Vista Ultimate includes “Dreamscene” as an optional extra installed through the Windows Update system. It’s a completely frivolous bit of eye candy that animates your desktop – instead of a pretty picture of a waterfall, your desktop can display a pretty moving picture of a waterfall. Yeah, it’s trivial, but I like eye candy. It looks cool and people make nice sounds when they see it.

The scenes are actually short movies; theoretically any movie could be played on your desktop but the effect gets distracting in a hurry and it can be jarring when the movie shudders to a stop and loops back to the beginning. Microsoft supplies a few Dreamscenes that are subtle and designed to loop seamlessly, making for a lovely effect.

This video displays some of the animated desktops but appears jerky because of poor screen capture software – the actual effect is smooth on a computer with 2Gb of memory and a 256Mb video card.

The technology for Dreamscenes was developed by Stardock, which has its own free program to complement Dreamscenes. Deskscapes creates exactly the same effect but uses a proprietary format that encourages third parties to jump in and create scenes.

A few days ago, Stardock announced that the next version of Deskscapes, due in February, will still be free – and it will be able to run on Vista Home Premium and Vista Business, in addition to Vista Ultimate. That’s great! It’s a modest but nice thing for your computer to be able to do.

The interesting thing is that Deskscapes 2.0 will remove one of the only reasons for most people to even consider buying or upgrading to Vista Ultimate. If that team doesn’t step up with some new features quickly, Vista Ultimate is pretty well doomed to be a planning and marketing debacle, a missed opportunity for Microsoft to look like a leader and showcase new technology.

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