Home > Articles > Operating Systems > Microsoft Windows Desktop

Introducing Windows Vista

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter introduces the new interface and features of Vista and shows what a difference it is from Windows XP.
This chapter is from the book

In this chapter, you'll discover the new interface and features of Vista. As you'll soon see, Windows Vista is quite a change from the old XP!

I'll break down the key new Vista features and show you which flavor of Vista includes which features. Then, I'll show you how to access each of these new features. If you are a longtime Windows user, you might be tempted to give this chapter short shrift—or skip it altogether—but if you want to get the most enjoyment out of your new operating system, I strongly urge you to keep reading.

17 New Look and Functionality

No matter which Windows Vista edition you choose, or have chosen, it will contain a redesigned look and functionality. The taskbar, Start menu, and the new desktop feature, called Windows Sidebar, will likely be the first noticeable changes you'll discover in Vista.

Figure 3.1 shows examples of the new taskbar, Start menu, and Windows Sidebar.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 New interface and look in Windows Vista.

  • 1.jpg Redesigned Start menu
  • 2.jpg Taskbar with the new Vista shiny black color scheme
  • 3.jpg New Windows Sidebar feature
  • 4.jpg Start button


Longtime Windows users might remember the drastic change in the look and feel of Windows between Windows 95/98 and XP. Microsoft has again changed the scheme in Vista. Gone is the default blue-and-green color scheme XP users know so well. In Windows Vista, Microsoft has chosen a fading black color scheme. Although this tones down the look and brightness of Windows, the black scheme projects a sleek interface.

Another major change to the taskbar is the Start button. The usual button containing the word start has been replaced with a Windows logo, which you can see in Figure 3.1.

If your system is capable of running the new Aero interface, Vista offers the use of live thumbnails, which provide a preview of the open document or application, simply by hovering your mouse over an application in the taskbar (see Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 Example of the taskbar live thumbnails.

  • 1.jpg Hovering your mouse over an application in the taskbar...
  • 2.jpg ...shows a live preview, making it easier to determine the contents of each open file.

The time is still displayed by default on the taskbar in the lower-right corner of the screen. After clicking on the time to bring up the calendar and clock (see Figure 3.3), you'll see that Microsoft has revamped the clock and calendar.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Calendar and clock in Windows Vista.

Start Menu

As you can see from the example in Figure 3.1, the Start menu now contains a Search box for the new Instant Search feature. Instant Search allows you to quickly find files, programs, email messages, web favorites and history, and more. For more information, see #81, "Search from the Start Menu."

If you are a fan of the Run prompt from previous versions of Windows, you might be disappointed because it's not included on the Start menu by default. You can, however, use the Search box to run commands like you would with the Run applet found in other versions of Windows. Nevertheless, the Run prompt can be accessed in the Accessories section of the Start menu (see Figure 3.4) and can also be added back onto the Start menu if you choose. For more information, see #62, "Run Prompt."

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Run's new location on the Start menu.

  • 1.jpg Click Start.
  • 2.jpg Choose Accessories.
  • 3.jpg Select Run.

Another notable change you'll discover after seeing the Start menu is that the word My has been dropped from the names of common items and directories. For example, "My Computer" is now simply "Computer" and "My Network Places" is just "Network." In addition, the My Documents folder is now named after the Windows user. Changes to My Documents are detailed in #51, "My Documents."

You'll also likely notice the Turn Off Computer and Log Off buttons have been removed and replaced with other options. The first button on the left, indicated by the power symbol, will put the PC into Sleep mode. Similar to Stand By mode in previous versions of Windows, Sleep mode powers down most of the PC and puts the session into memory so you can resume right where you left off.

The button with the lock will, of course, lock your PC. This option is best used when you want to secure your PC when leaving for short durations. To resume use of the PC, you must press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and enter the Windows account password.

Finally, the other shutdown options are accessible when hovering over the arrow on the right. Figure 3.5 shows an example.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 New location for the power options in Windows Vista.

  • 1.jpg Enable Sleep mode.
  • 2.jpg Lock your PC.
  • 3.jpg Click here for power options.

Along with the Sleep and Lock options, this menu also provides the following: Switch User, Log Off, Restart, and Shut Down. These are straightforward, with the exception of Switch User. The Switch User option keeps the current Windows account active when opening another user account, whereas Log Off doesn't. When you switch from one user account to another, you will be prompted for a username and password on each. This is useful if several users need access to the same computer quickly, such as in a business environment.

After you click on All Programs, you'll notice a big difference. Rather than the menus branching (opening in fly-out menus), they stay contained in the Start menu.

In addition, it now takes a click rather than just a hover to open the Start menu sections. The scrollbar can be used to browse through the items.


Other than the slightly larger default icon size (Figure 3.6 shows an example), not much has changed with the actual desktop.

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 Comparison of Windows XP and Vista default icons.

  • 1.jpg Icons in Windows XP
  • 2.jpg Icons in Windows Vista

If you're used to having the main icons (such as My Computer and My Network Places) on your desktop, you can easily add them. See #40, "Add the Main Icons," for more information. Remember that these items have been renamed, with the My dropped from the name.

Windows Sidebar

Windows Sidebar is a time- and space-saving program that can be displayed on the side of your screen, as shown earlier in Figure 3.1. Windows Sidebar contains your desired gadgets that display and provide accessibility to certain things. Examples of gadgets include personalized slideshows of your photos, news and weather feeds, quick access to contacts and notes, and much more.

For more information on how to use Windows Sidebar, see #75, "Add More Gadgets to Sidebar."

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account