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Windows Vista

Computers designed for digital lifestyle

Last Updated January 30, 2007

For personal computer makers and enthusiasts, the day that many have been awaiting has finally arrived.

Microsoft Corp. has at last released the consumer versions of its delayed personal computer operating system, Windows Vista.

OQO Model 02. (Courtesy Microsoft)

To the uninitiated, the event might appear to be noteworthy only by the fact that the Jan. 30 rollout marks the biggest product launch by the world's largest software maker since the debut of Windows Vista — the business versions — on Nov. 30, 2006.

The two-stage Vista launch, which is the first major revision to Microsoft's flagship operating system since the launch of Windows XP more than five years ago, could be described as something of a white knight for hardware makers.

Worldwide growth of PC sales was dwindling in 2006 as consumer uncertainty about whether a new computer would be compatible with Vista prompted people to delay hardware purchases, observers say.

According to an analysis of worldwide PC shipments by market research firm IDC, worldwide PC shipments in the final quarter of 2006 grew only 8.7 per cent to 65.6 million units, falling short of a forecast of 10.1 per cent growth.

North American PC sales growth ground to a halt in the previous quarter, with no change in the 9.1 per cent rate compared to the same period last year, IDC found.

Overall, the North American market has been in decline for years, with annual growth plummeting from 10 per cent in 2003 through 2005 to five per cent in the early part of 2006, the research firm's statistics suggest.

Exploiting new capabilities

HP TouchSmart desktop PC. (Courtesy Microsoft)

But with the new operating system's arrival, PC makers are hoping sales of new computers — which will come pre-installed with Vista only — will rise along with consumer confidence.

To that end, hardware makers plan to roll out new computers and devices in 2007 that exploit new capabilities built into Vista. IDC expects North American sales to grow 6.9 per cent to 70.7 million units over the year and 11.3 per cent to 255.4 million units worldwide over the same period.

Dan Senechal, a senior systems engineer with Toshiba Canada Ltd., says people in the market for a new computer should keep their eyes out for PCs capable of handling Vista's demanding requirements.

"What you're looking for is something that supports all of the features that Vista gives you," he told CBC News Online.

That includes:

  • A graphics processor that can display the so-called Aero interface that gives Vista its distinctive glassy look and the capability to show 3-D views of application windows.
  • A lot of system memory — at least 512 megabytes to 1 gigabyte of RAM — again to handle the intense graphical needs of the Home Premium and Home Ultimate versions in particular.
  • The ability to take advantage of Vista's fast power-up feature, which can cut a computer's startup time to seconds.
  • For some consumers, the possibility to convert the PC into a tablet-style computer to maximize the utility of the handwriting recognition feature built into Vista.
Toshiba Portege R400 notebook PC. (Toshiba handout)

By no small coincidence, Toshiba's Portege R400 notebook computer features all of those capabilities.

Co-developed with Microsoft, the system is optimized for use with Vista but will also run with Windows XP, Senechal said.

He noted that the R400 can be ready to use from standby mode within a second of pressing the on button and features the so-called sideshow display — a tiny organic light emitting diode, or OLED.

The low-power screen on the front edge of the notebook lets people use Vista's "active notification" function to be informed of incoming e-mails, calendar reminders and other blurbs even when the computer is switched off.

Other manufacturers, such as ASUSTeK Computer Inc., have their own version of the active notification display. The Taiwan-based company's W5 Fe model, to be released later in 2007, sports a small screen on the top of the compact notebook's casing.

Toshiba's R400 is about 50 per cent lighter than its predecessor, the M400, part of an apparent trend in PCs, especially those that use Vista.

Fit for the living room

Lenovo M55 compact desktop. (Lenovo handout)

Lenovo is touting its ThinkCentre M55e small form factor (SFF) desktop PC, which the company says is about 64 per cent smaller than its usual tower-style computers and 25 per cent smaller than its traditional desktop PC.

Going a step further, OQO Inc. of San Francisco, Calif., says it has developed what it calls the world's smallest Windows Vista capable PC. The Model 02, about the size of a paperback novel, features a thumb keyboard that slides out from beneath the screen and packs a processor, hard drive and memory that rival some full-size notebook computers.

Sony Vaio VGX TP1 compact PC. (Courtesy of Microsoft)

Taking a different direction, Sony's Vaio VGX TP1 sets its sights on the living room much like Vista does, with a compact white cylindrical design that could sit unobtrusively on a coffee table.

HP has its own vision of a computer fit for a living room or kitchen with its TouchSmart IQ770 PC. The most notable feature of the integrated computer is its 19-inch touch-sensitive screen that lets users interact with the desktop and manipulate software applications with one finger.

The common thread through all the systems, irrespective of size or portability, is that they are powerful machines — something Vista requires to run in its optimal mode.

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