Windows XP, the current operating system, is reliable and full-featured. But it has its problems. Vista improves many of those things.Four versions of Vista are available to the public. They are Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate. Enterprise is available only through volume licensing.
I'd avoid Home Basic; it's missing essential features.
Moving data and settings to a new computer is tricky. Some people never get everything transferred. The problem is compounded when switching operating systems.
Software manufacturers sell programs to transfer files. These programs are costly, and not everyone knows they're available.
Vista's Easy Transfer helps you transfer files, settings and even user accounts.
There are several ways to perform the transfer. You can do it over a network. Use a DVD or external hard drive. Or simply connect a USB transfer cable to both machines. You can get one for around $40.
You can specify what is transferred. And it works with Windows XP machines. However, Easy Transfer does not move programs. They have to be re-installed in Vista.
Windows XP helps you set up a home network. And it will help you secure the network. That will alleviate big problems for lots of people. Many leave their networks open to intruders, either through ignorance or inability to navigate the security muddle.
Vista simplifies the process with Windows Connect Now. You can set up and secure your network directly from Windows. Vista detects the network and assigns a name and a pass phrase to encrypt the connection.
Vista will prompt you for a number located on the router. Enter it and specify file-sharing options. That sets up your first computer.
Next, save the network settings to a flash drive. Plug the flash drive in to another computer. Windows will automatically add the second computer to the network.
Finding files in XP is a chore. You have to specify a number of options to perform a search. And there's no guarantee that you'll find what you need.
Google, Yahoo! and others offer desktop search programs. These are better than XP's built-in search.
Vista has desktop search capabilities, too. You can search directly from the Start menu. Results are displayed there, too. You'll see files and e-mail containing your search term. It can also search for programs.
XP and earlier versions of Windows have backup tools. But you must search to find it. The utility also limits where you can store backup files.
Vista has a centralized Backup and Restore center. You can also restore your system to an earlier point in time. By putting backup and restore features in one place, they're easier to use.
Vista also offers a number of advanced backup features. Unfortunately, not all are available in every edition of Vista.
You get a pretty complete backup system with every version but Home Basic. You can schedule backups. And you can do incremental backups, which save space.
Furthermore, you can back up to a network location, external or internal drives, and CD or DVD. CD and DVD are not available on Windows XP.
Vista Business and Ultimate also can create an image of your hard drive.
XP includes Windows Movie Maker for editing home videos. You can download Photo Story to create photo slide shows.
But XP doesn't include a way to burn movies and slide shows to DVD. For that, you must buy additional software.
Vista Home Premium and Ultimate feature Windows DVD Maker. Those two also have a high definition version of Windows Movie Maker.