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The Vista Dilemma

By Nimish Chandiramani | Published 01 Feb 2007 12:19 IST
The Vista Dilemma

It's out-but it what you should be switching to at work ?

As we write this, obsessing over Windows Vista is the order of the day. Will it kill your PC? How much better than XP is it, anyway? Will the Aero interface ever stop looking pretty? When it launched to businesses on November 30, nobody expected its sales to turn out they way they did-Vista surpassed Windows 2000's first-month sales, and came quite close to XP's. The appeal for the home user is quite obvious, but what is driving businesses to run after the new OS?

The Burning Question

If you've been reading the news, you've no doubt read Microsoft's proud "Vista is the most secure Windows yet," and Symantec's sceptical "Yeah, right." Vista's focus on security can't be argued, though-from soliciting the US National Security Agency (NSA) for help, to the ridiculous number of features to protect you from the Bad Guysâ„¢. Here's what you get:

User Account Control (UAC) is designed to prevent potentially malicious programs or operations from running without your authorisation. When turned on, UAC verifies even file renames and deletes-the take-no-chances approach. In the first preview and beta releases, this feature was perhaps the most annoying thing about the OS-imagine having to go through seven steps just to rename a file! It evolved to be less of a pain by RC2, but it's still lacking one feature we'd have thought critical-a "remember my choice for this operation" check box. The lack means that you'll have to authorise even a "trusted" program every time you run it-or just switch off UAC, of course. We're hoping to see more customisability for this feature in an update. Overall, it's a well-intended feature, and will even allow network administrators more control over user rights.

Windows Defender
This is a re-hashed version of Microsoft Anti-Spyware, and is a surprisingly impressive part of Vista. The interface is simple, and you can monitor your system very granularly. We expected something as barebones as Windows Firewall, but this tool is as good as third-party anti-spyware.

BitLocker Drive Encryption
As the name suggests, BitLocker encrypts the data on your hard drive and blocks access to it unless authenticated by a Trusted Platform Module (TPM)-basically a microchip that is used as a "key" to your data. The TPM may be a chip on your motherboard or even a USB key-so if, say, your laptop is lost or stolen, there's no need to worry about your sensitive data. Oddly, though, this feature isn't a part of Windows Vista Business-you'll have to buy Enterprise or Ultimate for it. We're told Microsoft's research pointed more towards it being a feature for large enterprises.

IE7's Protected Mode
Under Vista, IE7 will run in its own low-privilege application environment, and ActiveX controls are downloaded into a virtual directory-if malicious ActiveX controls do get in, they run in a virtual environment where they can't  do any harm. There's also the phishing filter, which should prevent you or your employees from losing your sensitive information to online frauds.

Out of the box, Vista is undoubtedly the most secure Windows-but nobody uses Windows without third-party security software, and this is where the snags come in. Vista's PatchGuard technology prevents any software getting into its kernel, including trusted security software. As a result, any software that does  manage to break into the kernel has full access to the system, and has nothing to fear from security tools-and Symantec reports that this has already happened. Microsoft has agreed to rectify this, but it's something we won't see as of this launch. To the paranoid, this is a deal-breaker, and the most compelling reason to hang on to Windows XP for now.



Better Use
Windows Vista comes with a few tools to enhance your productivity at home and in the office, and the interface has been given an overhaul-we're not just talking about the visuals.

Windows Collaboration
The replacement for NetMeeting, Windows Collaboration is a peer-to-peer application that lets up to ten people start a collaborative session over the office network. Jointly work on desktops and files, make presentations, and pass notes about the boss' attitude privately-all without needing a conference room. It's capable of ad-hoc wireless networking-setting up a network even in the absence of an access point-this will require a shift to IPv6, though. 

Windows Collaboration-so much more than NetMeeting

Windows Calendar
Similar to OS X's iCal, Windows Calendar builds Outlook's PIM features right into the OS-schedule your own tasks, co-ordinate with others on the network, and even synchronise with online calendar services like Google Calendar. One giant leap for personal productivity.

Windows Calendar- a productivity application which was long overdue

The Interface
It isn't just about the cool glassy effects and Flip3D-Vista's new interface polishes a lot of the kinks we had to deal with in XP. Buttons like "OK" and "Cancel" that forced you to read the entire message are now replaced with more meaningful text-like "Install" and "Don't Install"-and some 200 unnecessary message prompts have been eliminated. Every task now has a taskbar button, so there's no more hunting for prompts or file copy dialog boxes. The Search box in the new Start menu is a much more evolved version of Start > Run-you don't need to know the exact name of the EXE anymore! Search is also integrated into all Explorer windows-you can tag files with keywords and even filter document searches by author. The result-you never need to remember a folder path ever again!

The new interface also has a large number of subtleties you're bound to miss on first use, but over time will give you a richer and smoother experience. Couple that with the new productivity tools and your workday will pass in a more streamlined manner than you can imagine. 

"That you'll need an upgrade for Vista is a myth-you may not get Aero, but you'll have access to every feature that boosts productivity, and that's what matters more to the professional"
Rishi Srivastava, Director, Windows Client Business Group, Microsoft (India)

The Performance Factor
Unless all your office PCs are brand new and have at least 1 GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card, you're in for an upgrade-if you want Aero, that is. While this would make home users frown-buying Vista and not using Aero is like stripping the paint off a new car-it's hardly a priority for business users.

You'll also have these two features to help kick up performance:

SuperFetch caches commonly used files and programs in available system memory, so over time, you'll find the OS becoming more responsive. It also has some "intelligence," loading files that it anticipates will be needed soon.

If you've got a large-capacity Flash drive, you can use it as your SuperFetch cache and free up main memory. It's slower than RAM, but much faster than reading the cache from the hard disk. ReadyBoost is also optimised to minimise the number of read/write operations it makes on your USB drive, keeping in mind that Flash drives are reliable only for a limited number of read/write cycles.

While using Vista, we did notice significant performance improvements with ReadyBoost and there's potential for more. Don't fall for the "you'll have to upgrade your hardware" line-even without Aero, the productivity is all there, and that's what matters more.

If It Ain't Broke?
When Windows 2000 launched, offices were desperate-Windows NT 4's shortcomings were too many, and Windows 98 wasn't advisable for the workplace. Today, Vista launches in a completely different environment-Windows 2000, XP, and Server 2003 are all solid platforms (yes, despite the daily security fixes), and there is no pressing need for something new. Even so, it's doubtless a better OS and the upgrade is practically inevitable. Price isn't a factor, either-except for the Ultimate Edition, it's going to cost the same as corresponding versions of XP.

If you've just been through an upgrade cycle for your office, or don't plan on one any time soon, don't let the Vista launch rush you towards it-let it come as a logical step ahead. By then, any kinks in the OS will have been addressed as well.

Nimish Chandiramani
Nimish Chandiramani

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