With the easy availability of Release Candidate 1 (RC1), I’ve received an increase in email messages from readers asking my opinion about Windows Vista. Most of the readers are debating whether to try it out, and as always I suggest they do so with a computer reserved for that purpose (and not as a dual-boot installation on a computer they count on).

Readers also want to know whether they have sufficient computer hardware to run Vista. As Microsoft users, they've learned the difference between "minimum requirements" and what's necessary if they actually want to use the computer. Unfortunately, I can’t judge how well any specific combination of hardware will react to a Vista installation.

Microsoft has a Band-Aid solution for people who want to know whether their Windows XP-based PCs can run Vista: the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor RC Release, which can be found at the URL below. Upgrade Advisor is a small tool that scans your computer, reports any compatibility problems, and recommends ways to fix them. I suggested the site to several readers and received reports from them of mixed results, so I decided to try it on a few computers in my office. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/getready/upgradeadvisor/default.mspx

The first candidate for scanning was my primary desktop computer, which was a leading-edge system when I had it built about 18 months ago. Unsurprisingly, Upgrade Advisor told me that my computer would run Vista, although the tool did report that my high-definition audio wouldn't function unless I obtained a Vista-compatible drive for that device. Other concerns included some software problems that would require a Vista upgrade, but there was nothing really unexpected--except the tool's response to the Intellipoint Software for my Microsoft Wireless Optical Mouse. I was surprised to find that Vista didn’t support this natively and would require me to find an updated driver.

The second candidate for scanning was an older, dual-processor server box that currently has a fresh copy of XP on it. Upgrade Advisor reported no problems of any sort--it was as blandly vanilla an installation as you could find, with known hardware that was in excess of the requirements for a "Windows Vista Premium Ready PC."

The last system I checked was a computer that was cutting edge about four years ago. I still use this box daily, and it has lots of applications and peripherals installed. It’s a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 with 2GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage, so it's not exactly a crippled antique. However, Upgrade Advisor was very unhappy with it, finding a slew of hardware and software problems that ranged from the determination that the computer's video card wasn't sufficient (which I believe is more of a software glitch than actual hardware incompatibility) to a whole series of driver and application concerns, mainly dealing with products that Upgrade Advisor was unfamiliar with. So, although Upgrade Advisor is a reasonable starting point to determine whether you have a Vista-ready PC, you'll still need to do a lot of legwork on your own in many cases to determine just what you'll need to upgrade to the new OS.

Tip--Removing a Windows Vista installation

If you’ve had enough of your Windows Vista experiments and want to remove the Vista installation from a computer dual-booting Vista and Windows XP, there's a good chance that XP won’t boot after you remove Vista. This situation comes about when you've installed Vista on the active disk partition; removing the Vista installation can also delete the information necessary for XP to boot.

But don’t worry, all is not lost—as long as you have an XP installation CD-ROM. Simply boot from the XP CD-ROM and follow the onscreen prompts until you reach "Repair the Windows XP installation." This option will reinstall all of the boot information necessary without affecting the data and applications installed on the computer, although you might be prompted to activate the copy of XP after you reboot the repaired installation.