Mossberg rev Vista (Calls Unexciting); NYT (Pogue) rev Office


Chad Harris

(Mossberg skews the need for a new computer because Vista will run well on
older computers in a way he doesn't characterize. He does nail features
that Apple has had in since 2001and Vista adopted).

January 18, 2007
Vista: Worthy, Largely Unexciting
By Walter S. Mossberg

A new version of Microsoft Windows, the world's most popular and important
computer operating system, will finally arrive for consumers on Jan. 30. It
has taken the giant software maker more than five years to replace Windows
XP with this new version, called Windows Vista -- an eternity by
computer-industry reckoning. Many of the boldest plans for Vista were
discarded in that lengthy process, and what's left is a worthy, but largely
unexciting, product.

Vista is much prettier than previous versions of Windows. Its icons look
better, windows have translucent borders, and items in the taskbar and in
folders can display little previews of what they contain. Security is
supposedly vastly better; there are some new free, included programs; and
fast, universal search is now built in. There are hundreds of other,
smaller, improvements and additions throughout the system, including
parental controls and even a slicker version of Solitaire.

Vista's Flip 3D feature lets you scroll through images of currently running
programs. The sidebar (right) contains miniapplications. The Windows Photo
Gallery (left) is for organizing and editing photos.
After months of testing Vista on multiple computers, new and old, I believe
it is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has produced. However,
while navigation has been improved, Vista isn't a breakthrough in ease of
use. Overall, it works pretty much the same way as Windows XP. Windows
hasn't been given nearly as radical an overhaul as Microsoft just applied to
its other big product, Office.

Nearly all of the major, visible new features in Vista are already available
in Apple's operating system, called Mac OS X, which came out in 2001 and
received its last major upgrade in 2005. And Apple is about to leap ahead
again with a new version of OS X, called Leopard, due this spring.

There are some big downsides to this new version of Windows. To get the full
benefits of Vista, especially the new look and user interface, which is
called Aero, you will need a hefty new computer, or a hefty one that you
purchased fairly recently. The vast majority of existing Windows PCs won't
be able to use all of Vista's features without major hardware upgrades. They
will be able to run only a stripped-down version, and even then may run very

In fact, in my tests, some elements of Vista could be maddeningly slow even
on new, well-configured computers.

Also, despite Vista's claimed security improvements, you will still have to
run, and keep updating, security programs, which can be annoying and
burdensome. Microsoft has thrown in one such program free, but you will have
to buy at least one more. That means that, while Vista has eased some of the
burden on users imposed by the Windows security crisis, it will still force
you to spend more time managing the computer than I believe people should
have to devote.

Here's a quick guide to the highlights of the new operating system.

Versions and Upgrading
Vista comes in six versions, two of which are primarily aimed at consumers.
One, called Home Premium, is the one most consumers will want. It contains
the full Aero interface, and it includes the functionality of Windows Media
Center and Windows Tablet edition, which have been discontinued as separate
products. Home Premium costs $239, or $159 if you are upgrading from an
earlier version of Windows. It will come preloaded on most midrange and some
high-end consumer PCs.

The other main consumer edition of Vista is the stripped-down version,
called Home Basic. It includes the improved security and search but leaves
out the new Aero interface and the Media Center and Tablet functions. It
will be preloaded on low-price PCs. Home Basic will cost $199, or $100 for

A third version, called Ultimate, will wrap up everything in Home Premium
with some additional features from the business versions of Vista. This is
for power users, and it is likely to be preloaded on high-end PCs. But some
regular users may need Vista Ultimate if their companies have particular
network configurations that make it impossible to connect to the company
network from home with Home Basic or Home Premium. Vista Ultimate will cost
$399, or $259 as an upgrade.

Even if you buy the Home Premium or Ultimate editions, Vista will revert to
the Basic features if it detects that your machine is too wimpy to run the
new user interface.

For most users who want Vista, I strongly recommend buying a new PC with the
new operating system preloaded. I wouldn't even consider trying to upgrade a
computer older than 18 months, and even some of them may be unsuitable
candidates. Microsoft offers a free, downloadable Upgrade Advisor program
that can tell you how ready your XP machine is. It's available at:

If you bought a PC in the past few months, and it had a "Vista Capable"
sticker on it, it should be able to run at least Home Basic. If it was
labeled "Premium Ready," it should be able to handle Premium and probably

Microsoft says that Home Basic can run on a PC with half a gigabyte of
memory and that Premium and Ultimate will work on a PC with one gigabyte of
memory. I strongly advise doubling those numbers. To get all the features of
Vista, you should have two gigabytes of memory, far more than most people

Even more important is your graphics card, a component most people know
little about. Home Basic can run on almost any graphics system. But Premium
and Ultimate will need a powerful, modern graphics system to run well.

I tested Vista on three computers. On a new, top-of-the-line Hewlett-Packard
laptop, with Vista preinstalled, it worked smoothly and quickly. It was a

On a three-year-old H-P desktop, a Vista upgrade installed itself fine. But
even though this computer had a full gigabyte of memory and what was once a
high-end graphics card, Vista Ultimate reverted to the Basic user interface.
And even then, it ran so slowly and unsteadily as to make the PC essentially

The third machine was a new, small Dell XPS M1210 laptop. In general, Vista
ran smoothly and well on this Dell, but some operations were annoyingly
slow, including creating a new message in the built-in Windows Mail program.
This surprised me, because the Dell had two gigabytes of memory and a fast

Microsoft says Vista is much more secure than any other operating system.
But this is hard to prove, especially at the beginning of its life, when few
hackers and malefactors have access to it. One visible security feature asks
for your permission before you do potentially dangerous tasks, like
installing new software. This is a good thing, and it's been on the
Macintosh for years. But unlike the Mac version, the Vista version of this
permission feature doesn't necessarily require you to type in a password, so
a stranger or a child using your PC could grant permission for something you
yourself might not allow.

Vista also has built-in parental controls so you can restrict what a child
can do on the computer. This is also already on the Macintosh, though the
Vista controls are more elaborate.

Microsoft includes a free antispyware program in Vista, called Windows
Defender. But PC Magazine regards it as inferior to paid programs like Spy
Sweeper and Spy Doctor. So you may want to buy one of these. You should also
buy an antivirus program, which isn't included.

User Interface
The new Aero interface is lovely, and it makes using a PC more pleasant and
efficient. It apes some elements on the Macintosh but retains a distinct
look and feel. Icons of folders look three dimensional, and they pop. Most
file icons are thumbnails that show a tiny preview of the underlying

Like the rest of Vista, the Start Menu has a prettier, more refined look.
The old hourglass icon that appeared during delays has been replaced by a
gleaming, spinning blue circle. The cutesy names for standard folders, like
"My Pictures," have been changed to simpler ones, like "Pictures."

As on the Mac, you can now drag favorite folders into a list at the left of
open windows, so it's easy to get to them.

A new feature called Flip 3D shows a 3D view of all the programs you're
running and lets you scroll through them. It's like the Mac's excellent
Exposé feature, though not quite as handy.

Another new feature, called the Sidebar, is a vertical strip at the side of
the screen that can contain tiny programs, called Gadgets, displaying things
like favorite photos, news headlines, stock prices and the weather. Once
again, this is awfully similar to a Macintosh feature called Dashboard,
which displays tiny programs called Widgets.

Some familiar Windows features have new names. The old Display control
panel, where you chose screen savers and desktop pictures, is now called
Personalization. The Add or Remove Programs control panel is now called
Programs and Features.

Like the Mac, Windows now has rapid, universal, built-in search, a very
welcome thing. The main search box is contained at the bottom of the Start
menu, and it works well. Other search boxes appear in every open window.

You can also save searches as virtual folders, which will keep collecting
files that meet your search criteria. This is another feature introduced
earlier by Apple.

Built-In Programs
The Outlook Express email program has been given a face-lift and renamed
Windows Mail. But it's pretty much the same, except for a new junk-mail
filter. The Windows Address Book has been renamed Windows Contacts and,
oddly, turned into a sort of file folder.

The latest version of the Internet Explorer Web browser, with tabbed
browsing, is included, though it's also available for Windows XP.

As on the Mac, Windows now has a nice, centralized Calendar program. And
there's a new photo-organizing program, Windows Photo Gallery, but it's
inferior to Apple's iPhoto because it doesn't allow you to create photo
books, or add music to slide shows. There's also a pretty rudimentary
DVD-burning program.

The familiar WordPad program can no longer open Microsoft Word files
(ironically, Apple's free built-in word processor does).

Gradually, all Windows computers will be Vista computers, and that's a good
thing, if only for security reasons. But you may want to keep your older
Windows XP box around awhile longer, until you can afford new hardware that
can handle Vista.

January 18, 2007
State of the Art
Purging Bloat to Fashion Sleek Software

Life has a funny symmetry, don't you think? When you're born, you're short,
toothless and bald. You spend the first part of your life gaining height,
teeth and hair - and the last part losing them again.

Believe it or not, Microsoft Office is following the same trajectory. (This
might sound like the stretched analogy of the year, but bear with me.)

Microsoft spent the first dozen years of Office's life piling on new
features. Over time, the humble word processor called Word became a photo
editor, a Web-design program and a dessert topping. Not one person in a
hundred used those extra features. Still, we kept buying the upgrades,
thanks to our innate fondness for unnecessary power (see also: S.U.V.'s).

Eventually, however, Microsoft Office developed a reputation for bloat and
complexity. It was fully grown: tall, hairy and toothy.

So what did Microsoft do then? It began shrinking Microsoft Office. In fact,
the chief sales point of Office 2007 (for Windows XP or Vista), which
arrives on Jan. 30, is that it's simpler, it's more streamlined and its
documents take up far less disk space.

After a radical redesign, Word, Excel and PowerPoint are almost totally new
programs. There are no more floating toolbars; very few tasks require
opening dialog boxes, and even the menu bar itself is gone. (Evidently, even
Microsoft saw the need for a major feature purge. "We had some options in
there that literally did nothing," said Paul Coleman, a product manager.)

Instead, almost the entire world of formatting options has been dug out of
Office's guts and artfully arranged on a top-mounted strip of controls
called the Ribbon.

You no longer have to spend 20 minutes hunting through menus for Page
Numbering or whatever. It's all right there on the Ribbon. What was once
buried four layers deep is now arrayed before you in a big software

Better yet, you can see how each formatting choice will affect your
document - a font, style or color change, let's say, or a slide design in
PowerPoint - just by pointing to a control without clicking. No Apply
button, no thumbnail preview; your actual document changes temporarily and
automatically. (Unfortunately, this doesn't work with chart styles in

The bad news, of course, is that this Office bears very little resemblance
to the one you may have spent years learning. Virtually everything has been
moved around or renamed. Count on a couple of weeks of frustration as you
play the free bonus game called Find the Feature.

The game is so challenging because the Ribbon changes. Its controls change
depending on which of the seven permanent tabs you click at the top of the
screen (Home, Insert, View, and so on). Still other Ribbons appear only when
needed - a graphics Ribbon appears, for example, when you click a picture in
the document.

You're stuck with the tabs Microsoft gives you. You can't rearrange them or
hide the ones you never use. Even if you never create form letters or write
academic dissertations, the Mailings and References tabs will be there on
the Ribbon forever, wasting space.

Nor is that the only loss of customization. Microsoft has also removed the
ability to create custom toolbars stocked with the features, fonts or style
sheets you use most. In Office 2007, the only thing you can customize is
something called the Quick Access Bar: a tiny row of unlabeled icons,
awkwardly jammed in above or below the Ribbon.

The second big disruptive change is the new file format. Microsoft, to its
credit, hasn't touched the standard Word, Excel and PowerPoint file formats
for 10 years. You never had to worry that your colleagues' Macs or PCs
wouldn't be able to open your documents.

Now you do. The new file formats (.docx for Word, for example) are much more
compact than the old ones, and they're also easier to recover from data
corruption. But older versions of Office for Windows can't open them without
a free converter (available at Office 2004 for
Macintosh can't open them at all, although shareware and Web conversion
utilities are available.

Fortunately, you can easily instruct your copy of Office 2007 to save its
documents in the older format. In these turbulent transitional times, that
might be a good idea.

The Ribbon reorg and new document formats are by far the most important
changes in Office 2007. There are, of course, some other new features,
especially in Word.

Word has always let you define style sheets: memorized sets of formatting
characteristics - for headings and captions, for example - that you can
apply with one click. Now, however, there are sets of coordinated styles.
One click on Elegant or Formal, for example, impressively reformats all
styles in an entire document.

What used to be called the File menu is still present in Word, Excel and
PowerPoint, although it's now represented by the Office logo. Its submenus
offer Quick Print, which prints one copy on your main printer - no dialog
boxes required. Excellent; how often, really, does the average person switch

Other improvements: A zoom in/zoom out slider appears at the bottom of the
window. The spelling checker now flags right spelling/wrong usage errors, as
in, "I need to loose 10 pounds." A Translation tool gives you instant, if
imperfect, foreign-language translations.

You can now export a document as a PDF file. You can write blog entries that
you then post directly to Blogger, TypePad or WordPress servers. A Document
Inspector window lets you purge hidden text, comments or other elements that
might give away corporate secrets in a document you're about to transmit.

Excel, the world's most popular spreadsheet, can now handle ridiculously
large matrices of numbers (one million rows, 16,000 columns). Charts are
fancier, and "conditional formatting" automatically applies color to cells
whose numbers meet certain criteria. For example, cells in a
temperature-tracking spreadsheet could show shades of blue for cold days, or
reds and yellows for warmer ones.

As for Outlook, Microsoft's flagship e-mail/calendar program, the most
significant change is Instant Search, which lets you pluck one informational
needle from the haystack of e-mail, attachments, calendar appointments,
addresses and to-do items - fast. (The horribly sluggish Search from the old
Outlook has, at long last, been taken out behind the barn and shot.)

Outlook can now subscribe to R.S.S. newsfeeds (free bulletins from blogs and
news Web sites). No longer must your e-mail Inbox be your to-do list; you
can drag any message directly onto the real To Do list. And - praise be -
attached documents appear right in the body of your e-mail messages, in
their full scrolling majesty.

In the beloved/behated slide-show program PowerPoint, in contrast, there's
not much new apart from the Office-wide improvements. There is, however, a
new tool for creating diagrams and flow charts, and slide libraries let you
"publish" self-updating slides that you or others may want to use in other

Now then: If Office over all is simpler to use, its version matrix is not.
There are eight versions. All include Word, Excel and PowerPoint; they
differ only in the extras.

The $150 Home and Student edition, for example, also includes OneNote (a
note-taking program). The Ultimate package ($680 - ouch) includes Access
(database), Accounting Express, InfoPath (electronic forms), Groove
(collaboration "workspaces"), Outlook and Publisher (page layout). You can
also buy programs à la carte.

Over all, Office 2007 is much more pleasant to use than previous versions.
It seems to be the work of the New Microsoft, a company far more concerned
with elegance, beauty and simplicity than the Old Microsoft. Little things
like typography, choice of wording and on-screen feedback get more
consideration in Office 2007 (and Windows Vista, which goes on sale to
consumers the same day).

Still, switching will be a headache for Office veterans for weeks. You may
gain productivity once you've made peace with the Ribbon, but until then,
you'll spend a lot of time stumbling through the new layout.

Handy hint: Don't upgrade right before diving into an important project on
deadline. In fact, for best results, don't buy until you've spent some time
at watching the tutorials and downloading the free trial

By then, you'll realize the truth about the new Microsoft Office: It may not
be quite as big and hairy as it once was - but it's still got teeth.


Chad Harris said:

(Mossberg skews the need for a new computer because Vista will run well on
older computers in a way he doesn't characterize. He does nail features
that Apple has had in since 2001and Vista adopted).

Does he nail the features that Microsoft has had since 2001 that Apple
adopted? No, or course not, being the Apple lover that he is.
Nearly all of the major, visible new features in Vista are already
available in Apple's operating system, called Mac OS X, which came out in
2001 and received its last major upgrade in 2005.

Deliberately misleading. He makes it sound as if OS X was complete and
ready to use in 2001. OS X 10.0 was an incomplete, buggy mess. It didn't
even have a DVD player. OS X wasn't useable for general users until 10.2 in
late 2002.
And Apple is about to leap ahead again with a new version of OS X, called
Leopard, due this spring.

Complete cheerleading speculation. Macs aren't "ahead" in anything.
There are some big downsides to this new version of Windows. To get the
full benefits of Vista, especially the new look and user interface, which
is called Aero, you will need a hefty new computer, or a hefty one that
you purchased fairly recently.

Just like when OS X was released. You had a 3 year old, PPC 604 based Mac?
Too bad, you were not supported.
The vast majority of existing Windows PCs won't be able to use all of
Vista's features without major hardware upgrades.

Just like when OS X was released. The vast majority of existing Macs
couldn't run it all, let alone a "stripped down" version"

There is no point in continuing. Mossberg is the John Dvorak of MacLand -
a total buffoon.


Kerry Brown

It's a reasonable comparison from a Mac user point of view. Put a Mac in
front of a Windows user and you'd get a similar slightly skewed towards
Windows comparison. One thing that stands out in his review that he doesn't
seem to get is that the new HP notebook designed for Vista ran very well. He
says "It was a pleasure". This is the only valid machine to compare Vista to
OS X with. It's designed to run Vista. Macs are designed to run OS X. The
other computers he talked about were designed for other OS'. As you mention
the fact that they run Vista as well as they do says something about Vista.
Take a Mac designed for OS 9 and see how well it runs OS X.

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