Israel on Monday morning was the world's first country to see the long-awaited home edition of Microsoft's new Vista operating system even before Bill Gates and company were due to launch it in New York.
Israel also has another reason to boast - as the Na'amani family of Lehavim in the South was one of just three families invited by Microsoft (along with one German and one Japanese) to the New York premier, after having been chosen from among 50 parties who sent in 100 adopted suggestions for improving the beta version and worked intensively with the developers to make it better.
The program, which from Tuesday morning will be available for purchase in software shops and installed in new PCs sold around the country, replaces 2001's Windows XP and is touted as "The Wow" - which will offer new multimedia, communications and entertainment possibilities they claim anyone, including your father and even your grandmother, will find "easy to learn and use."
Microsoft-Israel CEO Danny Yamin introduced Vista, along with the 2007 edition of Office, to reporters at the company's headquarters in Ra'anana, noting that some 700,000 new computers are imported to Israel each year, about half of them for home use. In addition, numerous PC users were expected to upgrade their Windows XP-run computers with the new program.
Yamin said it "should not be taken for granted" that Vista has come out in Israel in a full-Hebrew version on the same day as the New York launch.
"There are not many languages that only seven million people speak that can boast a Vista version," he said. "But this shows the importance with which Israel is regarded by Microsoft."
Microsoft-Israel officials said all features of the new system are much more accessible to laymen.
"We don't want people to have to find experts to create slide shows or graphically illustrated documents. We want everybody and his mother to take advantage of all the features," they said. Among the features, live previews of the way Word and PowerPoint files will appear show automatically as you move your cursor over icons, even before one is chosen for use, while Excel presents graphs and tables in very attractive images.
The disk comes in several versions: Vista Home Basic offering the simplest functions (costing NIS 679 for upgrading an existing licensed XP program and NIS 1,299 when purchased as a stand-alone in shops, but cheaper when purchased with a new PC); Vista Home Premium, expected to be the most popular among consumers (costing NIS 1,049 for an upgrade and NIS 1,549 for the standalone); and Vista Ultimate, the more expensive edition for small business desktop and laptop PCs.
Windows Business Edition for large companies and multi-users was unveiled here about a month ago.
The prices, more expensive than that of XP, will help Microsoft earn back the unprecedented $20 billion it spent on developing Vista and Office with the help of tens of thousands of company employees and hundreds of thousands of beta program users around the world who downloaded it and helped work out the bugs and suggested improvements. One of the 50 families chosen to cooperate intensively suggested a one-click "burn" button for CDs and DVDs, for example, and this was incorporated into Vista.
The new operating system offers a large number of user-friendly advances, including:
* a media center that easily integrates use of Internet, computing, music, digital cameras, music and TV
* a security center with an integrated powerful built-in protective firewall (an anti-virus program still needs to be purchased separately)
* parental control, a "parent's dream," in which the PC's "administrator" decides what programs and games their children may use and exactly which Internet sites they may and not surf to. Built-in ESRB age ratings for 1,400 games will help parents judge if they are suitable for their children. The child's site "history" is accessible to the administering parent as part of the optional supervision, and children will not be able to perform unapproved downloads.
* a picture gallery presents all files sorted according to their characteristics that can be turned into a slideshow with musical background with a few clicks.
* easy backup of changes made to files that are automatically saved and allows you to revert to unchanged files.
* a new music player that depicts collections according to genre whose selections easily be copied to an MP3 player.
* a year calendar for planning a daily schedule and automatically telling those who want appointments when you are free.
* an unlimited number of "gadgets" including icons for favorite Web sites, the Yellow Pages listings, traffic news, news bulletins and more - many of which can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site.
Vista has hefty hardware demands, however, requiring 40 gigabytes of free space on a hard disk for the Home Premium edition and at least 250 megabytes of RAM.
To determine whether a PC is up to the challenge, the Vista Readiness Adviser at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/buyorupgrade/upgradeadvisor.mspx should be downloaded first.
The Office 2007 program, which includes much-improved Word, Excel, PowerPoint and a built-in OneNote, comes in a Home and Student edition for NIS 879 and more expensive versions for business uses.
Meanwhile, Yamin noted that the use of pirate copies of Microsoft software already has declined significantly in businesses that fear being heavily fined and even among home users who realize that illegal copying doesn't pay because they can't get updates or help in dealing with problems. He said he expects this trend to continue with Vista and Office 2007.