Once you get past Microsoft Vista's attractive new interface, what's left to wow you? Quite a bit, actually, although a lot of the improvements in Microsoft's newest operating system are subtle.
But that doesn't mean they're any less welcome to those who have struggled with certain aspects of previous versions of Windows.
Here's a rundown of some pleasant surprises in Vista.
Transparent driver updates
Everyone has experienced it: You install or reinstall Windows and then you're faced with the task of locating all of the driver file necessary to get your operating system communicating properly with all of your hardware. With Vista, those days may finally be over.
First off, Vista provides more drivers in the base package than any previous version of Windows, meaning that more of your hardware will be recognised and configured properly from the outset. Graphics cards, sound cards, LAN devices - typically these will receive decent drivers that can get you off and running.
Better yet, when first installed, Vista will automatically scan Windows Update - Microsoft's free software update service - if you have an Internet connection. If needed, drivers are found there, they'll be downloaded automatically and installed on your PC.
Windows XP was supposed to do something similar, but the operating system never seemed able to find missing drivers. That's because Microsoft's requirements for getting drivers listed on Windows Update were overly restrictive.
Vista will make networking a lot easier for a lot of people. The good news here starts with installation. If you have a wireless networking card in your PC, chances are much better with Vista that the operating system will find a driver for it during installation, meaning that you may not be left rummaging through a drawer for an installation CD in order to connect to the Internet via a wireless hub.
Interacting with wired networks is easier too, thanks to a new feature in Vista called Peer Name Resolution Protocol (PNRP) that allows devices on a network to discover one another. XP was occasionally known to present problems to those who wanted to set up a simple home network.
Rebooting is both annoying and counterproductive, especially when a machine takes five minutes or more to get up to speed. Yet rebooting was a way of life with early versions of Windows. Windows XP improved the situation a bit by allowing a greater number of updates to occur without a required reboot of the PC.
Vista goes one step better. The new Restart Manager works with installation and update programs to determine whether individual processes can be shut down and updated without having to reboot the computer. When a reboot is required, the Restart Manager can take a snapshot of the system - which applications are running, which files are open - and restart the computer in exactly the same way it appeared to the user before the installation or update occurred.
Need more memory for your Vista computer? Thanks to a new feature dubbed ReadyBoost, you may not have to install more memory inside the PC.
ReadyBoost allows you to augment your computer's system memory (RAM) by plugging in a USB 2.0 flash memory device into your computer.
ReadyBoost will be a boon especially to notebook users, for whom installing additional RAM can be either difficult or impossible. Even desktop users who have installed the maximum amount of RAM that their systems can hold will be able to overcome this limitation with ReadyBoost.
A Windows Media Centre edition has been available for some time, making it easy for users to use their PCs to view and record television shows, as well as to play videos and watch slide shows of personal media on their television screens. Vista's Media Centre does all of that - and comes with a visually stunning, redesigned interface.
Offering built-in support for recording television shows and archiving them to DVD, optimisation for the new wide-screens and the ability to view and edit all types of digital media, Media Centre is bound to please folks who have had to reach for multiple other programs to accomplish the same tasks.
Windows Photo Gallery
Digital photography is big and Vista addresses the needs of digital photographers of all stripes with its new Windows Photo Gallery. Actually, three applications in one. There's a tagging and archiving component - making it possible for you to forego third-party applications for organising and later retrieving your digital photographs based upon preferences such as keywords and ratings. A viewer component displays thumbnails and larger versions of your photographs. And there's an editing component, which does everything from basic red-eye removal to sophisticated adjustments and enhancement techniques. Printing, e-mailing, and archiving your photos onto DVDs are among the other features that Photo Gallery boasts.
Vista may have been introduced to the buzzwords "aero," "security," and "search," but there are plenty of hidden enhancements and new features under the surface. Users new to Vista who spend time exploring the new operating system will likely feel rewarded with what they discover.