TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Review of Windows Vista

Review of Windows Vista

Michael Desmond (
Fri, 17 Feb 2006 15:40:58 -0600

by Michael Desmond

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you
probably know that the latest version of Windows -- called Vista -- is
due to hit store shelves later this year (in time for the holidays,
Microsoft tells us). The successor to Windows XP offers a little
something for everyone, from eye-catching graphics and new bundled
applications to more-rigorous security. In fact, there is so much in
the new operating system that it can be tough to get a handle on it

I've been noodling around with a recent beta version of Windows Vista
(Build 5270) and had a chance to make some observations. While the
sleek new look and polished interface caught my eye, it's what's under
the covers that impressed me most. Microsoft's done a great job of
improving security across the board. Things like Windows and spyware
library updates are streamlined, and I definitely appreciate the more
robust Backup software.

Still, there's plenty of unfinished work left to do. Internet Explorer
7 struggled to properly render some Web pages, and I found local
network connectivity to be a hit-or-miss affair. And then there's the
stuff that isn't even in there yet--like the intriguing Windows
Sidebar, which will put real-time weather info, stock quotes, system
status, RSS feeds, and other information on the display.

So during my time with Windows Vista, I kept an eye out for the
reasons I -- and you -- might ultimately want to lay my hands on the
new OS when it's available. And frankly, if you buy a new
Windows-based PC at the end of this year or any time in, say, the next
five years, you'll probably end up with Vista by default.

Keep in mind, this is based solely on my experience with prerelease
software (and a whole new beta could be out by the time you read
this). Features get tweaked, they come and go, but from what we can
tell, Vista is now starting to harden into the product that will be
running many, many desktops for the foreseeable future. And by and
large, that's a good thing.

Here's what to be excited about:

1. Security, security, security: Windows XP Service Pack 2 patched a
lot of holes, but Vista takes security to the next level. There are
literally too many changes to list here, from the bidirectional
software firewall that monitors inbound and outbound traffic to
Windows Services Hardening, which prevents obscure background
processes from being hijacked and changing your system. There's also
full-disk encryption, which prevents thieves from accessing your data,
even if they steal the PC out from under your nose.

Perhaps most crucial (and least sexy) is the long-overdue User Account
Protection, which invokes administrator privileges as needed, such as
during driver updates or software installations. UAP makes it much
more convenient for users to operate Vista with limited rights
(Cleaning the system won't let them do certain things, like load
software, without clearance from an administrator). This in turn
limits the ability of malware to hose your system.

2. Internet Explorer 7: IE gets a much-needed, Firefox-inspired
makeover, complete with tabbed pages and better privacy
management. There's also the color-coded Address Bar that lets you
know if a page is secured by a digital key, or, thanks to new
antiphishing features, if it's a phony Web site just looking to steal
information about you.

These features will all be available for Windows XP users who download
IE7. But Vista users get an important extra level of protection: IE7
on Vista will run in what Microsoft calls "protected mode"--a
limited-rights mode that prevents third-party code from reaching your
system. It's about darn time.

3. Righteous eye candy: For the first time, Microsoft is building
high-end graphics effects into Windows. The touted Aero Glass
interface features visually engaging 3D rendering, animation, and
transparencies. Translucent icons, program windows, and other
elements not only look cool, they add depth and context to the
interface. For example, hover your cursor over minimized programs that
rest on the taskbar and you'll be able to see real-time previews of
what's running in each window without opening them full-screen. Now
you can see what's going on behind the scenes, albeit at a cost: You
need powerful graphics hardware and a robust system to manage all the

4. Desktop search: Microsoft has been getting its lunch handed to it
by Google and Yahoo on the desktop, but Vista could change all
that. The new OS tightly integrates instant desktop search, doing away
with the glacially slow and inadequate search function in XP. Powerful
indexing and user-assignable metadata make searching for all kinds of
data -- including files, e-mails, and Web content -- a lot easier. And
if you're running Vista on a Windows Longhorn network, you can perform
searches across the network to other PCs.

5. Better updates: Vista does away with using Internet Explorer to
access Windows Update, instead utilizing a new application to handle
the chore of keeping your system patched and up-to-date. The result is
quicker response and a more tightly streamlined process. The
update-tracking mechanism, for instance, is much quicker to display
information about your installation. And now key components, such as
the Windows Defender antispyware module, get their updates through
this central point. Like other housekeeping features, a better Windows
Update isn't a gee-whiz upgrade, but it should make it easier -- and
more pleasant -- to keep your PC secure.

6. More media: Over the years, one of the key reasons to upgrade
versions of Windows has been the free stuff Gates and Company toss
into the new OS, and Vista is no exception. Windows Media Player
(perhaps my least favorite application of all time) gets a welcome
update that turns the once-bloated player into an effective MP3
library. The Windows Photo Gallery finally adds competent
photo-library-management functionality to Windows, so you can organize
photos; apply metatags, titles, and ratings; and do things like light
editing and printing. The DVD Maker application, which was still very
rough when I looked at it, promises to add moviemaking capabilities --
along the lines of Movie Maker -- to the operating system. There are
even some nice new games tucked into the bundle.

7. Parental controls: Families, schools, and libraries will appreciate
the tuned-up parental controls, which let you limit access in a
variety of ways. Web filtering can block specific sites, screen out
objectionable content by selected type, and lock out file
downloads. You can also restrict each account's access by time of day
or day of the week. As a dad, I can tell you this will be great for
keeping kids off the PC while you're at work, for instance. You can
even block access to games based on their Entertainment Software
Rating Board ratings.

8. Better backups: When Windows 95 first came out, the typical hard
disk was, maybe, 300MB in size. Today, desktops routinely ship with
300GB or 400GB hard drives. And yet, the built-in data-backup software
in Windows has changed little in the past decade. Windows Vista boasts
a much-improved backup program that should help users avoid wholesale
digital meltdowns. Microsoft also tweaked the useful System Restore
feature -- which takes snapshots of your system state so you can recover
from a nasty infection or botched software installation.

9. Peer-to-peer collaboration: The Windows Collaboration module uses
peer-to-peer technology to let Vista users work together in a shared
workspace. You can form ad hoc workgroups and then jointly work on
documents, present applications, and pass messages. You can even post
"handouts" for others to review.

10. Quick setup: Beta code alert: There are some Vista features I hope
dearly for even though they haven't been built yet. This is one of
them. Jim Allchin, Microsoft's co-president, says that Windows Vista
boasts a re-engineered install routine, which will slash setup times
from about an hour to as little as 15 minutes. Hurray! The new code
wasn't in the beta version of Vista that Microsoft sent to me -- my
aging rig took well over an hour to set up -- so I'll believe it when I
see it. Still, any improvement in this area is welcome.

Five Things That Will Give You Pause

All this is not to say that Vista is a slam-dunk and everyone should
be running out to buy it as soon as Microsoft takes the wraps off. Heck,
Windows XP has developed into a fairly stable, increasingly secure OS. Why
mess with that?

Yes, during my time with Vista, I've found more than enough features
to get excited about--features that will make a sizable chunk of
Windows users want to upgrade. So why would anyone in their right mind
stick with what they've got? Here are a few reasons:

Pay that piper: Vista is an operating system. It's the stuff your
applications run on. But it'll cost $100 or more to make the
switch. Unless you're buying a new PC and starting from scratch, you
may be better off saving the money for something else.

Where's my antivirus?: For all the hype about security in Windows
Vista, users may be disappointed to learn that antivirus software will
not be part of the package. There's every indication that an online
subscription service -- possibly under the OneCare rubric -- will
offer antivirus protection to Vista users down the road. But for the
time being, you'll need to turn to third-party companies like
Symantec, McAfee, Grisoft, and others for virus protection.

Watch that hourglass: Vista is a power hog. Unless you have a top-end
PC with high-end graphics hardware, for instance, you won't see one of
the coolest parts of the new OS -- the Aero Glass interface. Microsoft
did the smart thing by offering Aero Basic and Windows Classic looks
as well, which will let older and slower PCs run Vista. It just won't
look as pretty.

Curse the learning curve: Microsoft has already ditched some
aggressive ideas -- such as the whole "virtual folders" thing --
because the concepts proved too confusing for users. Even so, you'll
find that the new Windows changes a lot of old tricks, and not always
for the better. Heck, it took me almost five minutes to find the Run
command, which used to show up right in the Start menu. And many users
may struggle with the new power scheme, which defaults to putting the
PC into hibernation rather than shutting down. I know it frustrated me
the first time I wanted to power down the system to swap out a disk

Meet the old boss, same as the new boss: Microsoft has added lots of
new stuff to Vista, but some features are just warmed-over
fare. Windows Mail is nothing more than a rebranded Outlook Express,
and Windows Defender is simply an updated version of Microsoft

So keep your eyes peeled for future previews of Vista. It may not be
perfect (what software is?), but in a lot of ways, it's a giant leap

Michael Desmond writes about technology from his home in Colchester,

Copyright 2006 Yahoo! Inc. and Tech Tuesday

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