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Maturing Technologies: Microsoft Vista—An Update

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  • Upgrade difficulties are compounded by increased hardware requirements, prompting many users to wait to migrate to Vista until their present systems are replaced by new, more powerful PCs. In the meantime, these users will remain on their existing platforms.
  • Administrators of larger Windows installations want to maintain consistency across their computers and so prefer to remain on the XP operating system, even to the point where they are performing downgrades from Vista to XP on new machines.
  • The lack of significant improvements to user productivity under Vista has undermined acceptance of the new operating system.
  • In response to consumer demand, some PC manufacturers are offering customers a choice of Vista or XP as their OS. Not surprisingly, XP is still holding its own.
  • Many IT managers are looking into alternative operating system platforms like Linux or even considering a move to the Mac OS.
  • Computer users worldwide are no more eager to migrate to Vista than are users in the U.S. Further, the blessings of Vista by corporate auditors have been slow in coming, and only a few endorsements can be found at this time.

And yet, the most inflammatory issues regarding Vista migrations are about Microsoft's business practices.

Vista in the News

Since Vista's general release, some interesting developments have surfaced—most of them negative toward the new OS, but some positive as well. Several news stories have emerged as details of Vista's implementation are examined.

Windows Genuine Advantage

Among many would-be Vista users, perhaps the most detrimental impact to user acceptance has come from Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) system. This much-criticized "feature" of both Vista and XP, it is said, is an advantage only to Microsoft because its sole purpose is to allow Microsoft to identify illegitimate Windows operating system users.

Since mid-2005 with XP, and more extensively under Vista, each Windows PC will "phone home" each time the computer is turned on or whenever the user allows Windows to download non-security types of Windows updates. If the legitimacy of the installed operating system cannot be verified, XP systems will display an annoying message, but Vista PCs can be placed into a limited function mode called Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM). Under RFM, some features of Vista, like the Aero user interface, can become disabled and applications may refuse to launch (except Internet Explorer, and even IE can be used for only an hour at a time.)

WGA Server Failure

In late August 2007, the server-side mechanisms at Microsoft for verifying WGA requests suffered a meltdown. Beginning late on a Friday night, some Windows users began getting messages as their computers could no longer phone home. The Microsoft WGA forum bristled with scathing remarks and less-than-satisfactory responses from what seemed to be the only person working at Microsoft's WGA department that day. The initial word from Microsoft instructed users that the problem would be fixed by the following Tuesday, and, in the meantime, users should not turn their PCs off so the contact to MS that occurs at boot-up would not be invoked, and users should refrain from performing any Windows updates. Affected users were livid. The forum moderator pleaded with contributors to please use appropriate language.

As it turned out, the problem took only 19 hours to fix, and users could then validate their machines, but the hard feelings had already been spawned. The negative PR generated from this sort of false-positive is substantial. Honest consumers who have duly bought and paid for their operating systems are, in effect, accused of piracy and threatened with a heavy-handed tactic like sending their computer into Reduced Functionality Mode. This makes people angry—angry enough to seriously consider abandoning Microsoft altogether in favor of competing alternatives, like Linux.

This quote from the WGA forum is typical of the Vista users' sentiments:
"I was and still am quite mad at Microsoft. I'm pretty sure I'm going to switch to a Mac because of it. I certainly don't feel like I've been rewarded for being a good citizen and actually buying my copy of Windows. Microsoft just doesn't understand how WGA affects real customers that are legally trying to use their software. I appreciate that this happens rarely and that they need to make money, but that money doesn't have to come from me anymore."

Microsoft might actually lose ground in the piracy battle due to this kind of snafu. In an article in TechNewsWorld, Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio said, "Honest people could ask why they're bothering to be honest. This could have the unintended consequence of turning people to the dark side, as they throw up their hands and say, 'I tried.' "

The One-Click Activation Crack for Vista

It's been said that building secure software is a temporary thing at best and that there will come a time when Vista's validation system will be cracked. To some degree, that time has come in a form that ironically exploits the business agreements Microsoft has with large computer manufacturers. Called the Vista BIOS Emulation crack, this piece of software defeats Microsoft's activation system by making an illegitimate computer appear to be manufactured by Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc. Microsoft has agreements with these companies to allow OEM installation of Windows Vista on their machines. The crack makes the PC appear to be from one of those manufacturers by emulating a legitimate BIOS identification string, causing Vista to bypass the validation process.

Interestingly, the crack is regarded not so much as an illegal and unethical thing but rather as a "self-defense" option users have available to defeat an equally unethical activation and verification policy from Microsoft. The authors of the crack and a company that improved the crack's packaging openly take credit for its development (although the developers urge users of the crack to run only legally licensed software of all kinds.)

Certainly, this crack will eventually be defeated by the WGA system as the universal key codes are detected against invalid serial numbers, but another crack will just as certainly take its place.

Vista-Capable Stickers

A year ago, when it became apparent that the release of Vista would be delayed, Microsoft initiated a promotion program with computer manufacturers in which the manufacturers would place a "Vista Capable" sticker on their machines. Computer buyers also received a coupon with their new machines, entitling them to a free upgrade to Vista once the Vista OS was shipped. This program was intended to help with sales of new computers during the 2006 back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons.

As it turns out, some of the lower-end PCs sold during that period can only support Vista's most rudimentary version: Vista Home Basic. This fact was represented by a two-tier logo scheme, a distinction lost on many consumers.

In a lawsuit filed in Seattle, consumer advocate Dianne Kelley asserts that consumers were not aware that they would not get the compelling features of Vista, like the Aero interface, and that the stickers amount to a misleading business practice. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman agrees with her and denied a motion by Microsoft attorneys to dismiss the case. Ms. Kelley has been joined by another consumer in her quest and hopes to bring the suit to class-action status.

Vista Audio Playback and Network Performance

It has been reported that Vista's network throughput suffers whenever an audio or video file is being played on that PC. Apparently, whenever audio content is sent to a sound card, network performance is immediately diminished. When the audio is stopped, the network throughput climbs back to its normal level.

Some Vista users contend that the reason for the performance hit is network processing and traffic associated with verifying the validity of the audio content over the Internet. To the contrary, Microsoft says the reduced network throughput under Vista is an expected result of assigning audio playback processing an extremely high priority—higher than the network driver. This is managed by Vista's Multimedia Class Scheduler Service (MMCSS) and is not a consequence of media content protection.

Progress for Vista Adoption

With over 90 percent of the market, Microsoft's challenge is to continually produce an operating system that is a significant improvement over its own preceding product. As of June, less than 5 percent of the computers that accessed the Internet were running Vista. That's up from 0.5 percent in February, indicating some growth in Vista acceptance, but it's still a small number. During the same period, however, the percentage of Mac machines used to access the Internet has shown no growth.

Microsoft Beware

A mechanism like WGA is likely to attract user criticism under the best of circumstances. When a malfunction in the mechanism occurs and the impact is systemwide, the damage to Microsoft's image is severe. Microsoft faces a difficult challenge as it moves its business into the future. Since MS does not actually manufacture computers, like IBM or Apple do, the product will always be a complement to independently produced hardware. As such, any hope of controlling intellectual property will be fraught with restrictions that limit what Microsoft can do without ticking everybody off.

Chris Peters has 32 years of experience with IBM midrange and PC platforms. Chris is president of Evergreen Interactive Systems, a software development firm and creators of the iSeries Report Downloader. Chris is the author of i5/OS and Microsoft Office Integration Handbook, AS/400 TCP/IP Handbook, AS/400 Client/Server Programming with Visual Basic, and Peer Networking on the AS/400. He is also a nationally recognized seminar instructor and a lecturer in the Computer Science department at Eastern Washington University. Chris can be reached at Chris@EvergreenInteractive.com.


MC Press books written by Chris Peters available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

i5/OS and Microsoft Office Integration Handbook i5/OS and Microsoft Office Integration Handbook
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    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.