The Windows Shell: A User's Perspective

As a design structure, the purpose of the Windows Vista® shell is to provide users with a seamless connection between the Windows operating system, applications, and data.

The new and enhanced features of Windows shell include:

  • Search, Organize and Visualization Improvements—increases the effectiveness and efficiency of users

  • AutoPlay Support—unifies experience for detecting the availability of new media content

  • Synchronization Management—unifies and standardizes data synchronization

  • Common File Dialogs—provides a consistent and powerful base user interface (UI) across applications

  • Explorer Controls—provides a uniform user experience whether operating through the Windows Explorer, Namespace Explorer, or Internet Explorer Controls

  • Windows® Aero™ and Aero Glass—a new look and experience for the Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Search, Organize and Visualization Improvements

Windows Vista introduces many changes to the user interface (UI) to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of users. Among the most profound improvements are the ways information is organized and managed in the shell. New technologies such as Live Icons and Rich Previews improve the browsing experience for users. Integrated searching technologies, such as extensible metadata, integrated search and virtual folders, enable users to locate existing files and information sources. For more information, see "Search and Organize" the in the MSDN Library.

AutoPlay Support

Vendors provide a large number of different devices that can be used to capture and display photos, videos, and other media on users' computers. Windows Vista™ allows devices to participate in a unified user experience for detecting the availability of new media, and Windows Vista automatically selects the correct software for managing the devices.

When a device is connected, Windows Vista inspects the device capabilities and its current media content to determine all appropriate actions. Initially, the AutoPlay dialog is displayed to users and allows them to specify the current action and, optionally, set the default action for the media type. Alternately, the AutoPlay global Control Panel can be used to set defaults per media type or per device.

The AutoPlay mechanism supports a streamlined mode, an automated mode, and a more traditional, manual approach.

Windows Vista improves AutoPlay in a number of small but important ways, including:

  • More consistent and user-friendly operation so the AutoPlay dialog can be accessed easily when needed by users

  • More reliable operation through better compatibility with AutoRun, enforced access security, and better diagnostics

  • Faster UI response through efficient sampling of the media content, which shows options as they are located, rather than waiting to display all results until the entire media content is searched)

  • Support for new generation of devices and content, including blank devices, HD DVD players, and devices that conform to Windows Portable Devices architecture

  • Simplified AutoPlay default settings with a global Control Panel

Windows developers can configure hardware and software to use AutoPlay to receive AutoPlay events. AutoPlay handlers can be developed to handle new hardware or media types. For more information, see "Using Hardware AutoPlay" in the Windows SDK.

Synchronization Management

Sync Center

The Sync Center is a new Windows Vista application that unifies and standardizes data synchronization between multiple computers, between network servers and computers, between computers and connected devices, and even between computers with synchronization-enabled applications. Users establish a set of rules, called a partnership, to control what information-locations to synchronize, the directionality (one-way and two-way) of the synchronization, and the schedule of the synchronization. The screen shot shows the initial panel of the Sync Center.


The Sync Center is built upon the Synchronization Manager API, which is enhanced in Windows Vista. For more information, see "Data Sharing and Publication Roadmap" in the Windows SDK.

The Windows Vista Sync Center provides a standard UI platform for developers with their own sync engine to plug in and use a consistent UI to keep files, data, and other information synchronized between a Windows Vista computer and mobile devices, network folders and server applications, and compatible applications on the same computer. The Sync Center is built on the Synchronization Manager (Sync Manager) API, which is a part of the Windows Vista shell.

The Sync Manager technology also benefits Independent Hardware Vendors (IHVs) and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) by providing a standard programmatic mechanism for media device and cross-application data synchronization, which can be extended with custom components and UI when necessary. For more information, see Sharing, Publication, and Management: A User's Perspective in the Windows SDK.

Common File Dialogs

Windows Vista applications can make use of a shared file Open and Save dialogs that are data driven, customizable, upwards compatible with changes in the Windows shell, and fundamentally extensible. This does not merely provide users with a consistent and powerful base UI across applications, but will automatically take advantage of any new functionality that will appear in future releases of Windows operating systems.

Explorer Controls

Additional support for providing a uniform user experience is available through the Windows Explorer, Namespace Explorer, and Internet Explorer Controls.

  • The Windows Explorer Control—allows application file operations to exactly mimic the Windows Explorer. It also contains individual controls that can be used to lower development costs while promoting UI standardization.

  • The Namespace Explorer Control—provides a similar interface to manage the named folders that users are exposed to; for example, specific places in the Windows XP namespace are Documents, Computer, and Control Panel. These objects traditionally have been represented to users through the Start Menu, the Explorer tree control, the Common File dialog, and My Computer (now called Computer in Windows Vista).

  • The Internet Explorer Control—provides an Internet Explorer –compatible view of remote data. Users are empowered to manage their data without having to keep learning how to use new and different file access interfaces per program application. In Windows Vista, Internet Explorer is no longer integrated into Windows Explorer.

Windows Aero and Aero Glass

One of the most noticeable improvements to the shell in Windows Vista is the new look and experience of the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The new Windows® Aero™ environment and Aero Glass visual theme give Windows Vista a modern, pleasing, and expressive appearance. Aero has distinctive features, such as glass window frames (both blurred and animated), 3-D window transition animations, Windows® Flip and Windows® Flip 3D, and automatic scaling for high-resolution DPI displays.

A number of technologies come together to enable Aero to function, including the new Desktop Windows Manager (DWM) and the new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM).

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