Microsoft Windows Vista

from Technology & Learning

The updated OS looks great—but it will cost you.

Five years in the making, Windows Vista promises (according to Microsoft) "productivity, mobility, and security benefits, while also achieving lower total cost of ownership."

Microsoft's new OS includes lots of nifty new features, like the Aero 3D interface, ReadyBoost, and Wi-Fi Protected Access 2. But most of the updates are just convenient, not neccessary (not yet, anyway).

Company:Microsoft Corporation
System Requirements: Minimum system requirements depend on the version installed. Vista Business requires a 1 GHz or faster processor; 1 GB of RAM (2 recommended); a 40 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space. Vista's Aero interface requires a graphics card that can handle DirectX 9 graphics APIs with Pixel Shader 2.0 3D texturing, a display driver model (WDDM) driver, at least 128 MB of graphics memory, and support of 32 bits per pixel.
Grade/Price: Per workstation installation (volume pricing for schools available): Vista Business: $285 (full), $192 (upgrade); Microsoft Open License (five unit product count to qualify) about $62.50 per seat, plus $27 disk kit DVD
Pros: Feature-rich new interface (3D transparent look), improved security, enhanced networking, improved text-to-speech
Cons: Substantial investment of money for hardware, training, and IT deployment

Many versions of Vista are available, but schools and districts can only purchase Vista Business (the OS replacement for WinXP Pro) through the company's Academic Open License and Volume License agreements.

To determine if your PC can operate in Vista Business, run Microsoft's Windows Vista upgrade advisor to analyze installed hardware, applications, and driver compatibility. You'll soon discover that Vista makes hefty hardware demands, requiring a processor running at 1 GHz speed, 1 GB RAM (2 GB recommended), and a high-end graphics card that supports the Windows display driver modem (WDDM). Add to this the cost of professional development to ensure that district staff and students know how to use its new features and navigate its interface—and then there's the IT cost stemming from OS architectural changes and security enhancements. For example, a minimal OS image now consumes 2 GB compressed or 5 GB extracted and requires a DVD drive or bootable USB memory key (if supported by the computer's BIOS) and sufficient network capacity for image deployment.

Should districts upgrade? Almost certainly, but not necessarily immediately. While Vista features are convenient, they aren't essential. Highlights include Aero (the slick transparent and feature-rich 3D interface), handy new search facilities, improved online protection, an integrated RSS reader, ReadyBoost (a technology that supports using non-volatile USB flash drive memory instead of a slower hard drive as an additional memory cache for data), and support for the latest wireless security protocols, including WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2).

Why Upgrade?

With its 3D look, the Aero interface is stunning. Open windows have a translucent but thicker edge that is easier to grab with a mouse pointer. If you point to a desktop icon or button without clicking, that object lights up. Do this with systray icons, like the clock, and you get the date. Program applications in the Quick Launch menu present the application name plus a brief description of what the program does. When a dialog box opens, the default choice is easy to spot because it's a different color and it pulses. If you have several windows open and press the Windows and Tab keys, Vista cycles thanks to its "flip 3D" effect.

Additional Highlights

Internet Explorer 7: Now part of the OS, Microsoft's Internet browser has a totally new look with a tabbed interface, enabling users to have several Web sites open in one IE window. IE7 has a built in RSS reader, perfect for social studies teachers and others interested in the latest news and frequently updated content from sites that offer RSS feeds.

Carol S. Holzberg is district technology coordinator for Greenfield Public Schools and the Greenfield Center School in Massachusetts.

The Real World

For budget-strapped districts already struggling to keep up with increased demands for instructional technology, transitioning to Vista and its aesthetically appealing 3D Aero interface will cost big bucks. It's not simply a matter of installing a newer OS over a previous Windows XP installation. Vista requires a major hardware investment in processing speed, RAM, and free hard drive space. Yes, the times they are a-changin', and transitioning to Vista on new or replacement machines is inevitable. But you needn't hurry. Microsoft promises to continue WinXP support for another two years.