Configure Aero in Vista

Before you start

Objectives: learn what is Aero interface, what is required to run it and where you can find Aero configuration options.

Prerequisites: no prerequisites.

Key terms: aero, color, display, graphics, settings, video, features, performance

Vista Basic Interface

Windows Vista Basic interface is similar to XP. It is designed for maximum compatibility and is available in all editions of Windows Vista.

Vista Standard Interface

The Windows Vista Standard interface is like the Aero interface without the glass effects. Also, we can’t use Flip 3D or live thumbnails. It provides smoother window handling than the Vista basic interface. Vista standard does require a video card capable of WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) and the DirectX 9. The Windows Vista standard interface is not available in the Vista Starter edition and it’s the default interface for Vista Home Basic.

Vista Aero

The Windows Aero interface has the transparent glass design, smooth animations, graphics stability, Flip 3D and live thumbnails. It is not available in Home Basic or Starter editions. Video card must support WDDM, have at least 128MB video RAM, support DirectX 9.0, Pixel Shader 2.0 and the color has to be set to 32 bit.

Start Menu

In addition to Aero, the new thing in Vista is the Start Menu. The Start Menu no longer has expanding menus and it has integrated Search. The Search box is now also the Run dialog box.


The Sidebar provides a way to display information to which we desire quick and easy access. It is made up of small programs called Gadgets. Gadgets can display virtually anything, including weather forecasts, notes, etc.


Vista indexes certain locations on our computer. By default, Vista builds an index of all files on the computer, including e-mail, data files, programs, media files, events, tasks and contacts. Those settings can be customized by going to Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Indexing Options. Here we can select default indexing locations, select which file extensions we would like to index or we can rebuild indexing. The Search is typically fast because it is not searching the complete hard drive but instead is looking through an index which contains all of the data you can search as criteria, including file name, author, creation date and tags.

Aero Features

In our example, we have one window opened. If we move our mouse above the taskbar, over the respective program, we will see a thumbnail of running program. This is called Live Thumbnails and they help us to figure out which program we want to switch to.

Live Thumbnails

Image 191.1 – Live Thumbnails

We can still use ALT+TAB where we will see live thumbnails as well. Vista displays those windows in real time.


Image 191.2 – ALT +TAB

We also have Flip 3D feature. Flip 3D comes up when we press Windows key and the Tab key. We can keep pressing Tab key to flip trough all windows.

Flip 3D

Image 191.3 – Flip 3D


We can customize video settings by going to the Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Personalization. We can also open this window by right-clicking anywhere on Desktop, and then selecting ‘Personalization’. Here we can alter various settings regarding our appearance, and also sounds. Let’s first check Display Settings.

Display Settings

Image 191.4 – Display Settings

This window will show us monitors that are currently plugged in into our computer. In our case we have two monitors that have been detected. To show image on both monitors we have to select the monitor which is not active, and then check the ‘Extend the desktop onto this monitor’ option. We can also drag monitors from left to right and from right to left. We would do this if the actual layout of our monitors is different from the one shown on this window. If we are unsure which monitor we are looking at, we can click the ‘Identify Monitors’ button, and a big number will be shown on the monitor to tell us which monitor it is. The ‘This is my main monitor’ option identifies the monitor where the Start Menu and the Taskbar information show. When we select particular monitor, we will see the settings that apply to that monitor, like the resolution and the color depth. By changing the resolution we actually change the amount of information that is shown on the screen. A higher resolution makes images on the screen smaller, but it allows us to see more information on the screen. A lower resolution makes items larger. When configuring resolution for LCD monitor, we will typically set the resolution to the native resolution that’s supported by the monitor to get the best results. CRT monitors usually support multiple resolutions, so we can choose the one that fits best for us. Remember that Aero is not supported if color is below 32 bit.

Another thing that we can manage in ‘Personalize’ window is the Theme. A theme is a predefined look for Windows. For Aero to function properly the theme must be Windows Vista. If we switch to some other theme, the Aero will not be available. Notice that we can browse for custom themes that have been saved as theme files.

Theme Settings

Image 191.5 – Theme Settings

To customize our theme we can go to Windows Color and Appearance.

Color and Appearance

Image 191.6 – Color and Appearance

Here we have the ‘Enable transparency‘ check box and we can also control the intensity of that transparency. We can also change the color of the windows by picking one of the available colors or create our own color using the color mixer. We can also change the intensity of the selected color. Another option that we can change is Desktop Background.

Desktop Background

Image 191.7 – Desktop Background

Here we can choose the graphic that shows on the background on our desktop.

Windows Experience Index

Aero functionality requires significant processor, memory, graphic card, and disk drive resources. Windows Experience Index is a tool that measures how well a computer’s hardware and software can respond to Vista’s functions. The measurement is expressed in a base score. The higher the base score, the better our computer responds to Aero’s functionality. Each hardware component receives an individual sub score. Your computer’s base score is determined by the lowest sub score. The test is performed on processor (calculations per second), memory (RAM – memory operations per second), graphics (desktop performance for Aero), gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), primary hard disk (disk data transfer rate). Typically, a computer with a base score of 3.0 or higher can display all Aero functionality. Each sub score ranges from 1.0 to 5.9, with a full point indicating a significant difference. As hardware technologies improve in quality and capacity, the sub score range will increase. To view the base score go to the to the Control Panel > System and Maintenance >  Performance Information and Tools.

A base score of 1.0 is assigned to any computer that can upgrade to Windows Vista. This allows basic performance with operating system and applications. PCs with scores of 2.0 to 2.9 will run Vista but not be Aero capable. A score of 3.0 is the minimum specification needed to run Windows Vista Premium features, including Aero features. Also we can run Media Center with standard definition TV and basic graphical games. A score of 4.0 represents very good performing PCs which is capable of running high-definition video, high resolution monitors or dual monitors. A base score of 5.0 or higher is given to systems with top-end hardware which is capable of running fast moving games with rich graphics, 3D modeling, high-end multimedia and high performance applications.


Sometimes it can happen that some visual features are being turned off automatically. The possible reason can bee that a program that we are running is not compatible with Windows Aero color scheme. Also, it is possible that our computer does not have enough memory to run all of the programs we have open as well as run the Windows Aero color scheme. To improve display quality we could reduce the number of opened programs or windows, avoid running too many graphic-intensive programs at the same time, reduce the monitor resolution, change the color scheme to Windows Aero Basic, turn off automatic resizing in programs that aren’t designed for high-DPI display or upgrade to a more powerful video card.


Four user interfaces available in Vista are Classic, Basic, Standard and Aero. Aero is not available in Home Basic or Starter Vista edition. Aero features include The transparent glass design, smooth animations, graphics stability, Flip 3D, live thumbnails, etc. Typically, a computer with a base score of 3.0 or higher can display all Aero functionality.

Paths that are mentioned in this article
  • Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Indexing Options – path to the indexing settings
  • Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Personalization – various settings when it comes to appearance