Although we expect many of you already have a Vista build running somewhere in your home's bowels (or have at least fooled around with it), we don't necessarily expect everyone's going to run out and buy a new box just to run the latest version of Windows. What's more, we recently asked a Windows PM who they thought their biggest competition was, and not surprisingly the answer was "XP." (Aside, from an install-base view that's totally true, although we'd argue not so technologically speaking.) So we figured we'd help you along in your big decision as to whether or not Vista is for you with a disgustingly comprehensive feature comparison. Tomorrow we'll give you the hardware angle if you think Vista's where you want to be; click on for the good stuff!

Ok, so here's how this thing works. We'll compare XP and Vista on a feature-by-feature basis; we're not going to judge the merit of these features or whether they'll be more useful to you and your pals, nor are we going to get into the nitty gritty about what they do -- there are just too many -- but we will tell you whether or not we think there's anything better going on in Vista than there was before in XP. So...
  • Green indicates something about this has improved
  • Red indicates something sucks more than it did in XP.
  • White indicates either nothing much has changed, or the features are roughly equivalent.
  • Notes help out with a little background, where appropriate, and where available, recommend free software for XP that effectively augments the feature in question.
  • Many of the features shown here can be found in our comprehensive Vista gallery.

P.S. -Mac nerds need not apply (today); we'll pit Vista and OS X when Leopard's all wrapped up, and not a moment later.

XPVistaComments / notes
UI
Find windows Alt+tab Flip and Flip 3D Alt-Tab Replacement / taskswitch provides window image preview for XP. Flip / Flip 3D not available in Home Basic or without Aero.
Icons
Static icons, image preview tool (limited document support)
Live Icons and taskbar thumbnails
Live Icons (scalable, document preview, etc.) not available in Home Basic or without Aero.
Search Search (unindexed)
Instant Search, Search Folders Search Folders: virtual folders containing files matching search criteria
Shell / window environment Luna (XP) and Royale (MCE 2005) Aero ("Glass") Full Aero glass not available in Home Basic; may require graphics card upgrade.
Software
Backup
System Restore
Backup and Restore Center, Previous Versions / ShadowCopy
Previous Versions / ShadowCopy only available in Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate Edition.
Browser
Internet Explorer 7
Internet Explorer 7
IE7 must be downloaded separately for XP.
Calendar Nope Windows Calendar To date, most calendaring in Windows is done in "full" Outlook.
Contacts Outlook Express (no system contacts) Windows Contacts To date, most contact keeping in Windows is done in Outlook and/or on the domain.
Email
Outlook Express
Windows Mail

Explorer The usual Now with content organization Not bad, but not incredibly useful, either.
Faxing and scanning XP Scanner and Camera Wizard / fax services Windows Fax and Scan Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate only.
Speech recognition Windows Speech Recognition Windows Speech Recognition
Tablet and touchscreen Only in Tablet PC edition Yep Not available in Home Basic.
Transfer Files and Settings Transfer Wizard Windows Easy Transfer Basically the ame thing, but Windows Easy Transfer enables new methods of transfer, including Easy Transfer Cables (i.e. USB to USB).
Widgets
Nope
Windows Sidebar and Gadgets
XP has two commonly used, free widgets environments available: Yahoo Widgets (aka Konfabulator), Google Desktop.
Networking and connectivity
Networking Network Setup Wizard Network Center (Network Explorer, Map, Setup, Awareness, Projector) Hooray, lots of new superflous network utilities!
Network projector Nope Yep
Remote desktop (host)
Available in XP Pro, MCE 2005, Tablet Available only in Business and Ultimate The new targeted equivalent of MCE 2005, Home Premium, loses RDC! Bummer!
Wireless WiFi with WPA 2 support WiFi with WPA 2 support
Vista now has improved WiFi ad-hoc / connection sharing.
Media
Media Center interface Only in Windows Media Center Edition Only in Home Premium or Ultimate Edition

Media Center Extender
Only in MCE Only in Home Premium or Ultimate Edition
NTSC and ATSC tuners
Only in MCE Only in Home Premium or Ultimate Edition
CableCARD / DCT
Nope Only in Home Premium or Ultimate Edition
Media software Windows Media Player 11 Windows Media Player 11
DVD authoring Nope DVD Maker
Imaging Windows Picture and Fax Viewer Windows Photo Gallery
Video Windows Movie Maker Windows Movie Maker (with HD support) Now only in Home Premium and Ultimate. Minus points for taking it out of Home Basic.
Security
Antivirus Nope Nope
Email filtering None in Outlook Express Junk and phishing filters in Windows Mail
Family settings Basic user accounts Windows Family Safety Settings (with ESRB game support) Not available in Business, Enterprise.
Malware Windows Defender and Malicious Software Removal Tool Windows Defender and Malicious Software Removal Tool Defender must be downloaded separately for XP.
Network access prevention
Nope
Network Access Protection

Network(ed) security Windows Security Center
Windows Security Center
Provides firewall, automatic updates, and reminds users to install 3rd party antivirus software.
Windows Services
Admin / remote authentication
Windows Service Hardening

Gaming
DirectX 10 Nope Yep
Xbox Live Anywhere Nope Yep
Performance and hardware
Architecture 32 and 64-bit support 32 and 64-bit support
Auto-defrag Nope Yep The new defrag util is dumbed down and doesn't show users what's what with their disk. Bad Microsoft, better defrag > auto defrag.
Auxiliary display Nope SideShow Not available in Home Basic.
Drive encryption Windows XP Encrypting File System EFS and Vista BitLocker BitLocker only available in Enterprise and Ultimate
USB cacheing Nope Windows ReadyBoost Requires 512MB or greater USB drive.
Optimization The usual multitasking Windows SuperFetch and Windows ReadyDrive Vista claims to improve efficiency of cached data in memory, as well as startup and spin time of hard drives.
Sync ActiveSync Windows Sync Center
Usage profiling Basic battery / power profiles
Mobility Center (network profiles, sync, battery / power, etc.)
XP can handle some sync / profiling with Microsoft's SyncToy.
Business
Domain support XP Pro, MCE 2005 Vista Business, Enterprise, Ultimate only MCE 2005 only by way of hack.
Integrated IIS XP Pro, MCE 2005 Vista Business, Enterprise, Ultimate
Offline files and folders XP Pro, MCE 2005 Vista Business, Enterprise, Ultimate
Presentation mode Nope Vista Business, Enterprise, Ultimate
Other
Upgradeable Not without reinstall Windows Upgrade Anytime Upgrade paths: Basic -> Home Premium or Ultimate; Home Premium and Business -> Ultimate


So, did we forget anything?

Live at the Windows Vista launch event