The Rising Tide of Vista

Opinion: Security is just one of the major areas of change with Vista, and the outcome could be good for business all around.

Security is the lens through which I always view products like Windows Vista, and in that view it looks good.

But there is a bigger picture with Vista for the industry: Its really, really different from previous versions. At many levels it requires a different approach.

Security is just one prominent aspect of this, although it will require a great deal of retraining of users, administrators and developers. This is a good thing, or at least its easy for me to say so not having to pay for it. Even if its good its one of the things that will make the adoption of Vista by business a slow, if steady and inexorable process.

But things dont end there. For instance, Vista is the first version of Windows for which its obvious to me that little of the installed base of hardware will be adequate. The hardware requirements are astonishingly large.

Microsoft has always taken an eye towards the next generation of hardware when setting the resource requirements for new versions of Windows, but Vista sets new records:

According to Microsoft, a Windows Vista capable PC includes at least:

  • A modern processor (at least 800MHz1).

  • 512MB of system memory.

  • A graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable.

512MB miminum! A hot GPU! This is really something.

But those requirements are just the minimum. These are the recommended ones:

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor.

  • 1GB of system memory.

  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum), Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel.

  • 40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB free space.

  • DVD-ROM Drive
  • .
  • Audio output capability.

  • Internet access capability.

Ive been able to run every version of Windows in the past on some existing system that was a year or two old. And I never buy the hottest stuff out there. Not this time. I had to buy new computers to test Vista and Ill be buying a new notebook for it.

/zimages/2/28571.gifeWEEK Labs thinks that User Account Control will bring the OS up to snuff with rivals. Click here to read more.

If Vista is a hit then times should be fat for OEMs for the next few years. Just a few years ago I used to argue that hardware had gotten fast enough and that the speed increases were all gratuitous or useful only to hardcore gamers. Boy was I wrong!

The effect extends to software as well. Everybody gets to sell new stuff to users with Vista. Security plays a part here. Many applications, like QuickBooks, have had to be modified in order to run properly in the standard Vista Limited User context.

Many other applications will need changes but havent gotten them yet. When it comes to custom corporate programs the problems are even worse. A huge number of custom programs that do insecure things, like writing to the HKLM registry key or storing their config files in the \Windows directory, will have to be modified.

Perhaps the biggest cost of all will be training. Your old applications will work pretty much the same as they did in XP. The interface to the OS is quite different though, down to the names of programs. For instance, there is no "Outlook Express" anymore, there is a "Mail" program. Very Apple.

IT will also need retraining. Apart from hundreds of new group policy objects for managing Vista, the system administration parts of the interface are quite different. Anyone with a brain can figure it out eventually, but there will be at least a speed bump. Look for a brisk market for books on administering Windows Vista.

These changes will not stop the adoption of Vista, but they will place obstacles in its path.

I expect many businesses, even as they adopt Vista, to take the "gun to my own head" approach of turning off many of the security features; you can run your user as Administrator on Vista, its just that Vista warns you that youre making a big mistake. By doing this you are negating a big part of the reason to get Vista in the first place.

But Im optimistic, and over time I think these changes will force businesses to change their own practices. Over the long term, the excuses for not making the changes are lame and the benefits of making them are undeniable.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

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