Vista features that may hurry your migration plans

Much ado has been made about some of Vista's flashier features. Expert Bernie Klinder talks about the ones that really improve end users' experiences and may have them clamoring for a quicker upgrade plan from IT managers.

Bernie Klinder
If you were planning on making the switch to Vista in your organization two to three years down the road, you may find your users pressing you to start earlier. If you are planning an early adoption, but still need to convince management, consider migrating them to Vista early so they can see the difference themselves. If you're unconvinced, take the Vista challenge yourself – just use Vista for 30 days on a suitable laptop or workstation and then try to switch back to Windows XP again. My bet is you'll be planning your Vista migration the next day.

Vista's killer features

More on migrating to Vista
  • The pros
  • The cons
  • Final considerations 
  • There has been a great deal of press around Windows Vista's new features and capabilities, with an effort to quantify a single "killer" must-have feature that sets Vista apart from other operating systems. While it does have a number of compelling features, what really sets Vista apart are the hundreds of smaller improvements that are generally lumped into the category of a "better user experience." These improvements resolve dozens of prior Windows annoyances and can literally change the way people work.

    The difference is so dramatic that once people begin really working with Windows Vista, making the switch back to Windows XP is annoying and somewhat painful. As the consumer adoption rate for Vista begins to grow, you can expect your users to start demanding Vista in the workplace. And the longer you delay the adoption of Vista, the louder those voices will grow. Here's why:

    Integrated search -- As the amount of data we work with every day expands, the old Windows hierarchical filing system is reaching is limits. Studies have shown that the average worker wastes three to six hours every week trying to find information on his workstation or network. In Vista, users can instantly search all of the relevant data in email, OneNote, Outlook Calendar, documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, HTML pages stored in the browser cache, etc., and have the results in seconds. Users can even preview the files without opening them and launch applications from the search bar. The days of drilling down through multiple directories and digging through nested folders are gone. Vista's integrated search will save hours of time (as well as frustration) and change the way you access and use data.

    Power management -- In Windows XP, putting a laptop to sleep by closing the lid was a hit or miss proposition. Occasionally an application would refuse to close, which stalled the sleep mode or hibernation process, and the laptop would continue running (and consuming battery power) while it sat in the laptop case. When it was needed a few hours later, users were greeted with a very hot laptop and/or a very dead battery. Vista's new power management feature takes more control of the operating system and ensures that all applications close and the system shuts down quickly. When you open the lid on a laptop, or bring your desktop out of sleep mode, you'll be at the login screen within a few seconds, ready to work.

    Network management -- Laptop users typically bounce between several networks -- work, home, the coffee house, airport kiosk and client networks. Instead of reconfiguring network settings every time, Vista remembers the networks you've connected to, saves the network settings and even lets you customize the security settings through an easy-to-use wizard. Moving from network to network is seamless and only takes a few seconds, not minutes.

    Ad hoc wireless -- Have you ever needed to securely share data among several wireless laptops in an area without wireless access? With Vista, an easy-to-use wizard configures a secure temporary peer-to-peer network in less than a minute allowing your sales team, engineers or managers to collaborate anytime, anywhere.

    Presentation mode -- Giving public presentations can be stressful enough without worrying about what your computer might do in the middle of it. Vista's presentation settings suppress application pop-ups, keep screensavers and power saving functions from launching, allow you to set a custom volume level and even specify custom wallpaper for presentations – in case you didn't want to share the latest family vacation pictures with everyone.

    Previous versions -- Ever wish you could roll back a document to the version you were working with two weeks ago? Windows Vista automatically creates restore points for documents while users are working in them, and allows users to view previous versions on their own workstations with just a few mouse clicks.

    Mobility center -- The mobility center is a smaller, more accessible control panel for common laptop and mobile device settings. Display brightness, tablet settings, external displays, speaker volume, power settings, presentation settings, network settings and mobile device synchronizations are all in one place.

    Document previews -- The days of opening up document after document trying to find the right one, and waiting for Office to launch are over. Document preview abilities are built right into Windows Explorer and Outlook 2007. Users can preview items in the search panes or as they browse directories. This may seem like a small thing, but once you get used to this feature it's very tough to live without it.

    Guided Help and Automated Diagnostics -- A large number of help desk calls are for simple technical issues that aren't difficult to resolve but are somewhat time consuming to explain to a remote non-technical user. Network issues, printing issues and device drivers are common scenarios that Windows Vista will automatically attempt to fix. Many other common issues are handled via a Guided Help menu that pops up when an error occurs – prompting users to resolve the issue themselves with help from the OS. For IT professionals, performance monitoring and task management tools are easier to use and provide more information.

    Aero -- Not every workstation that can run Vista is able to use the Aero interface (you'll need a video card with 128 Mb of RAM), but if you have the capability you'll love the difference. The transparent glass look, window shading and Windows Flip 3D aren't likely to improve your productivity, but they do improve the look and feel of Windows that makes previous versions of Windows seem archaic. In short -- it's just plain cool.

    Bernie Klinder is an IT Project Lead with Blue Chip Consulting Group in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the founder and editor of LabMice.net, a comprehensive resource index for IT professionals who support Microsoft Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 and BackOffice products. For his contributions to the information technology community, Bernie was selected as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He can be reached at berniekl@earthlink.net.

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