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Windows Vista is almost here. To anyone who has been sitting on the fence over whether to upgrade to Microsoft’s new operating system, I’ll say it loud and clear: It’s time to make the jump. There are plenty of reasons to leave Windows XP and install Vista, and below are my top 15 favorites.

Not everyone agrees with me, however. For the opposing point of view, check out PCW columnist Steve Bass’s take in “Are You Sure About Upgrading to Vista?” and “Vista Upgrade: The Not-So-Rosy Picture.”

To make up your own mind, read our Windows Vista FAQ. We also have our Vista review and our article on how to install Vista to assist you.

But I’m sold on upgrading to Vista. Why? Well…

1. It’s the Interface, Stupid

Perhaps the best thing about Windows Vista is the most obvious: its new interface. With transparent animated windows that swoosh into place, subtle and elegant colors, a new Start menu, and plenty of other changes, this is the most beautiful version of Windows you’ve seen. If you’ve ever had Mac envy, this is the Windows you want–it’s the most Mac-like interface yet.

2. Flip Over Windows Flip 3D

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Switching between open windows using Alt-Tab in previous versions of Windows was always a shot in the dark, as you never quite knew to which window you’d switch, or even which ones were open. That has all changed in Windows Vista. Press Alt-Tab, and Windows Flip 3D springs into action, displaying thumbnails of all your open windows in a gorgeous, 3D stack. You can then flip through them until you find the one you want.

3. Live Thumbnails

Do you run a lot of programs and visit a lot of Web sites simultaneously? If so, you’ll appreciate Live Thumbnails. Hover your mouse over any window on the Taskbar, and a thumbnail of the window pops up, with the program and document name, or the Web site name, just above it. The thumbnails are truly “live,” so if a video is playing in a window, you’ll see the video playing in the thumbnail too.

4. Boost Performance With ReadyBoost

Windows Vista includes a quick way to enhance system performance: ReadyBoost. It preloads files and programs you often use into RAM so that they’re there when you want them, and you don’t have to wait for them to load from the hard disk. You can buy an inexpensive USB flash drive and use up to 4GB of cheap RAM to boost your system performance.

5. Cool Performance Tools

If you’re the kind of person who tends to peek under the hood and tinker, you’ll find a lot to like in Windows Vista, which contains plenty of applets and utilities. Probably the best of them all is the Reliability and Performance Monitor. It keeps tabs on every aspect of your PC in exquisite detail, including the CPU, hard disk, network usage, and RAM use, and it includes plenty of charts, reports, and logs for your inner geek. The Reliability Monitor module is particularly noteworthy, as it charts the reliability of your PC over time and shows you every single problem or failure in a calendar format.

6. Better Security

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At every level of Windows Vista, you’ll find improved security. The firewall is now two-way, including inbound as well as outbound protection. Windows Defender offers spyware protection, and Internet Explorer has an antiphishing filter to protect against Web scams. A slew of security holes have been plugged in Internet Explorer, and the browser now operates in what’s called Protected Mode, which guards system files against external attacks. There’s plenty more under the hood as well, including Windows Service Hardening, which protects vital files and settings. (Note: BitLocker’s automatic drive encryption and other advanced Vista security options are available only in the Business and Ultimate versions.)

7. Find Anything Fast With Search

Can’t remember where you put an important file? It’s no longer a problem. Windows Vista integrates a new search technology throughout the operating system–on the Start menu, within Windows Explorer, and just about everywhere else you look. It uses indexing and is lightning fast, and it literally searches as you type. A powerful advanced search tool lets you narrow your search by date, file size, author, tags, and location. It also accepts Boolean searching. You can even save your searches for future reference.

8. Nifty Software Gadgets

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If you’re a software gadget fan, you’ll love Vista. It includes a variety of software gadgets that live on the desktop and do little tasks such as delivering stock quotes, showing weather forecasts, displaying RSS feeds, monitoring the state of your computer, checking your e-mail inbox, and more. Vista ships with a gaggle of them, but you can find dozens more online–and they’re all free.

9. Better Wireless Networking

Anyone who uses a wireless network at home, at work, or on the road will appreciate the way Windows Vista handles wireless networking. You can more easily find new wireless networks, and save them and manage them as permanent connections. Wireless security has also been improved: When you connect at a public hotspot, security precautions (such as the shutting off of file sharing) automatically lock into place.

10. Map Your Network

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Want to see every single computer and device connected to your network–and get instant information about each, such as their IP addresses? The Network Map does that for you. It also lets you make instant connections to any device; double-click a PC, for example, and you’ll connect to its shared folders.

11. Better Graphics With Windows Photo Gallery

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Finally, with Windows Photo Gallery Microsoft has shipped a graphics utility that’s worth using. It’s a kind of jack-of-all-trades–you can view graphics and create slide shows, for example. But it also includes a surprisingly good set of simple-to-use image editing tools, including one for eliminating red-eye and another that cleans up photos with a single click.

12. Become a Director With Windows Movie Maker

Windows Vista comes with a new version of the much-maligned moviemaking tool Windows Movie Maker, and it’s a big surprise–you’ll actually want to use it. Importing video and music, creating transitions between scenes, and syncing music with video are easy. When you’re done, you can burn your creation to DVD with Windows DVD Maker.

13. Better Notebook Support

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In previous versions of Windows, the mobile-computing features seemed bolted on after the fact. That’s not true with Windows Vista, as the Windows Mobility Center puts all the tools you need in one place.

You can turn your wireless adapter on or off, change your battery settings, and connect to an external display from a single location. And the new Presentation Settings feature is a big leap forward for anyone who often gives presentations with a notebook. You can customize settings–such as the resolution, mute, background, and so on–and then save them. Afterward you can switch from normal mode to presentation mode in a snap.

14. File Sharing and Syncing

With Windows XP it was possible to share files among PCs on your network–possible but often impossibly hard, it seemed. That changes with Windows Vista. The Network and Sharing Center lets you turn on and configure file sharing with single clicks. And the Synch Center lets you automatically synchronize files and folders among separate PCs. You won’t have to do anything to keep them in sync; Windows Vista will do it for you.

15. Protect Your Kids With Parental Controls

Worried that your children may be exposed to inappropriate content online? Want to make sure they’re not playing violent games? Parental Controls put you in the driver seat. Not only can you determine the kinds of sites they visit and games they play, but you can also enforce rules about when they’ll be able to use the computer at all.

Vista goes on sale Tuesday, January 30; tech superstores across the United States will open at midnight to let you get a jump.

via PC World

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