Are You Ready for Vista?

Microsoft has launched a program to help customers determine if their PC is capable of handling Windows Vista when it finally ships, and by doing so, the company is tipping its hand on just what kind of system requirements Vista will have.

Microsoft’s Vista “Get Ready” site features information and requirements for both “Vista Capable” PCs and “Premium Ready” as well as the downloadable Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor beta, which examines your system to determine its capabilities.

For a computer to be labeled Vista Capable, the computer must run an 800Mhz processor, come with 512MB of memory and have a DirectX 9-capable video processor. To be Vista Premium ready, the system needs to run at 1GHz, have 1GB of memory and have a more powerful video card to meet the Windows Aero specifications.

Being able to run Aero is the key differentiator between Capable and Premium, along with the extra memory for improved performance. Also, Vista Capable PCs will require 20GB of hard disk space, while Vista Premium PCs will need 40GB of space available.

The Upgrade Advisor scans your hardware to determine if it’s capable of running any or all of the different flavors of Vista. One version, Vista Starter, will only be sold in emerging markets overseas, not the U.S.

For home users, there will be three versions: Vista Home Basic, Vista Home Premium and Vista Home Ultimate, according to Greg Amrofell, product manager for Windows client software at Microsoft. There will also be two business user versions: Vista Business and Vista Enterprise.

Microsoft clearly wants people to think of upgrading.

“The overall story we’re trying to convey is there’s no reason to wait until Vista launches to buy a PC now or start evaluating your PC for an upgrade,” said Amrofell. “We’re providing the tools and guidance that we hope will simplify the process of choosing a PC that’s right for you and provides the experience you need.”

The Upgrade Advisor asks you to check off what tasks you plan on using your computer to perform, ranging from basic use to viewing and capturing streaming video, and makes its determination from there.

Since IT managers will not want to run from one computer to the next in their network running the Upgrade Advisor, Microsoft has a Technet site with guidance for managers with many machines to consider, according to Amrofell.

This is the first version of Windows that will look beyond just your system memory to determine what it can and can’t do. Now, your video card is also an issue. Video cards have always been a concern for gamers, but not Windows performance. However, with Vista comes a new feature, Windows Aero, a souped-up interface that looks like everything the ill-fated Chrome project promised back in the late 1990s. Vista Starter and Vista Basic will not come with Aero.

“This is the first time we’ve released an OS that truly scales with the hardware,” said Amrofell. “The idea that you could get a great Vista experience on a $300 PC and an even better experience on a $3,000 PC is fairly new. Windows has always scaled with memory, now we’re adding capabilities around graphics as well.”

Amrofell said that estimates from analysts are that fully half of PCs shipping today are going to be able to take advantage of Aero. Michael Silver, senior analyst with Gartner Group, thinks it’s less than that and doubts that many new PCs being bought today have 1GB of memory.

Gartner expects Vista will not be deployed in significant numbers until 2008, so even a 2005 computer, which would be relatively modern, would be three years old at that point and too close to the end of its useful life, and not worth upgrading, said Silver.

He also said the graphics requirement would be problematic, since so many business PCs come with integrated graphics, like the Intel 915 chip, which is not meant for something like Aero. Not that it matters.

“For most business users, the Vista Aero experience is not necessary,” said Silver. “There are some features, like redraw and stability that will benefit everyone, but for the most part it’s eye candy. For your standard Word/Excel/Powerpoint experience, Aero isn’t that important.”

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