Will Microsoft’s New Windows Version Pay Off?

So it’s year five of a grueling wait for the next release of the Windows operating system, and just over a decade since Windows 95Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½turned the computing world on its head withÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½its ease of useÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½while alsoÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½integrating with the MS-DOS core that it replaced in tandem with its release. In this time, we’ve seen Windows 98 bring the Internet into the mainstream with the integration of online access functionality (and subsequent bashing of such byÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½antitrust law judges that almost forcedÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½the VoleÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½to be broken up like Ma Bell), Windows NT/2000 prepare for the day when the MS-DOS codebase would no longer be needed, Windows XP put DOS to rest for the final time, and watched Windows Me tank like the Titanic (all in no particular order; chronologically, we went from NTÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½- back when DOS-mode Windows was still soldÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½separate from DOS itself -Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½to 95, then again toÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½NT with NT4, then toÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½98, then to 2000/Me – with Me based not on NT but on 98Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½without the DOS mode, hint hint wink wink – then finally to XP). Now we are approaching Windows Vista,Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½and afterÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½we’ve seen delays, changes and other factors that have plagued the rollout schedule, some people are skeptical Microsoft can pull out a worthwhile new version of its most venerable product – but the word out of Redmond is still one of major change for the Vole’s flagship operating system. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know.

Before I cut to the chase, please note that I have not personally had the opportunity as of yet to Work with Windows Vista, but I do have plans to do so when it becomes available on a public-release basis should I take that route. For this reason, I will base my points on the general opinion from around the Web according to what I already know at this point.

First, there’s the security changes. With WindowsÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Vista, special account controls designed to make it harder for dangerous applications to install – and for viruses, worms, etc. to do major damage – will be present from first install onward. That doesn’t mean there will be antivirus software included – Microsoft actually stopped short of that despite initial rumors – but there will be functionality that can be enabled to warn administrators and users in an UNIX/Linux-like fashion about potentially harmful tasks and events, as well as a spyware/adware/rootkit detector in the included Windows Defender (with the latterÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½also available as an add-on for genuine Windows users on Windows XP).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½For business users, some editions of Vista willÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½include hard disk encryptionÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½featuresÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½designed to protect information on vital systems such that if a computer is ever stolen, the thief will hopefully be unable to hack into the system using any currently-available techniques thereby protectingÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½sensitive data that may be on these machines.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½The Windows Vista version if Internet Explorer 7 will run by default in a special protected mode designed to filter out malicious software any time it tries to hack itself into the system. And aÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½new version of Windows Backup will provide a more capable system than any prior versionÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½of such under any name it has taken during itsÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½existence as part of Windows hasÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ever had.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Those wanting additional security functions can still install a third-party security environment as usual, or subscribe to Windows OneCare (which will be sold as part of Microsoft’s Windows Live effort, soÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½OneCare’sÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½interface will show up as OneCare Live).

Again note that I have not used – and have no plans to use – OneCareÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½at this time for the reason that I have a security package already included with my Internet subscriptions that I aim to take advantage of, plus it will be one less subscription to worry about – despite the fact that OneCare is actually free to use during the beta period. However, I can tell you that the word on the street is that OneCare adds to Windows Defender an antivirus package and a more efficient backup scheduler than Windows provides by default – so some people may find some value in OneCare if they do not already have these utilities,Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½and experts say everyone should have these kinds of utilities to protect their machines from some of the scum that exists on the Internet. (Not to mention it can help you catch some stupid mistakes in this regard.) Note also that due to that antivirus capabilities will not be in Vista as antispyware and rootkit detection will be (despite the initial rumors), Microsoft will have to provide a Vista-compatible version of OneCare as it has not yet done so.

The second part of Windows Vista I shall focus on (and which would be the first if it weren’t for the security-focused stuff) will be the most obvious – the new graphics-intensive interface, code-named Aero. Now that doesn’t mean older machines will be left in the dust, as the security-focused bits do not equate to virus protection software – but it does mean that the most capable systems with the best graphics cards (as of DirectX 9) will, in turn, get the most asthetic user experience. But what, exactly, does this mean? Basically, you have three different interface options (in order from bare-bones to sheer elegance) – Windows Classic (the interface that’s been around since whenever), Aero Basic (a DirectX-based equivalent to Windows XP’s interface changes), and finally Aero Glass (which is the most hardware intensive, and is basically Microsoft’s answer to the MacOS X Aqua interface with 3D application switching, animating windows, minimized application window previews straight from the taskbar, etc.)

Finally, there’s the vast array of extras availableÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½on an edition-to-edition basis. As with Windows XP, the edition factor comes into play right off the bat. This time, however, it’s not so much by the machine as it is by what you want to do with Vista, so there’s no separate Tablet PC and Media Center iterations as is the current practice. Instead, Vista Home Basic upgrades XP Home Edition,Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Vista Business upgrades XP Professional, Vista Home Premium adds Tablet PC and Media Center functions to Vista Home Basic, Vista Enterprise (a volume-licensing exclusive according to Microsoft) adds capabilities designed for use inÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½specializedÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½environments such as a lightweight edition of VirtualPC, and Vista Ultimate is just that – the whole enchilada and then some, with priority service and other high-grade extras. A subset of Windows Vista, dubbed Windows Starter edition, will continue to be made available in customized forms for several developing countries – as will Vista Home N and Vista Business N (due to European Commission requirements that resulted from an antitrust case that require Microsoft to distribute in the EU member nations versions of Windows withoutÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½video creation tools, media player software, and similar programs).

But one has to wonder ifÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½this is all going to cause too much complexity; if the security improvements will seem too like a big brother situation; and if the number of different editions of Windows Vista will helpÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½consumers and business make informed upgrade decisions based on their needs, or confuse them to no end whatsoever, or if they will even upgrade at all (or simply wait it out a while). And then there’s the spectre of stuff that did not make it in (WinFS, for example) vis-a-vis what actually did (such as virtual folders, Windows Presentation Framework, etc.) And most horrid of all is the long wait for a major Windows upgrade since Windows XP – five crazy years, not counting the releases of Windows Server 2003, Windows XP SP2, etc. It will be interesting to see how the Vole plans to pull this one off.

But if the word on the Web has anything to say in this regard, its that the improvements alone – especially as far as system security – point towards the potential of a definite winner. Lets hope Microsoft can make good on the promise.

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