- New start menu - In general the new start menu is easier to navigate. By typing a few letters you can quickly find an application. Alternativly you can navigate the menu structure without filling the screen with cascading menus.
- Better system searching. Finally. - You get relatively fast results without too much pain. It has room for improvement but it's 100x better then XP searching.
- File-system meta-data tagging - You no longer have to create sub-folders for everything. Just save all your stuff into one core location and use tags and meta-data to find it. This in conjunction with searching moves away from hierarchical storage. This makes it much easier to manage 100,000's of files without having overly nested folders.
- Better photo browser - Along with the generic file-system meta data there are photo specific attributes and a photo browser that makes it easier to look at large collections of pictures.
- Other things I loved? Nothing really.
- Tablet and Media Center are great if you're using Vista as either a tablet or a media center. Having these features built in didn't really change anything.
- Aero is nice. It looks better then the XP theme but doesn't dramatically impact how you use the computer. Flip-3D is also nice but slower then the traditional Alt+Tab. Whenever I see Flip3D it reminds me of the "Window->Cascade" menu in Windows 3.1. The more things change the more they stay the same.
- Security dialogs, warnings and confirmations. I generally don't turn security features off but it's so awful I just had to disable it in order to actually use my computer. Security shouldn't impact the user experience unless the user is actually doing something that could harm the computer. These security dialogs are now all over the place.
- Stuff that used to work in XP may no-longer works (my scanner from HP doesn't work, my web-cam from Logitech doesn't work, certain software applications such as Quickbooks'05 are not supported, my standard dell sound card driver didn't work without a lot of tweaking. etc, etc.)
- Stuff that changed but didn't improve. There are many example of dialogs and interface screens that got re-vamped and didn't add significant improvements. In fact many of these seem to have lost some features or gotten unnecessarily complex.
- Windows explorer used to have a film-strip view when viewing photos - gone
- You used to be able to select the photos you wanted to print from the photo printing wizard - gone
- You used to be able to change the date/time from one dialog, now it's four separate screens .
- You used to be able to adjust your screen/display/theme from one dialog, now it's five separate screen.
- Remote desktop forgets my multi-monitor resolution when I re-connect to the desktop.
- There are now 50 different control panels. That's 50 different places that you could screw up a setting. (Win2000 and XP had about 23)
- Sidebar. - Anything that takes up permanent screen space should help users work with their computer. The sidebar is a classic example of a distractor. Google desktop and Yahoo both have their own versions of this same 'tool.'
- Business/Home/Ultimate differentiation. - Business should be a super-set of home so if you wanted home plus some other stuff you would get business. Now certain features aren't in business but they are in home. You can't have Windows business and still play games during lunch like solitaire.
Should I upgrade?
Probably not. Unless you like living on the edge or are developing Vista sotware there really isn't a compelling reason to migrate. Tools like Google and Yahoo desktop fill the gap for desktop search and 'sidebar widgets' (if you like that sort of thing) Picassa is a good photo stop-gap for XP machines. The time saved by other improvements across the system are outweighed by the time lost due to security dialogs, re-learning and incompatibilities.
If you are really itching to improve productivity I would instead recommend the upgrade to Office 2007.