Let’s face it: in the last few years, all the fun went out of using a PC. Viruses, spyware, spam, pop-ups, and other Web nastiness had turned us all into cowering system administrators, spending far too much time trying to shore up our computers rather than using them to get things done.
Why on earth didn’t Microsoft do something?
Of course, now we know: Microsoft was doing something. It just took five years to finish doing it.
That something was Windows Vista, a new version (well, OK, five versions) that comes with every porthole sealed, every backdoor nailed shut, and every design flaw reworked by a newly security-conscious squad of Microsofties.
Microsoft won’t go as far as saying that Vista is invulnerable; nothing with 50 million lines of code could possibly be bulletproof. The bad guys are going to do their best.
But it’s safe to say that Vista is by far the most secure Windows yet, and that the sociopaths of the Internet will have a much, much harder time.
That’s not all Microsoft accomplished in writing Vista, though. As you’ll notice within the first 5 seconds, the company also gave the operating system a total overhaul, both in its capabilities and its look. Vista is the best-looking version of Windows ever.
You thought Windows XP was bad, with its two different versions (Home and Pro)?
Windows Vista comes in five different versions: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate. And that’s not even counting the Starter edition, sold exclusively in poor countries outside North America, or the two “N” versions (like Home Basic N), which are sold in Europe to comply with a different set of antitrust laws.
This book series, “for Starters,” has nothing to do with Windows Vista, Starter Edition. In fact, we thought of it first. :)
Microsoft says that each version is perfectly attuned to a different kind of customer, as though each edition had been somehow conceived differently. In fact, though, the main thing that distinguishes the editions is the suite of programs that comes with each one. For example:
▸ Home Premium comes with Movie Maker (edit your camcorder footage), DVD Maker (turn home movies into simple video DVDs), Media Center (displays your photos and videos on a TV set), and parental controls (lets you limit what your kids do online and what programs they use). None of this is included with the Business or Enterprise versions, on the assumption that busy corporate executives don’t have kids, camcorders, or TVs at work.
▸ Business and Enterprise versions, on the other hand, come with certain goodies that are most useful in corporations. They include Complete PC Backup (makes a snapshot of your entire hard drive), password protection for individual files and folders, Windows Fax and Scan (for faxing and scanning, of course), Remote Desktop (lets you control another PC from across the Internet), and lots of hyper-technical networking features.
And then there’s the expensive Ultimate version, which, as you’d guess, includes everything from all versions.
Except where noted, every word in this book applies equally well to every Vista version. Meanwhile, if some feature makes you salivate, fear not. Microsoft is only too happy to let you upgrade your copy of Windows Vista to a more expensive edition, essentially “unlocking” features for a fee.
Windows Vista comes with no printed user guide at all. To learn about the thousands of pieces of software that make up this operating system, you’re supposed to read the online help screens.
Unfortunately, as you’ll quickly discover, these help screens are tersely written, offer very little technical depth, and lack examples. You can’t even mark your place, underline, or read them in the bathroom.
The purpose of this book, then, is to serve as the startup manual that should have accompanied Windows Vista. In these pages, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for using almost every important Windows feature.
This book is divided into seven parts, each containing several chapters:
▸ Part 1, The Vista Desktop, covers everything you see on the screen when you turn on a Windows Vista computer: icons, windows, menus, scroll bars, the Recycle Bin, shortcuts, the Start menu, shortcut menus, and so on. It also covers the juicy new system-wide, instantaneous Search feature.
▸ Part 2, The Pieces of Vista, is dedicated to the proposition that an operating system is little more than a launch pad for programs. Chapter 6 describes how to work with programs and documents in Windows—launch them, switch among them, swap data between them, use them to create and open files, and so on—and how to use the new micro-programs called gadgets.
This part also offers an item-by-item discussion of the individual software nuggets that make up this operating system. These include not just the items in your Control Panel, but also the most important free programs that Microsoft threw in: Windows Media Player, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and so on.
▸ Part 3, Vista Online, covers all the special Internet-related features of Windows, including setting up your Internet account, Windows Mail (for email), Internet Explorer 7 (for Web browsing), and so on. Chapter 8 also covers Vista’s Internet fortification features: the firewall, anti-spyware software, parental controls, and on and on.
▸ Part 4, Beyond the Basics, describes the operating system’s relationship with equipment you can attach to your PC—scanners, cameras, disks, printers, and so on. It also explores Vista’s greatly beefed-up backup and troubleshooting tools.
▸ Part 5, The Vista Network, is for the millions of households and offices that contain more than one PC. These chapters show you how to build your own network. File sharing, accounts and passwords are here, too.
At the end of the book, three appendixes provide a guide to installing this operating system, the “Where’d It Go?” Dictionary, which lists every feature Microsoft moved or deleted on the way to Windows Vista, and a master list keyboard shortcuts in Vista.
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this: “Open the Start→Computer→Local Disk (C:)→Windows folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested icons in sequence, like this: “Click the Start menu to open it. Click Computer in the Start menu. Inside the Computer window is a disk labeled Local Disk (C:); double-click it to open it. Inside that window is yet another icon called Windows. Double-click to open it, too.”
Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure I-1.
Figure 1. In this book, arrow notations help to simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Start→Control Panel→AutoPlay” is a more compact way of saying, “Click the Start button. When the Start menu opens, point to Control Panel; without clicking, now slide to the right onto AutoPlay,” as shown here.
You’re invited and encouraged to submit corrections and updates to this book’s Web page at http://www.missingmanuals.com. (Click the book’s name, and then click the Errata link.) In an effort to keep the book as up-to-date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies of this book, we’ll make any corrections you’ve suggested.
Even if you have nothing to report, you should check that Errata page now and then. That’s where we’ll post a list of the corrections and updates we’ve made, so that you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear your suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual line. There’s a place for that on the Web site, too, as well as a place to sign up for free email notification of new titles in the series.