My friend has been telling me how good the new Microsoft Vista operating system is, but I'm confused. Is it as good as he says it is? And which version should I get?
We think it's worth upgrading to Vista at some stage over the coming months -- Vista is more secure than previous versions of Windows, and it's less likely to crash. There's also less chance of your PC getting infected with things like malware, although you'll still need to invest in some antivirus software.
The Start menu has been completely revamped, so files and applications can now be found within seconds, and the addition of the Sidebar, a see-through column at the far-right of your screen, gives you a convenient place to stash small, often-used applications. Oh, and you won't be able to help loving the new 3D Aero interface -- it's gorgeous. (To learn more about Vista, visit our seven-day guide).
You'll need to think hard about whether your current PC can support a version of the new OS, or if you'll have to buy a new machine.
To find out whether your current hardware is powerful enough, you'll need to run the Windows Vista upgrade advisor, which can be downloaded here. This automatically calculates your PC's Vista-readiness level so you'll have a better idea of how to proceed.
If your PC is a little on the weedy side, you'll want to go for the Home Basic edition, which is easier to use than XP, and purportedly less susceptible to malware, but it's pretty dull if you ask us. Those with meaty-enough PCs should choose between the Home Premium, Business or Ultimate editions.
As you can see from the product comparison table on the Microsoft Web site, Vista Ultimate is the edition that does absolutely everything -- but it's pricey. Business edition is pretty well-specified, too, but you should only bother with that if you require advanced networking, thorough backup features or remote desktop support. Or if you wear a tie to work.
The best compromise is the Home Premium edition. This has all the fun stuff you find in the Ultimate edition, including Media Center, Windows DVD Maker, a selection of games and the Windows Aero interface, which gives you those funky 3D effects everyone loves so much.
The only potential drawback of getting Home Premium instead of Ultimate is that you don't get animated wallpapers or a subscription to Vista Extras -- a service that lets you download exclusive, free applications as they're released by Microsoft.
All editions come in standalone or upgrade versions -- the latter can save you a lot of money. The upgrade versions do what they say on the box -- let you upgrade the copy of Windows XP that's currently on your PC. The standard ones don't require you to own an existing XP licence, hence the reason they're more expensive.
Our final tip would be to consider buying OEM (original equipment manufacturer) versions of Vista, which are officially intended for system builders. You won't get any fancy packaging or manuals with these, but on sites such as Dabs.com, the consumer version of Ultimate is £239, yet the OEM version is just £121.68 -- a saving of £117. You can save £66 on Home Premium.
Microsoft says its OEM software isn't intended for Joe Public, and for good reason. OEM versions of Vista don't come with full tech support. If something goes wrong, your first port of call is yourself. Normal Vista comes with 90 days of free tech support, but you'll need to pay for any subsequent help. Only go the OEM route if you know what you're doing.