In my job at CNET I need to use a variety of different PCs for different purposes. While I can easily handle the transition from Windows 98 SE to Windows 2000 or XP--this has become second nature--the transition from Windows Vista beta 2 back to Windows XP or earlier has been surprisingly rough. There are some paradigm shifts regarding file structure within the OS that simply don't translate to the earlier versions. That, and there are a few new features within Windows Vista that you won't want to part with once you start using them.
Apple OS X users already know how easy it is to find any app, any file, anywhere on their hard drive, then save those searches in temporary virtual folders. Now Windows Vista users will have those same opportunities. Unfortunately, when I transition back to Windows XP, I feel truly lost.
With Windows XP, I often find myself having to go to Control Panel, then to one subgroup then another subgroup just to find an obscure application, make a change, or get some system information. With Windows Vista, I simply type in what I want in the Start menu. It's easy--and it's addictive.
To make these Vista blogs visual, I've been collecting screenshots on a USB drive and porting them over to a production machine at work. I could e-mail them, but I also use the USB drive for file storage. On other operating systems, in order to save to the USB drive, I have to select My Computer, then choose the drive I want, and so on. With Vista, I simply click the arrow next to the word Computer in the file path to see what drive options I have available. This may seem like a small thing, but when you're moving dozens of files from machine to machine, every second counts.
I can also group files by author or other metadata. These groupings are virtual in that the files don't physically move on the drive, only in their associations with folders and directories. It's an odd concept but a useful one. For example, I can save a search in a virtual folder, keeping items together temporarily for a specific task. Afterward, I can delete the search folder, yet the individual files remain in their respective physical locations.
One cool feature that fortunately I can replicate on my Windows XP systems is the new Windows Vista Gadgets (or widgets). At first I didn't like gadgets, but now I get it. Opera 9 beta 1 allows me to add widgets to my Windows XP desktop, and I've started doing so after spending these last few days with Vista.
In Vista, gadgets can be dragged anywhere on the desktop, but they also live along the far right-hand side of the desktop in what Microsoft calls the Vista Sidebar (which you can turn off if you really don't like it). I think the sidebar is useful; it's screen real estate that would otherwise go unused. Now, in addition to seeing an analog representation of the current time, I also keep up with the latest headlines from News.com via the discreet little RSS gadget I have positioned there.