now expected in early 2007. How will it change the way the Windows world works?

David Siroky, a Microsoft veteran and the group product manager for Windows, says that Vista's enhancements fall into three major categories. The first, and most visible, is graphics. Unlike XP, Vista can use a computer's GPU for multiple tasks simultaneously. That's key, because Vista's Aero user interface is graphics intensive, and developers--for the first time--will be more easily able to use advanced graphics outside of games.

Vista will likely change information management and data storage, as well. Says Siroky, "Now that there's no cost associated with taking a snapshot, people have a lot more photos to deal with." XP's lack of tools gave rise to a bustling market for photo software, but Vista indicates that Redmond has started to catch up. Users can tag photos with keywords or other metadata, and Vista's photo gallery simplifies locating your pictures.

Elsewhere, Vista's integrated "reliability monitor" can show you a chart of how stable your system has been over time. If you experience a sudden spike in reliability problems, you can check what happened during those days and react appropriately.

On the Linux front, the XGL and Compiz windowing systems, GUIs that can give Linux a pretty face, may outdo Apple OS X's Aqua interface in sheer awe factor. In Compiz the windows stretch and skew as you move them, and you can view multiple desktop environments in 3D as the cube-like workspace rotates.

Apple's Leopard revision of OS X, due out next spring, will make incremental but steady improvements to the Mac operating system, adding such features as an automated backup utility and multiple workspaces. According to Gartner, both Linux and Mac OS will gain in user support, while research continues on the Web-based OS.

After Vista, What's Next?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that the company "won't ever take five years to develop another version of Windows." If that's true, and if the time between previous major consumer versions of Windows is any gauge, that places the successor to Windows Vista, code-named Vienna, on course for a 2010 or 2011 release. Click on our timeline below for more details about Windows releases.

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