I've been evaluating Windows Vista for some time. With the release of Vista coming ever nearer, I share my perception of how the next version of Microsoft's OS stacks up in 10 crucial categories against what will surely be its biggest competitor: Windows XP.

10. Hardware Requirements—Vista is a big, complex piece of software—much bigger than XP, as evidenced by the fact that it installs from DVD rather than from a CD. Vista's complexity is also reflected in its hardware requirements, which include a processor with a speed of 1GHz or better, 512MB of RAM, and a 7200rpm disk drive. Whether you think of Vista as bloatware or as being loaded with new features that address user requirements, XP is clearly the leaner, meaner OS. Chalk up a point for XP.

9. Software Compatibility—In Vista, Microsoft seems to have sacrificed compatibility to security. Vista's security enhancements—while needed—make it difficult to run some software, such as certain games and applications that require Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0. Although Virtual PC Express, included with Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, helps address this tradeoff, XP still gets the point for software compatibility.

8. User Adaptability—XP also has the edge in user adaptability. At almost three years old, XP has a familiar, well-known interface. Vista has a new look and feel that's going to leave many users wondering just how to make Windows Explorer work and where to find familiar and necessary items such as the Control Panel and Network Connections.

7. Manageability—Vista and XP tie for manageability. Both OSs let you use Active Directory (AD) to push out new software and control UI settings, but only with specific versions. AD manageability is available with XP's Professional, Media Center, and Professional x64 editions and with Vista's Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions.

6. 64-Bit Support—Although the x64 editions of XP have been available for almost a year, they haven't become mainstream products—and for good reason: a lack of device drivers. Knowing that the release of Vista is imminent, many vendors have decided not to make x64 drivers for XP, but to focus instead on drivers for Vista. The recent Vista build, with its significantly enhanced device support, is already ahead of XP x64. Score one for Vista.

5. Performance—Vista is still a pre-release product, and the final release will undoubtedly be faster than the Community Technology Preview (CTP) versions. But Vista is noticeably slower than XP when running on the same hardware, and that fact, in combination with Vista's higher CPU, RAM, and disk requirements, makes me favor XP in the performance category.

4. Programmability—Development technologies have always been Microsoft's strong point. As you'd expect, Vista opens up a whole new set of programming opportunities through the Windows-Presentation Foundation, Windows Communication-Foundation, and Windows Workflow Foundation technologies, while continuing to support XP's Win32 interfaces. For programmability, Vista gets the nod.

3. UI—The Vista UI adds cool features, such as the new Aero Glass interface, with its rounded, translucent windows and new Start button icon. Although the UI takes a bit of getting used to, it gives Vista a more modern feel, and I like it.

2. Deployment—Vista also has an advantage over XP in the area of deployment. Vista deployment is radically different from XP deployment. Vista uses a file-based deployment image, called Windows Imaging (WIM), that's much more flexible than XP's sector-based image deployment. Plus, Vista can now detect the hardware abstraction layer (HAL) dynamically, letting you use the same image for multiple hardware platforms.

1. Security—Vista clearly wins the security category. Requiring users to have administrator privileges to effectively use Windows has been at the root of XP's security problem since day one. Vista's User Account Control feature promises to solve that problem. Plus, Vista (finally) gets a two-way firewall and enhances security through BitLocker Drive Encryption.