Saturday, October 23, 2021

Vista has IT Execs Pondering the Next Horizon

Microsoft executives are hoping that a host of security improvements in

its long-awaited Vista (formerly Longhorn) operating system will have

companies lining up to install the new product when it’s released in late

2006.

But IT managers and experts alike say the software giant could be

mistaken.

”I plan on using Windows XP until its logical end of usefulness and then

re-evaluating my options,” says Allen Gwinn, senior IT director at

Southern Methodist University in Dallas. ”Vista is going to be a closed

source proprietary piece of software built on the most notoriously

insecure platform in history and just like its predecessors, it’s bound

to have bugs.”

Gwinn, who has led the university through several iterations of the

Windows platform, is skeptical that Microsoft has solved the security

problems that have plagued previous versions of the operating system.

He says he worries that the time and effort it will take to install the

new platform — and suffer through the initial patches and testing —

will be exorbitant, draining his team of time and money.

”This is the first product they’ve announced that makes me worry about

my total cost to have Microsoft,” he says. ”How many more virus battles

am I going to have to fight? How many more millions of bug-ridden lines

of code are they going to write? When you look at it, is it going to be

more expensive to go with another option? I’ll bet if you look at the

time spent dealing with all this, it wont be.”

But Microsoft, which recently released Vista Beta 1 to developers and

other testers, says it has fixed a lot of the issues that have had IT

managers scrambling in the past. Here are some of the newest features:

  • User account protection, which limits user privileges. A Microsoft

    spokeswoman says this will avoid the problem of malware being let onto

    machines through administrator-level access;

  • Full-volume encryption, which allows IT managers and users to put

    important data into safe repositories. If a laptop or desktop is stolen

    or hacked into, critical information can’t be accessed, the spokeswoman

    says;

  • Anti-malware protection, which detects and eliminates malware

    automatically during upgrades, and

  • Service hardening, which, if an attack occurs, limits file, registry

    and network access, she says.

    The spokeswoman adds that Microsoft has beefed up security in Internet

    Explorer so a data cache can be cleared with a single click and users can

    easily check the validity of a Web site’s security certificate.

    Even with all these improvements, experts agree that the response to

    Vista has been lukewarm.

    ”At this point in time, we’re not seeing a lot of demand for Vista,”

    says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group in San Jose,

    Calif. ”We’re still about a year out from its release, but XP and NT

    were hot products in advance.”

    Dave Kearns, an analyst at the Virtual Quill consultancy in Silicon

    Valley, says Microsoft is facing an uphill battle. ”They don’t know how

    to make a secure platform that is user-friendly for the average

    customer,” he says.

    Kearns points to patching as an example.

    ”They have gone back and forth on whether to automate patching. There

    are consumers who want it automated and IT managers who don’t. There’s no

    solution to that dilemma,” he says. IT groups want to test patches

    before they go out to make sure they don’t interrupt other applications,

    while consumers don’t want to have to remember to download and install

    patches, he adds.

    Identity management is another area where Microsoft faces problems,

    Kearns says. ”Microsoft doesn’t stand a chance at getting identity

    management perfected because of privacy groups,” he says. Previous

    initiatives like Hailstorm and Passport have privacy protectors raising

    red flags about any collection of information and that ties Microsoft’s

    hands.

    Microsoft’s biggest problem lies in industry apathy, according to

    Enderle, who takes a different view on customers’ feelings towards Vista.

    Although IT managers rate security among their top concerns, he says they

    aren’t ready to shed their current operating system in favor of Vista.

    IT managers should be starting to build their budgets for Vista, he says.

    ”If demand isn’t there, there are going to be problems.” A reason for

    the tepid interest is that ”people aren’t concerned about the desktop.

    It’s just not broken enough,” he says.

    Enderle hopes that as the release date gets closer, IT groups will see

    the need for heightened security. ”As companies see their security

    exposure and that Vista addresses this problem, they will move

    aggressively toward the platform,” he says.

    Experts say the ”rip-and-replace” nature of Vista, rather than it being

    an upgrade to the current platform, means IT groups will have to plan

    extensively for it. ”To roll out Vista, IT managers are going to want to

    roll it out on new hardware — this could make it costly,” Enderle says.

    ”However, with the reduction in overall hardware costs, maybe it won’t

    be as costly as before.”

    Kearns agrees customers will have to do a complete hardware overhaul to

    accommodate Vista. Nowadays, that’s expected, he says. ”The average

    person doesn’t upgrade their operating system anyway. They buy a new

    computer,” he says.

    But for Gwinn, that’s just one more reason to shy away from Vista.

    ”This destabilizes the investment we’ve already made in Microsoft

    products,” he says. For him, the biggest question still remains to be

    answered: How long will Microsoft continue to support XP before it is

    moved to the backwater? That tells me how long I have to make my

    decision.”

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