Windows is about to change. The last version of the operating system, Windows XP, emerged in 2001, a year when 1GHz was still considered powerful, the hottest new PC feature was a DVD burner, and in which Apple had just released a little white music player called the iPod.

Since then, we've all got used to having more technology in our lives: we take photos with digital cameras, listen to music on MP3 players, store our contact details in mobile phones - and when we need something, increasingly it's the internet to which we look first. Windows Vista has been designed to sit at the centre of this digital world, bringing all the new technologies we use every day into a single, easy-to-use place.

Now that your PC is the place where you store the things that are most important to you - your photos, your daily communications, even your entertainment - it needs to be a much more capable machine, and that's what Windows Vista is set to bring about.

Some of it is built on things that you'll be familiar with - old stagers like Media Player and Internet Explorer - some of it you'll never have seen before, but just about all of it is new, and everything's improved. We take you through the main features...

Putting you in control

When you use Windows Vista for the first time, the thing that strikes you is just how good it looks, and how impressively modern it feels. This is thanks to a slew of graphical features, which enormously enhance the desktop. There's a sense that Windows Vista really is fully employing the vast processing and rendering power of a contemporary PC.

After using it you'll no doubt find that any other software looks horribly outdated by comparison. Fortunately, the massive improvements in Windows Vista over its predecessors don't just extend to its gorgeous new look - there's a whole host of new features, fine-tuning and enhancements underneath the hood that make it a better, easier and more comprehensive operating system to use.

Find what you want

Looking for a specific file no longer involves any waiting - open the Start menu and type in a title, folder name or even a phrase within a file and you're presented with results instantly. If there's certain information you access regularly - for example, every email sent last month or every photo you've tagged with 'holiday' - you can save the search results for even quicker access. It's updated automatically whenever a corresponding file is created or changed.

Get communicating

In a world of games, movies and strange people shouting at each other about nothing over the internet, it's easy to forget that organisation and communication are the bedrock upon which the personal computer was founded. That's why Windows Vista includes a set of excellent tools for email, appointments and contacts, all of which make the most of new instant search technology to ensure you get access to the exact information you need within seconds.

But not only that, getting organised and communicating over the web has never been so secure. This is because Windows Mail includes advanced email protection to stop junk, phishing and viral emails from entering your inbox.

Catalogue photos and videos

The computer has revolutionised photography. Not only can permanent, perfect digital copies of every shot you take be stored forever but they can also be improved immeasurably with the use of photo editing tools. New features in Windows Vista make this easier than ever before. Whether it's printing, editing, managing or archiving, all your memories are in safe hands.

Rather than storing and browsing your photos by their physical location, you can tag every image (either when you first copy it to your PC, or later on) with information of your choice. Every tag you create is listed on the left of Windows Photo Gallery - so, for example, clicking on 'holidays' displays every picture you tagged as being of a holiday. But, because you can add multiple tags to each photograph, the picture of a hill in Hawaii might also appear when you click on a tag you've created called 'Great Outdoors'.