Crystal gazing – After Vista what?

It all starts with vague rumblings of a cryptically code-named operating system upgrade. Next come multiple beta versions, accompanied by repeated delays, mysterious disappearing features, and other indications of altered plans. Eventually, there’s a real, boxed product that folks can buy.

I speak, of course, of the amazingly predictable process that results in each new edition of Windows. Also predictable: PC World will do a cover story on the final version. Read our Windows Vista extravaganza, including both a review by Preston Gralla (an old Windows hand who’s new to PCW) and an upgrade guide by Scott Spanbauer (who has covered Windows for us since it was a mere DOS add-on).

Me, I’ve been running Vista in various rough drafts for over a year. So my mind is already racing ahead to the next cryptically code-named Windows upgrade–formerly dubbed “Blackcomb,” now known as “Vienna.” There’s no telling when it will ship. But when it does, I’m hoping it’ll have a number of things that Vista–at least in its initial form–doesn’t have. Such as…

Real interface innovation: True, Vista’s look, feel, and functionality are advances from Windows XP. But they don’t introduce much in the way of big new ideas–or for that matter, ones that Apple’s Mac OS X hasn’t sported for a version or two.

Office 2007, which is arriving at the same time as Vista, proves that the behemoth of Redmond can retool an interface to be both radically different and meaningfully better. Rumor has it that Vienna may have a completely new look; please, Microsoft, get people who were responsible for the new Office involved.

Consistent consistency: Sometimes Vista helpfully gives different tools similar interfaces–Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Media Player are a matched pair. Overall, though, it’s the software equivalent of a huge country made up of municipalities with varying rules and regulations about matters like menus and help systems. OS X shows far more discipline. And so should Vienna.

Seamless Web hooks: So far, Microsoft’s Windows Live offerings have little in common with the OS except a name. Why can’t Windows make using online storage at least as simple as working with a local disk? Shouldn’t you be able to sync multiple copies of the OS between PCs across the Net? Is there any good reason why Microsoft couldn’t provide browser-based access to at least some of Windows’ features? There are glimmers of such concepts in certain features of Vista, but real breakthroughs are yet to come.

Fewer, better applets: Given Windows’ security record, the addition of Windows Defender isn’t just logical, it’s long overdue. But does Windows need a photo organizer or movie editor? Nothing in Photo Gallery or Movie Maker convinces me it does, and Microsoft has a history of adding stuff, then letting it fester (Exhibit A: Windows Paint). Sorry for bringing up Apple again, but its approach makes sense: iLife’s tools are parts of a US$79 suite, not bundled gimmes; but they are powerful and frequently updated.

How psyched are you about Windows Vista–and what’s on your wish list for future versions of the operating system? Visit’s forums, and join the conversation.

Harry McCracken, editor in chief of PC World.

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