Monday, February 19, 2007

Windows VISTA features defnitely worth waiting for

I'm at the Instructional Technologies Strategies Conference in Portland, Oregon right now and enjoyed an excellent (and entertaining) preconference workshop on Windows VISTA yesterday presented by New York Times columnist David Pogue. I'd read a lot of rather negative press about the new operating system but hadn't really had a chance to explore its features. With David's help I was able to do that yesterday (we were all provided with a Vista-equipped laptop to use for the session by one of the conference supporters).

Some of the things I found most helpful about the new OS:

Search and Rescue - Users of workstations with ever increasing data storage capacities have begun to flounder in their local sea of data as much as they do in the oceans of data on the internet. So, Microsoft has taken one of the best developments of the Web 2.0 revolultion, folksonomy, and incorporated it into VISTA. A user now has the ability to tag documents to facilitate location and retrieval of data.

Along with this immensely useful feature, Microsoft incorporated a powerful search function that allows users to not only search file names, tags, and types but looks within document contents. It even offers a natural language search capability, although this feature is not enabled by default. You can tell a VISTA workstation to "find emails from Robin yesterday" and it will automatically understand the application, sender and date parameters of the search.

David demonstrated how much more quickly you can click the equivalent of the Start button (it's not called start anymore) and type "calc" into the search field to launch the calculator than to select Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Calculator. I found myself using this feature almost intuitively as soon as he demonstrated it.

ALLOW or DENY - Despite the impression given by the currently running ad from Apple, the Security system built into VISTA was not as intrusive as I feared. When I turned on the laptop and initiated a connection to the hotel wireless system I was cautioned that the system was not secured (someting XP already did) then asked if the system was public or private. This new addition is actually quite welcome. If you select public, like you should when using any publicly provided hotspot, VISTA prevents your network activity from being seen by other users of the public service. David pointed out that you no longer have to worry about fellow coffee drinkers at Starbucks scanning your data or harvesting your passwords while you work away oblivious to their clandestine activities. You can also save the public setting for hotspot connections that you use regularly.

Windows VISTA also provides a built-in phishing filter. If you click on a link in an email message that is bogus, VISTA checks a database of known phishing sites and does not launch the linked webpage if it determines the site to be among the offenders.

VISTA also has parental controls that may seem Big Brotherish but will be welcomed by millions of concerned parents. The administrator account can enter a list of either forbidden websites or a list of approved websites by user of the system so as children grow, their parental filter can be adjusted accordingly. To accompany this feature VISTA provides a detailed logging system that can be activated to track the user activity. A parent can see not only which sites were visited but which sites the child attempted to access that were blocked (and perhaps have a meaningful discussion about them). VISTA even offers the parent the ability to monitor game usage. Not only can a parent specify that only games of a certain ESRB rating level can be played but individual game content can be filtered such as graphic violence, nudity, etc. The parent can even dictate that files cannot be downloaded (this may be a good security practice for the very young but would be too extremely limiting for adolescents).

Grouping and Stacking - David demonstrated another really useful feature called grouping and stacking. You can now group data by parameter into temporary folders with a few simple clicks. For example, if you have tagged a number of documents with a particular project name or keyword, you can instantly group them into a folder to use for batching operations. Music buffs could group music by genre or artist and instantly create temporary playlists.

Enhanced graphic tools - I was particularly excited by a new feature in graphics management. Whenever you edit an image in VISTA, it automatically creates a shadow document of the original image. Unlike Photoshop's revert to last saved feature, VISTA retains a copy of the original unedited document that can be retrieved at any time. I had been performing this type of file management for some time by always creating two copies of any downloaded images, placing one set in a folder marked original. VISTA now does it transparently. Very nice!

Well, it's time to get dressed for breakfast and prepare myself for another of David's workshops today on digital photography. I'll continue this discourse later this evening.
Post a Comment