Please note that I will not discuss each of the points presented in that Wikipdia page, therefore my paragraph numbers will be incomplete. Other than that, some sections overlap one another. I will use the page as a guide to, well, guide us through Windows Vista. Let's start.
The machine used for this review is a Dell Inspiron 6000 with a Pentium M 1.73Ghz, 512MB of DDR2 RAM, and an Ati Radeon x300 with 128MB of dedicated video RAM. For notes on the installation of Vista on this machine, please read the first impressions article.
1. User Interface
1.1 Windows Aero
I have already said quite a bit about the flashy effects that come with Windows Vista. Microsoft has clearly restrained itself with the effects; they are not used during every little task, and they are unobtrusive. After only a few hours of usage, you actually forget they are there; however, as soon as you switch 'back' to XP or something similar, you do miss the effects. This is because unobtrusive as they may be, the effects do add visual cues as to what is happening on the screen. For instance, when you close a window in Vista, it dissolves while falling slightly backwards. This is an extra visual aid.
Compare all this to all the new technological gadgets on the new Mercedes S class, more specifically, the night view cameras. The S class has two night vision cameras on the front of the car, which will, at night (obviously) display its images on a screen right behind the steering wheel, greatly enhancing what you can see on the road, making it much easier and safer to drive at night. Now, this is typically one of those features which many people will claim are pointless, but at the same time, all the people who actually used it, will say they never want to go back to a car without this extra safety precaution. Vista's Aero effects fall into the same category.
Microsoft actually put more thought into Aero than many anti-Microsoft people will want us to believe. For instance, when an application is incompatible with Aero (all applications using Java, such as Azareus), Windows will automatically turn Aero off, switching back to Aero Basic. When you close the application, Windows will turn Aero back on. Nice touch.
The main drawback, of course, of Aero is that it requires a DirectX 9 compatible card. A substantial group of people will need a new graphics card for this, but I do not see this is a problem, since most people will get their hands on Vista via OEM channels anyway (meaning, when they buy a new computer).
The new Explorer interface is, as far as I'm concerned, the least successful change in Windows Vista. Explorer is a very messy application to use now; buttons and widgets everywhere, and it is kind of hard to find out which does what. To give you an idea, the sidebar on the left side can show two things: a directory tree, or a 'Favourites' section (links to common folders such as Pictures and Music). The problem: they can overlap. When you open the tree view, which is basically a drawer opening upwards, it draws over the favourites section, which is just, well, weird. Why not do what everyone else is doing, and simply give a drop-down menu or tabs or something, so that you can select which of the two you want, instead of trying to cram both of them into the same tiny space?
Another problem, as noted in the superficial look, is that for one reason or the other, almost every folder on your computer will default to a detailed listview, which is just plain overkill; it makes the individual folders too hard to distinguish, and it shows way too much irrelevant information, which will distract you from whatever you want to do (manage files, probably). This also makes dragging a box around multiple items problematic, since clicking whatever point in the row of an item will make you drag the item, instead of drawing the selection box.
Basically, I want an option which will allow me to set the icon size/detail level system-wide, after which I can tune individual folder's settings. And lo and behold, it's there: click the 'organize' button on the toolbar, click 'folder and search options', go to the 'view' tab, and click 'apply to all folders', which will make every folder look like the one currently open. Good.
The 'breadcrumbs' style location bar is a definitive improvement, as it makes navigating through deep directory structures much easier. The 'stacks' feature, which allows you to create stacks of files based on whatever you want (i.e. stacks of pictures based on date taken), is not what I had expected of it. When I tested the really early Longhorn builds in 2003, this feature actually had visual cues in the stacks (the more files in the stack, the larger it was), but in Vista, this is not the case. The stacks are basically glorified directories. Not a feature as useful as it could've been.