A Rights-Constrained Vista View

Review: nonadmins may find security-conscious Vista challenging at first

At Winhec May 23, Microsoft released Build 5384 of Windows Vista, aka Windows Vista Beta 2. Based on eWeek Labs tests of the near-Beta 2 Build 5381, we can report that Vista has been progressing steadily, but it will require some more tightening before it will be ready to shed its beta label.

In particular, Vistas new Aero Glass user interface, the one causing most of the are-you-Vista-ready ruckus, tends to flake out at times. As our tests with Longhorn Server illustrated, however, Vista manages to deliver the goods without Aero Glass enabled at all (see review, left).

Weve written about the testing builds of Vista a couple of times already. We opted this time to chronicle the initial Vista experience from the standpoint of an appropriately rights-constrained nonadministrative user.

Windows XPs "limited" user accounts are known as "standard" accounts in Vista. Only time will tell how Vista users will respond to the standard of eschewing admin rights when they arent strictly required.

At the start of our standard-user tour, Vistas jump-off screen was fairly helpful, and thats a good thing. The user interface changes have left some commonly accessed functions in slightly different spots than they were before. Links to common operations are organized a bit differently in Vista—the operation for changing display resolution, for instance, now lives in a "personalization" panel.

A link on the welcome page leads to a slightly more detailed welcome page. Options marked with small shields require administrative credentials.

Vistas hardware requirements have been the subject of quite a bit of discussion, and Vistas built-in performance rating tool should fuel further discussion. Our test machine didnt rate too high, but Vista offered us some tips on how to speed up our system, including a few particular drivers marked as possible performance problems.

While following up on leads for speeding up our test machine, our standard-rights user encountered a User Account Control dialog; there, credentials of a user with admin rights were required to see which startup programs were potentially holding back our test machines performance rating.

We used Windows Defender to check out which programs on our test machine were set to run at startup. Interestingly, though, the programs that Vistas performance page had listed as possible slowdown offenders werent listed in Windows Defender. There was, though, one mystery process, marked N/A, in the list.

Windows Defender also showed us the network--connected programs on our test machine, along with a sort of mini-netstat readout of the ports and protocols associated with those applications.

Vistas diagnostic tools are both useful and a bit flashy— including much more information about whats going on in Windows than the systems aged Task Manager will disclose—but our standard-rights user wasnt allowed to view these tools.

As we noted in previous builds of Vista, MMC (Microsoft Management Console) programs dont tend to get along very well with User Account Control.

For example, we couldnt simply enter our admin credentials to view diagnostic controls, and we werent prompted for admin credentials to add our user "eweek" to the Performance Monitor Users group. Instead, the operation failed.

E-mail Senior Analyst Jason Brooks at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.