Chapter 1. The Lay of the Land

Microsoft spent far longer developing Windows Vista than it did any previous version of Windows, and the results show. Everything you see and use, from the desktop to networking, searching, using the Internet, and beyond, has been overhauled. The interface includes transparent windows and windows animations; the operating system includes a series of Centers, such as the Network and Sharing Center and the Mobility Center, that make it easy to perform your most common tasks and customize how your PC works; and the search function has been baked so deep into the operating system that you need to type only a few letters of what you're looking for and the results start to show up immediatelyeverything from files to programs to mail to web sites. And there are plenty of other major changes as well, such as a Sidebar brimming with Gadgets that perform common tasks for you.

But it's not just what you see that has been altered, and that's not what took up most of Microsoft's time in developing this new version of Windows. Under the hood, the changes are even more dramatic, mostly having to do with security. In the years leading up to the release of Windows Vista, security had become one of the top, if not the top, concerns of most PC users. Spyware, worms, viruses, scammers, crackers, and snoopers had become ubiquitous, and because Windows is by far the most dominant operating system on the planet, it was Windows that they targeted. So Microsoft spent a great deal of effort hardening the operating system against threats. Some of this effort is visible, such as the new Windows Defender antispyware tool, the more powerful firewall, and the phishing filter built into Internet Explorer. But much of it is invisible to you, such as Windows Service Hardening, which stops background Windows services from being used by malware to damage the filesystem, Registry, or network to which the PC is connected.

The result is a new operating system that is more secure than previous versions of Windows, with a more sophisticated interface (some call it more Mac-like) and easier ways to find files and data.

Windows Vista also has heftier hardware requirements than any version of Windows to date, and it is a major enough change that it may take those who use earlier Windows versions some time to relearn how to use the operating system.

There's more to understanding Windows Vista than simply knowing how to open applications and manage your files effectively. This chapter covers what's new in this release and how Windows fits into the big picture. Move on to Chapter 2 for a quick-paced tour of some of the more basic aspects of day-to-day use of the operating system, or skip ahead to the later chapters for meatier content.

Part II: Nutshell Reference