Vista: What's In It for You?

A hefty hardware requirement might slow down migration to “the most secure Windows yet.” A look at the pros and cons of Microsoft’s new OS.
Posted November 29, 2006

Cynthia Harvey

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When it comes time to market Vista to consumers, Microsoft will no doubt tout its flashy new interface and greatly improved media capabilities. But those features matter much less to the IT managers who are the target of Microsoft’s November 30 release for business users. Instead, they’re betting that decidedly un-flashy features like security, search, and deployment will capture the attention of those in the IT department.

But are these features tantalizing enough to overcome corporate resistance to change?

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The “Most Secure Windows Yet”—Again

Like several of its predecessors, Vista has been christened the “most secure Windows yet.” According to a Microsoft spokesperson, Vista “addresses growing security threats and will help protect your people’s data in and out of office, secure your environment, and make it easier to achieve compliance with government regulations and internal policies.”

Among Vista’s many security improvements over earlier versions of Windows, two are particularly noteworthy.

First, Vista’s BitLocker Drive Encryption has been generating a lot of interest among enterprises with a high percentage of mobile users. In a nutshell, BitLocker makes it tougher to access the data on lost or stolen laptops. In fact, thieves shouldn’t even be able to power up devices protected by BitLocker.

According to Microsoft, 600,000 laptops are lost or stolen in the U.S. each year, often compromising sensitive information. For IT managers frustrated by executives who continually leave their laptops at security checkpoints and in the backs of cabs, BitLocker provides peace of mind.

However, BitLocker is only available in the Enterprise Edition of Vista, and you need hardware built to comply with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 1.2 or higher in order to achieve all the benefits.

Another noteworthy security enhancement often gets classified among Vista’s management improvements. Group Policy enables IT managers to easily control power settings, access networked devices, and monitor other settings from a centralized location. It also closes one of the widest security holes in enterprises today—the devices that employees carry or wear to work.

Today, unthinking or ill-willed employees can use USB-compatible devices such as iPods and memory keys to copy sensitive data and carry it out the door. However, Vista gives corporations the ability to manage which users can use which USB devices.

Now Where Did That File Go?

In marketing the new user interface to business users, Microsoft continually repeats that the new GUI will improve productivity. While many of the changes will realistically save only fractions of a second, one productivity enhancement stands out. The improved desktop search (which happens to be Bill Gates’ favorite Vista feature) is truly radically improved over the search feature in Windows XP.

The new search relies on a technique familiar to database managers—indexing. In fact, Microsoft originally planned to build the Vista file system as a database. While that goal fell by the wayside, the indexed searching remains. Not only is the search much, much faster than in Windows XP, it automatically begins searching as soon as you type the first character into the search box.

Why does search matter so much? Microsoft quotes IDC research showing that “companies may loose up to $9-14K/knowledge worker/year in wasted productivity when users can’t find the documents they need to do their work.”

Easing Deployment Headaches

IT managers responsible for OS deployment may be the greatest beneficiaries of Windows Vista. That’s because Vista’s single image capability will dramatically reduce the complexity of migrating to the new OS.

“Deploying images or structured files containing machine instructions and data is the most efficient way to deploy an OS, but it was not part of the standard installation prior to Windows Vista,” notes Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray. “This left IT managers to build and maintain an ever-increasing library of unique images as new hardware and applications rolled out.”

Previously, a separate image was required for every unique hardware configuration and every language in use within the organization. With Vista Enterprise Edition, by contrast, IT managers can use just one deployment image thanks to Windows Imaging Format and the Multilanguage User Interface.

In addition, Vista supports non-destructive imaging. In other words, you can install the new OS on your current machine without losing your files and settings or first backing them up to another PC.

Next page: “Please Don’t Make Me Upgrade”

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