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Seven days of Vista -- day 2: User interface enhancements

Bill Gates wasn't lying: Vista is far easier to use than XP -- come check out the cool UI enhancements you'll be using on a day-to-day basis

Our ongoing muck-about with Vista is going pretty well. The first day of feature-hunting uncovered some funky new applications, and on the second day we've decided to question Microsoft's claims that the new OS offers a "breakthrough user experience".

Start Orb
Top of our fiddlage list today was the new Start Orb, which replaces the Start button in XP. Clicking this launches a much improved start menu that doesn't have the cascading All Programs view which, in XP, could spawn icons across the breadth of your screen. We're really digging this addition.

Windows Aero
Next we checked out what Windows Aero had to offer. Aero is apparently an acronym for Authentic, Energetic, Reflective and Open. Yeah, it sounds pretentious, we agree, but it's worthy of inclusion. It replaces the dull XP front-end, so now window panes have funky translucency effects, and the old icon-based Alt-Tab application switching feature has been replaced with Windows Flip and Windows Flip 3D. Instead of Alt-Tabbing through meaningless icons, Flip lets you tab through live thumbnails of each application. Flip 3D does the same, but in a pseudo-3D manner, and you can even use the scroll wheel on your mouse to do so. The bottom line? It's very, very cool. Mere words don't do it justice: we'd probably buy Vista for this feature alone.

Live Taskbar
Our next bit of fiddling concerned the addition of Live Taskbar Thumbnails (the taskbar is the bit that runs parallel to the Start button). Heavy multitasking can leave you with a glut of meaningless buttons and a propensity to click random icons while trying to open your application of choice, but with live thumbnails you see exactly what's what. This should, in theory, solve the age-old problem of opening a completely inappropriate window in front of your boss. We like.

Instant Search
When you upgrade to Vista you'll probably find the Instant Search feature indispensable. It's somewhat like Google Search, or the nearly two-year-old search feature in Apple OS X, in that it just works. Fast. The search dialogue box is built into the Start menu and doubles as a way of launching applications. You can, for instance, type the word 'paint' to launch Microsoft Paint which is great if you can't be bothered to find the relevant icon. After too long enduring lame search on Windows, it's great to see this core functionality sorted.

Two days in, and we're really getting our Vista on. Crave will continue our search for new features and bring you our findings in due course. Check back tomorrow for more. -RR