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The Road to Windows Vista 2005

It all started as a lark. Dismayed by the blatant Longhorn screenshot fakeries I was seeing on the Internet, I published my first Road to Windows Longhorn showcase in January 2002--Yes, over three and a half years ago. Back then, Longhorn--since renamed to Windows Vista--was little more than a dream, and Windows enthusiasts were busy pumping out fake screenshots that purported to show how the next Windows would look, or at least how they wished it would look.

Throughout 2002, most of what we thought we knew about Longhorn was wrong. There was no bizarre 3D interface coming. No new file system. No Mira 2 support. Some of the features we expected--Windows Movie Maker 2 and Windows Media Player 9, for example--shipped separately because Longhorn was taking so long to come to market.

In mid-2003, I created the Road to Windows Longhorn 2003, which focused on then-new information about Longhorn, including the roadmap ("Longhorn RTM in 2005") and some new features: A componentized, more easily deployable architecture, a new Desktop Composition Engine (DCE), and the Aero user interface. WinFS was still scheduled to appear in Longhorn, but it wasn't a file system, it was a storage engine.

By the end of summer 2004, it was clear something was wrong. As I documented in the Road to Windows Longhorn 2004, Microsoft's next-generation Windows had suffered from multiple delays and was being scaled back. Microsoft said it would make Longhorn "broadly available" in 2006, which I (like others) took to mean early or mid-2006, not late 2006. WinFS would not be included. Avalon and Indigo would be ported to Windows XP SP2, XP x64, and Windows Server 2003 SP1. And Office 12, the next generation Microsoft Office version, would ship almost simultaneously with Longhorn.

By early 2005, I felt it was time to once again separate the myths from the facts, and I published the Road to Windows Longhorn 2005, a showcase that revealed Microsoft's then-latest development schedule, the product editions Microsoft was expected to adopt with Longhorn, and a number of exclusive features that I had gleaned from internal Microsoft documentation. The most important part of that document, in some ways, is the hardware recommendations: Though Microsoft remains cagey about which PC hardware will run Longhorn, even today, the company had long ago revealed internally what kinds of devices will work best.

I described that showcase as a "living document" and pledged to update it as new information became available. However, because Longhorn has been branded as Windows Vista and Microsoft has released such an unprecedented amount of information about its next-generation system, I felt that it was time to step back and regroup. Here then, is the next follow-up: The Road to Windows Vista 2005.

Windows Vista Features

The feature set for Windows Vista has been in flux for some time. Here's why: Back in 2003, the plans for Windows Vista were quite ambitious, but when the core Windows team attempted to finally componentized Vista, then based on the XP SP2 code base, they found the task to be impossible and had to start over from scratch. That work commenced in mid-2004 and was finished near the end of 2004. By that time, Windows Vista was veering wildly off course, and Microsoft worked to reign in the project and delay any technologies that were too far-reaching.

By early 2005, the goal for Windows Vista was simple: Microsoft had a very limited set of technologies that would absolutely make it into the product and a very broad list of technologies that could possibly make it, depending on how development of those individual technologies proceeded. For Beta 1, finally released in July 2005, we're only seeing the core, fundamental pieces of Windows Vista. In future releases, we'll see more end user functionality. But you might also think of this functionality as being part of that broad list of possible features. Much of it is still in flux.

Anyway. Here we are in August 2005, a month before PDC 2005. Microsoft has a lot of marketing baloney out there about "clarity" and "confidence." That's cute, but what we really want to know is: What features will be included in Windows Vista? Here's what we know.

End user features

Beta 1 is pretty light in the end user feature department, but we'll learn more between now and Beta 2.

Desktop search. Though it is not based on WinFS technology as originally planned, Windows Vista's use of indexing and new search algorithms provides a surprisingly full-features desktop search functionality that rivals and exceeds that offered by such systems as Mac OS X Tiger (see my review). Searching is possible in any Explorer window, from the Start Menu, and in other areas of the UI. In Beta 1, users are limited to searching only the User folders in the system. By Beta 2, you will be able to search the entire PC, other Vista-based PCs, and, eventually, Longhorn Server systems as well.

Virtual Folders. Windows Vista will be the second mainstream operating system to support the Virtual Folders, which are really just dynamically created saved searches (Apple Mac OS X Tiger was the first, see my review). Windows Vista will ship with a number of built-in Virtual Folders (All Documents, Authors, and so on), but the real power to this construct is that you can create--and save--your own.

Live icons. Document icons in Windows Vista visually resemble the underlying documents. Thus, a Microsoft Word document icon will look like the first page of that document, while a Microsoft PowerPoint deck icon will look like the first slide.

Extensive support for metadata. In order to make documents searches more relevant, Windows Vista lets you easily add meta data properties including Keywords and Ratings to document types. You add metadata to documents through the Navigation Pane, the Preview Pane, and in the common dialog box (File/Save). You can then search for files using this metadata.

New column views in Windows Explorer. In Windows XP, you had to go into Details view to sort icons by specific criteria, but these columns are available in any view style in Windows Vista.

Stacks. When using the column header described in the previous blurb, you will often see items grouped into Stacks, which displays data organized by stacks per a specific column heading. For example, you might sort a folder of documents by author name, and would then see a stack of documents for each author.

Simpler desktop sharing. With multiple users accessing a single PC in many homes, Microsoft felt that it was time to make it easier for these users to access information created by other users on the same machine. In Windows Vista, public and private data stores are more clearly named (a "Public" folder is used, for example, instead of "All Users"). A new Sharing Wizard makes it easy to determine which data you'd like to share with others.

Simpler network sharing. Network-based sharing is even more difficult for most people than is desktop sharing. To this end, Windows Vista will make it easier to share files and folders across a network and then find shared resources. Sharing is so often needed now that a new Sharing option has been added to the command bar in every Explorer window.

Internet Explorer 7.0 end user features. IE 7.0 will support a tabbed browsing interface, integrated RSS functionality, and Shrink-to-Fit printing. (For more information, see my IE 7.0 Beta 1 Review).

New email client. Though it has not yet been named, Microsoft will include a new email client in Windows Vista that will replace Outlook Express. The new email client will integrate with the new message store used by Windows Vista, and will include an integrated spam filter that requires no training and inline searching.

New printing architecture. Windows Vista will include the "Metro" document imaging and printing architecture, which is based on XML and closely resembles Apple's support of PDF in Mac OS X.

New Sleep mode. Combining the best features of Standby and Hibernation, the new Sleep mode in Windows Vista enables and disables your PC in seconds, but stores application state to disk, allowing you to resume work as soon as it's come out of Sleep.

Simplified power management. In addition to the new Sleep mode, power management will be dramatically simplified in Windows Vista with new a battery meter, new power management user experience, and one-click access to power management schemes.

Presentation settings. To support mobile professionals, Microsoft is adding integrated group presentation settings that integrated with system services that often interrupt presentations today. Windows Vista users can also easily access network-based projectors.

Auxiliary display support. Windows Vista-based notebooks computers and Tablet PCs will support secondary displays, mounted on the outside of the devices that will give users at-a-glance access to information while the computer is in Sleep mode. This information can include unread emails, upcoming appointments, music/CD and DVD playback information, and more.

Windows Connect Now. Windows Vista will make it much easier to connect to and configure wireless networks using a new feature called Windows Connect Now.

Data and PC synchronization. Windows Vista will provide a Sync Center application that makes it easy to synchronize data between the PC and other devices, including PDAs, MP3 players, laptops, and the like. Sync Center can also provide PC-to-PC synchronization services with other Windows Vista-based PCs on the same network.

Improved Offline Folders. The new version of Offline Folders in Windows Vista will reduce synchronization times and network bandwidth, improving performance.

Parental Controls. Finally, Windows gets a parental controls feature that actually works: In Windows Vista, you can monitor and limit your childrens' PC usage.

SafeDocs. This new consumer-oriented document backup and restore utility is designed for users without server-based backup solutions. SafeDocs uses a simple new user interface and is designed to present reliable feedback to the user.

Improved System Restore. The new version of System Restore backs up more changes than previous versions, is available from the nonboot-state-recovery environment, and is more integrated with other recovery-related technologies in Windows Vista.

File Shadow Copies. The "Professional Editions" (Microsoft's words) of Windows Vista includes technology called File Shadow Copies that provides local file recovery services similar to the Volume Shadow Copies feature in Windows Server 2003.

Security features

While one can't really claim that Windows was architected for the security needs of today, Microsoft has taken great pains to retrofit modern security features into the NT architecture. Here are some examples.

Secure Startup. As with Windows Server 2003 SP1, Windows Vista will startup in a secure boot mode that prevents network-based attacks from infecting the system.

Full Volume Encryption. By default, the entire system partition in Windows Vista is encrypted to ensure that hackers cannot get at your data if your PC is stolen.

Windows Rights Management Client. Windows Vista will include the latest Windows RMS client.

Integrated support for TPM hardware. Microsoft's so-called Palladium work will ensure that Windows Vista installs on TPM-enabled hardware are as secure as is possible. Security features in the OS will store encryption keys that rely on the TPM chipset, ensuring that your data will be safe if the hard drive is ever removed from the system during physical theft.

User Account Protection. In Windows XP, users are forced to run as administrators because the Limited User account type is essentially worthless. In Windows Vista, that's all changed: Even admin-level users will run most tasks with Limited User credentials. When a system configuration change or other potentially destructive action is required, User Account Protection (UAP) will launch a dialog in which you can enter an admin-level password, and thus authorize the change.

Windows Resource Protection. WRP will protect system registry settings and system files from accidental and potentially dangerous changes by the user or by unauthorized software, Microsoft says.

Internet Explorer 7.0 Protected Mode. Even though other applications will run with Limited User privileges, IE 7.0 will run with even fewer privileges by default, making it much harder for hackers to compromise systems. Additionally, IE 7 can be optionally run with no plug-ins loaded for the utmost in security.

Other IE 7.0 security features. IE 7.0 will include integrated anti-phishing technology, a better Manage Add-ons user interface, and a more visible warning for when you're visiting SSL-protected Web sites. Users can delete all of the data IE 7.0 saves--including cookies, Web history, Web form data and passwords, and temporary files--using a single option in the Tools menu.

Built-in malware protection. Windows Vista will ship with an unmanaged anti-spyware functionality that is based on Microsoft's Windows AntiSpyware product. Additionally, Microsoft is building low-level support for antivirus services into the OS and will ship a subscription-based service, for a yearly fee, to provide AV functionality. Third parties such as McAfee and Symantec will be able to plug their own products into this system as well.

Network Access Protection. Windows Vista will include the NAP client, which integrates with NAP support in Longhorn Server to ensure that your system is up-to-date with security fixes and other security features before it is allowed on a corporate network.

Window Firewall. While Windows XP SP2 included a decent firewall, the version in Windows Vista will be far more impressive, offering two-way filtering (inbound and outbound) and centralized management via Group Policies.

Smarter user authentication. Windows Vista will include better support for alternative user authentication methods, including smart cards. Developers will also find it easier to create custom authentication solutions, such as biometric security systems, under Windows Vista, thanks to new APIs.

Windows services hardening. The system services in Windows Vista have been reconfigured to be as secure as possible out of the box. This is similar to the work Microsoft did with Windows Server 2003 SP1.

Performance features

Though Windows Vista will require a modern PC, it will run much faster than XP on that hardware, and will keep running smoothly over months of use.

Fast Startup. Windows Vista will boot up from a dead stop far more quickly than XP thanks to new optimizations and synchronous startup application launching, which can occur after you've started working.

New Sleep mode. Combining the best features of Standby and Hibernation, the new Sleep mode in Windows Vista enables and disables your PC in seconds, but stores application state to disk, allowing you to resume work as soon as it's come out of Sleep.

More responsive user interface. The Windows Vista user interface has been written from scratch to be more responsive than that in previous Windows versions. Actions such as opening the Start Menu or displaying a menu happen much more quickly in Windows Vista.

Stability and reliability. Windows Vista will be demonstrably more stable and reliable than Windows XP.

Startup Repair Tool. If a Windows Vista PC refuses to start normally, the new Startup Repair Tool will attempt to recover the system.

More reliable services. In Windows Vista, all system services now include recovery policies that help them restart automatically or react in other logical ways. In many cases, you won't even be aware that a problem occurred: A stopped service will simply restart without any user notification.

Impending failure diagnostics. Windows Vista will include technology that can proactively detect hardware problems--such as an impending hard drive failure--and alert the user so that they can take action before the failure takes place. This will have huge implications for both home and business users: In managed corporate settings, administrators will be able to receive alerts about these impending failures and set up repair schedules remotely.

Fixes for common application hang issues. Windows Vista will behave differently than previous Windows versions, preventing one of the primary causes of an unresponsive system: An application that is waiting for input from a service, application, or resource that is otherwise busy or unreachable.

New driver model. Windows Vista will support a new, more reliable driver model that seeks to end most hardware-related instability issues.

Windows Feedback Services. An opt-in error-reporting service, WFS will provide Microsoft and application developers with information about crashes in their programs.

Deployment and management features

Thanks to new file-based imaging tools and a more componentized architecture, Windows Vista will be the easiest to deploy version of Windows ever created.

Image-based setup. Windows Vista will install on a new PC in less than 20 minutes, according to Microsoft.

Windows Imaging (WIM) images. The new Windows Vista image format allows you to distribute an entire Windows installation in a single, compressed file.

New WinPE environment. The Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) has been dramatically updated in Windows Vista to support both 32-bit and 64-bit computers, and can now run from a USB key or RAM drive.

User Assistance. A new User Assistance feature reduces support costs by allowing users to fix problems with built-in diagnostics. Windows Vista detects, diagnoses, and helps users with common problems.

Remote Assistance improvements. A new version of Remote Assistance adds built-in diagnostics support and can maintain a remote connection through a reboot.

Improved Windows Event logs. The new Event logs in Windows Vista are based on XML and can be viewed and filtered in a variety of useful ways through the new Event Viewer.

Improved Task Scheduler. The Windows Vista Task Scheduler will be able to trigger tasks based on events, not just time. So you can schedule a backup to happen when your disk reaches a certain percentage full.

Web Services for Management support. WS-Management support lets you run scripts remotely and perform other management tasks using Web services. These communications can be encrypted and authenticated, limiting security risks.

Microsoft Management Console 3.0. Windows Vista will include the latest version of the MMC, which supports much richer user interfaces than the current version.

Software Development/Platform features

From the beginning, Windows Vista was envisioned as the next-generation platform that would define the next decade of computing. That goal hasn't changed.

WinFX. A programming model that will replace today's Win32 and .NET Framework APIs, WinFX takes the best features of both of its predecessors and offers a logical evolution to managed code.

Windows Presentation Foundation (codenamed Avalon). WPF is the unified presentation layer in Windows Vista and the foundation for the Aero user interface. It consists of a display engine and the associated WinFX-based code framework developers will use to exploit it.

Aero. The Windows Vista user interface will provide a tiered experience that will vary based on the underlying capabilities of the PC's display hardware. On the high-end, Aero Glass will provide the premium Windows experience, while Aero Express will resemble the graphics capabilities in Windows XP. For compatibility, Microsoft will also include a Windows Classic interface that resembles Windows 2000.

Windows Communication Foundation (codenamed Indigo). Microsoft's next-generation Web services platform provides a simpler way for application and service developers to access logic on disparate systems.

Windows Vista Schedule

Longhorn Developer Preview (pre-beta)
April 2005 (delivered at WinHEC 2005, see my review). Available to WinHEC 2005 attendees, MSDN subscribers, private beta testers only.

Windows Vista Beta 1
July 2005 (delivered, see my review). Available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers, private beta testers only.

Windows Vista Developer Preview 2
September 2005 (delivered at PDC 2005). Available to PDC 2005 attendees, MSDN subscribers, private beta testers only.

Windows Vista Beta 2
November 2005 (could slip to early 2006). Public availability. Microsoft is looking into delivering weekly builds to the public after Beta 2.

Windows Vista Release Candidate 0 (RC0)
February 2006. Public availability.

Windows Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1)
April 2006. Public availability.

Windows Vista Release to Manufacturing (RTM)
June, 2006.

Windows Vista Launch (widespread public availability)
October 2006.

Longhorn Server RTM/ Windows Vista SP1 RTM
Second half of 2006/first half of 2007 (Client RTM + 6 to 9 months)

Hardware recommendations

The single most frequently-asked Windows Vista question I get is, "What are the hardware requirements?" To date, Microsoft hasn't yet answered that question, though arguably even the eventual answer will be useless anyway, since the minimum requirements for Microsoft operating systems are usually hopelessly weak. However, I can present the next best thing today for the first time: the hardware Microsoft will recommend for Windows Vista. That is, this level of hardware should present users with an acceptable experience, complete with all the graphical bells and whistles.

A few preliminary comments: First, Microsoft believes that the majority of Windows XP machines purchased in 2005 will be Windows Vista capable. That doesn't mean that they will be Longhorn-savvy, however. Instead, all 2005-era XP machines should at least provide an XP-like experience in Windows Vista. In order to get the full meal deal, so to speak, however, you'll want to ensure that your hardware purchases this year meet certain requirements.

Second, because of the advanced graphics technology in Windows Vista, you will need a graphics card that is supported with a Longhorn Display Model Driver (LDDM). In mid-2004, Microsoft described these cards as being DirectX 9 compliant, though it's unclear whether the requirements will increase. Microsoft will provide clearer graphics card guidelines during the Windows Vista beta testing cycle, according to documentation I've viewed.

Here are Microsoft's Windows Vista hardware recommendations:

Desktop CPU: 3 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading Technology 530 (or higher) or 3 GHz Intel Xeon processor with 2 MB L2 cache, or AMD Athlon 64, Sempron, or Opteron 100, 200, or 800 processor, single or dual-core versions.

Mobile CPU: 1.86 GHz Intel Pentium M processor 750 (or higher), or AMD Turion 64 Mobile Technology, Mobile Sempron, or Mobile Athlon 64 processor.

Memory: 512 MB of RAM or more, all platforms.

At WinHEC 2005, Microsoft did reveal a vague set of specifications for PCs that will run Windows Vista, and provide the advanced Aero Glass interface. A modern Pentium 4-based PC (or the AMD equivalent) with 512 MB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card capable of DirectX 9.0 compatibility will run Windows Vista just fine, I was told. Systems with fewer graphical resources--like most notebook computers and systems with Celeron processors--will default to the low-end Aero Express user interface, Microsoft says.


Even though Windows Vista Beta 1 is lacking many end user features, there is still a lot to explore and discuss. What's amazing, of course, is that the list of intended features for Windows Vista will only continue to grow in the coming months. Expect major additions to this document in September, when PDC 2005 hits, and whenever Beta 2 is released.

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