Consumers are preparing for the next generation operating system Windows Vista to hit store shelves next week. Yet for those who have already paid for Windows XP, is the upgrade really worth it?

The new operating system represents the software maker’s biggest launch since its Windows 95 operating system helped revolutionize consumer computing 12 years ago. Though the jump from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 was significant, some skeptics scoff the latest offering saying that Windows XP is already good enough.

This guide will give you a run down of some of the most notable changes and help you chose for yourself.


Vista will feature a number of security measures that Windows XP doesn't have. Some of the most interesting are parental controls.

The new feature allows parents to set different access levels for their children, restricting them from visiting pornographic websites, for example. Parents can build user profiles for the children or other members, and set restrictions on which times the computer can be used, or what type of applications can be installed.

While various applications have been available for other Windows flavors, Vista marks the first time that these controls will be built into the operating system itself.

Microsoft also upgraded the Windows firewall feature that came in the original XP with more features. The standard firewall is still there, but now users have an option of enabling more advanced features. Consumers can, for example, now set up filters for outgoing data as well as incoming, a great way to combat malicious software from using your computer as a spam-drone.

Improved Interface

The most exciting new feature of Windows Vista is arguably the interface. The Redmond Wash.-based firm dedicated a number of user resources to make sure the way you interact with the computer is slick, easy, and intuitive.

For computers with higher end graphics capabilities, users can enable the Aero Glass rendering engine, making Windows 3-Dimensional and giving task bars and buttons a semi-translucent look. Again, there were programs available for Windows XP, such as Windows Blinds, which would enhance the interface, but for the first time these features will be included, out the box.

Another feature now integrated into the Windows Vista Start menu can find files and even programs instantly, just by typing the name into a text bar in the start menu. Results are returned in real time, much like using 3rd party applications an XP such Google Desktop, or Yahoo Desktop Search.

Also, Microsoft has finally given its Start menu a makeover - its first since the introduction in Windows 95. Everything will now be located in one column, making scrolling around looking for programs a thing of the past.

Improved Performance

These bells and whistles may put a strain on your current system. Research suggests that the new features will require more capable hardware, meaning some users will need to upgrade to see Windows Vista run in its full glory.

The average price for a desktop computer using Microsoft's previous operating system, Windows XP, is $500, according to iSupply. For an average PC running Vista, however, the firm believes the cost will jump to slightly more than $600. Higher performing processors and video hardware contribute to these costs.