Executive Summary: Microsoft's Windows Vista has numerous features that make it worth upgrading to from Windows XP. Vista includes versatile image deployment, a faster desktop search, and a complete backup and restore tool. Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption, a new service program architecture, and Address Space Layout Randomization are Vista features that improve overall security.

At the tender age of a year and a half, Windows Vista remains the Rodney Dangerfield of Microsoft OSs—it don’t get no respect. And that’s a shame. Its biggest competitor (no, not Leopard—Windows XP SP3!) is darned good, but a close look will show that Vista is better in many ways. If you’re staying with XP because you’re satisfied with it, then great, but don’t avoid Vista just because your plumber’s cousin’s stockbroker heard that it was bad. Here are 10 reasons you should consider making the switch.

1. You won’t need as many images. If, like most of us, you deploy your desktops with an image-based system such as Symantec Ghost or Microsoft’s free ImageX tool, then you know that XP images tend to be hardware-specific: Create “the sales laptop image” on a Toshiba laptop, for instance, and it often won’t work well on an HP or Dell laptop. Vista is much more accommodating; you often need only two images for your entire organiz

2. Finally, a desktop search that works! For nearly 10 years, Windows and Office have included tools that index the files on your computer to make searching for those files possible. Unfortunately, those tools have had a tendency to be clumsy and slow. In contrast, Vista’s search index works unobtrusively and makes for lightning-fast searches.

3. A more complete backup tool. Ever tried to rebuild an XP box from scratch, using only a set of files created by XP’s builtin backup routines? Ugh. Vista changes all that with its Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore, an image-based backup system that backs up your whole computer to one big file. My experience shows that this system works quickly and allows bare-metal restores to quite dissimilar hardware—just make sure that the target hard disk is the same size or larger than the original.

4. Start great conversations. Next time you’re out with your techie friends, tell ’em that you’re switching to Vista—there will be plenty to talk about after that! Seriously, if you are moving to Vista and people ask you why on Earth you’d do that, remind them that just about every Vista complaint—it’s slower than the previous version, there aren’t any drivers, it’s not backward compatible— is a complaint that people leveled at XP when it was new. Look, XP’s a great OS, and if you’re happy with it, then by all means stay with it—but don’t bypass Vista because of second-hand FUD.

5. Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption protects your mobile data. Laptops are great for busy travelers . . . until they’re accidentally left in a bar, on a plane, or in a cab, as reportedly happened to hundreds of thousands of systems last year in the United States. In contrast, absentminded folks who exploit BitLocker’s encryption system might still lose their laptops, but no one will get their data. BitLocker is available on Vista Ultimate and Enterprise (although, incomprehensibly, not on Vista Business).

6. Get more out of Group Policy. Vista includes about 700 new Group Policy settings that let you control fleets of computers from one central location. Some new options include controlling power management settings, allowing nonadministrative users to load approved drivers, and restricting which devices users can install on a Vista box.

7. Get a tougher Windows. Service programs wield great power in Windows, making them irresistible targets for malware writers: seize a Windows service, and you’ve often seized Windows itself. Vista uses a more secure way of building Windows services so that they have less potential to do damage and are isolated in their own little private universes, which makes a compromised service a much less juicy prize.

8. Confuse the bad guys with ASLR. Another Windows toughener is Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), a feature that rearranges the relative locations of Vista’s different components in memory. Past creators of Windows worms such as Code Red, Nimda, SQL Slammer, and Blaster relied on the fact that every copy of XP loads each of its components in the same location from computer to computer. Shuffling the deck with ASLR makes it much harder for the bad guys to write a worm that targets every copy of Vista.

9. Centralize events with Event Viewer. XP’s event logs are useful for keeping track of your computers, but every computer maintains its own logs. Managing dozens of desktops means either wearing out a lot of shoe leather or buying a third-party eventlog aggregator tool. Vista’s Event Viewer, in contrast, lets you centralize any of a group of systems’ events to a single system.

10. And lots more! Resize existing disk partitions with Vista’s Disk Manager. Put eight gigs of RAM on your system and see— and use!—all of it. Easily tell Vista to send you an email message if a particular event occurs. Eliminate LAN Manager hashes, that persistent 1980s security hole, once and for all. Take advantage of ReadyDrive and Intel Turbo Memory for a system that comes out of hibernation in just 12 seconds. Give Vista a close look, and you'll find lots of things to like!