What does Vista mean for you?

On the eve of Vista's release in the UK, we take a look at what the OS means for PC gaming

PC gaming is dead. You must have heard that before. It's a phrase that's been bandied about for years by doom-mongers panicked by the release of every new next-generation console, stretching as far back as the SNES. And yet, despite the myriad of competitors threatening to bring PC gaming to its knees, PC gaming still seems to be very much here, alive, kicking and is about to take what Bill Gates claims is its most significant technological leap in over a decade: the storm of Windows Vista.

The new operating system is releasing tomorrow, and is part of Microsoft's grand design to bring PC gaming back into the mainstream. The idea behind it is to re-establish the platform as a genuine and accessible alternative - and in certain areas, companion - to console gaming.

Vista is spearheading this initiative, with the operating system shipping in five different guises in an attempt to meet every PC owner's specific needs. It's also promising to combine all of the utilities from previous versions of Windows into one package, providing you with PC-to-TV connectivity, handwriting recognition support and home entertainment system capabilities, as well as allowing you to milk all available drops of power from your 64-bit processor for the ultimate gaming experiences.

Windows Vista is "Microsoft's biggest product release since Windows 95," explains Rich Wickham, director of Games For Windows, Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft. "Windows Vista will improve the underlying platform. It will be easier to install, find and run Windows games, and the new graphics driver model will ensure better stability and performance."

While Vista is aspiring to be an all-encompassing operating system, Microsoft are also planning to use it as a launching pad to propel PC gaming to new heights and, they hope, herald a revolutionary new era for the platform.

"We're treating Windows like a games platform and there's a bunch of things that go into that," comments Wickham. "First off, Vista is a great technology for gamers. DirectX 10 is going to push the limits of graphical fidelity and your experiences beyond whatever you've seen before. More people than ever are going to start seeing the PC as a gaming platform, as every Vista PC will be a very capable gaming machine. That's going to open up doors on the platform that were never open before."

So just how are the men from Seattle claiming that Vista will improve your gaming experiences? Well, for starters, the new operating system should make it far easier to find and access your games. This is thanks to a new Start Menu feature called Games Explorer, which will allow you to see at a glance exactly what games your PC has installed, and access them with a single mouse click.

"When it comes to game installation and playing a game, we want to build each game into the core of Vista so you can find the game really easily, and access all the data as easily as you would on a console," explains Wickham. "If you look at a console's installation process where you can immediately play something or have a game-like experience, you have to ask yourself why we don't have something like that on the PC." That's something being addressed with Vista.

Perhaps the system's most significant (and controversial) new feature is the launch of DirectX 10, the massively anticipated next-generation graphics driver that's promising to propel PC visuals back up the gaming ladder of prettiness, but which is only available on Windows Vista. What that means is a hefty outlay for you if you want to enjoy cutting-edge PC visuals, an expense usually reserved for a new graphics card.

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