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Windows Vista in the Enterprise - 25 Apr 2006

I seem to have a habit of getting into trouble with Microsoft. The most recent example was a long-overdue (if somewhat cursory) examination of the ways in which the company has failed to live up to its promises for Windows Vista, the next-generation Windows version the company hopes to complete late this year. Posted as part of my Vista February Community Technology Preview (CTP)/Build 5342 review on the SuperSite for Windows, "Where Vista Fails" (see the URL below) is harsh but, I think, accurate. What I didn't address in this article, however, are Vista's enterprise features. Will this OS offer a compelling upgrade for business customers?

The answer is complex. Vista is a major Windows update with a plethora of new features. Many of the new features will require retraining both for business users and IT administrators, and Microsoft--as it often does in new Windows versions--had inexplicably chosen to move or rename common features throughout Vista. Rather than offer you a laundry list of Vista features, I'll touch on the top three issues that this release will raise. Some are good, some are bad, but mostly each is a mixed bag.

Vista has been thoroughly overhauled from a security standpoint. Consider the security changes Microsoft made in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), multiply that by about 100, and you'll be in the right place to understand how big the security enhancements in this release are. The most obvious security change is User Account Protection (UAP), which provides Windows with the sort of security protection that Linux/UNIX and Mac OS X have enjoyed for years. Under this system, all users, even administrator-level users, run with reduced privileges at all times. Any time you want to make a potentially dangerous change to the system, UAP pops up an authorization dialog box that forces you to provide administrator-level privileges to complete the action. The dark side of UAP is that the dialog boxes pop up far too often. In fact, for certain seemingly innocuous actions, such as deleting shortcuts and other icons from the desktop, you'll be surprised by how many dialog boxes you need to wade through. Microsoft tells me that it's working to make this less painful, but my guess is that users will find UAP to be a major annoyance. Deployment
As I've discussed here previously, Vista introduces a disk image-based deployment scheme that offers two huge advantages over today's deployment tools. First, disk images are easy to build and maintain and can be quickly deployed to desktops. Second, Vista's disk images can be edited live. This means you can add (or remove) features from an image, including new hotfixes and service packs. Because Vista is far more modular than earlier Windows versions, it's also easier to create custom disk images, including those that vary only in the language used. This will be a huge boon to multinational companies. Unattended files are now XML based. What this all adds up to is big improvements, albeit with a high learning curve.

Hardware and Software Compatibility
Although many negative stories exist about Vista requiring incredible high-end hardware in order to get the best visual experience (what Microsoft calls Aero Glass, where application windows in Vista take on a translucent look), the truth is that most modern PCs should have no problem running Vista. The bigger problem is compatibility. Many hardware devices won't work natively in Vista, and some applications will have problems, though Vista's XP compatibility layer is decent and works similarly to the Application Compatibility feature in XP.

Underlying all of these changes, of course, is the fact that each will require a significant investment of time and effort on the part of any organization that chooses to migrate to Vista. For starters, there will be two Vista editions aimed squarely at businesses--Vista Business, which targets businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, and Vista Enterprise, which targets managed environments and adds features such as Virtual PC Express and Services for Unix (SFU) Applications. Vista Enterprise will be made available only to volume-licensing customers with Software Assurance (SA). I've touched only the surface of the differences you can expect in Vista, and over the coming months, I'll be examining this OS much more closely. If your job is to support or migrate desktops, it's time to begin investigating Vista, even if you don't intend to rollout Vista for quite some time. If you're not part of a program that provides you with access to prerelease Vista versions, fear not. In late May, Microsoft will ship Beta 2, and the intention is to make it widely available to the public.

Windows Vista February 2006 CTP (Build 5308/5342) Review, Part 5: Where Vista Fails

TAGS: Security
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