by Bob Walters | December 01, 2007

For nearly a year, PCs have been shipping with Vista, Microsoft’s latest version of its Windows operating system. Vista delivers many features that add new capabilities to your computer, but they come at a cost beyond the initial price -- you’ll need to have the right hardware to benefit, and you’ll have to install updates continually.

The common advice with Microsoft products traditionally has been to wait until the first maintenance release, or the .1 release, of any new software. In fact, upon Vista’s release there was so much concern about compatibility with existing applications that Microsoft continued to provide PC manufacturers with Windows XP to install as an option. That option still is available for corporate purchases.

Under the Hood

What do you really get with Vista? The most obvious feature is more advanced graphics, particularly the transparent and reflective surfaces of the Aero user display and the Windows Flip 3D navigational functionality. Improved security, a spiffy new taskbar, and various file-searching, networking and resource-managing features also are included.

I found two sources that provide upgrade advisers, so you can see if your PC can run Vista: CNet ( and Microsoft (

Interestingly, the CNet adviser informed me that my PC wasn’t recommended to run even the basic Home version, while the Microsoft adviser recommended I upgrade to the Business version. (My PC is a two-year-old Dell 3GHz Pentium 4 with 1GB RAM.) Both advisers recommended that I upgrade my memory and video card “in order to use all of the Vista features.”

The bottom line: My PC, which meets or exceeds what I currently need to run my many applications, is not fully equipped to run Vista.

If yours is ready, before upgrading, take an inventory of the applications you use the most. Check out the websites for these applications and look for the “Works with Windows Vista” designation. Updates might be available for some, and other programs might run under Vista with no problems. You also can search the Microsoft website for “compatibility with Vista,” which will return a series of links to updates and the knowledge base.

For Every Occasion

As with previous Windows releases, Microsoft offers different editions. The basic version is called Vista Home, which primarily provides improved security and file management. To get the new graphics, taskbar and many other highly touted features, you’ll need to upgrade to either the Home Premium or Business version. The Ultimate version does it all. Prices to upgrade from Windows XP range from $60 to $100 for Home, $115 to $160 for Home Premium, $141 to $200 for Business and $210 to $260 for the Ultimate version.

If you opt to buy a new PC -- which is probably the least frustrating option, although somewhat more expensive -- most of them include the Home Premium version and hardware to support it, with the Business version a $99 addition and the Ultimate version an extra $159.

A Mixed Bag

The first wave of Vista users offer mixed reviews of its value, convenience and the necessity to upgrade. According to Microsoft, the Windows Vista SP1 update will incorporate user feedback and address “specific reliability, performance and compatibility issues,” as well as support new types of hardware. The update is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2008. If you’ve waited until this point, you might wish to do so just a bit longer.

Bob Walters,based in Battle Creek, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.