Microsoft Vista: The Promise and the Reality

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OK, let's review. New operating system releases pop up like buttercups in the spring. We've all seen it before, and with each of these events, there's denial, resistance, and, at some point, reluctant acceptance. This trip around that block will be no different from our other excursions over that track, but there is a new twist, owing to Vista's way of handling software licensing.

What Your Colleagues Are Saying

There's a lot of buzz surrounding this new release of the Windows operating system. The Internet is full of it. Further, most of the talk is not all that kindly toward Vista. Briefly, here's the chatter:

  • New operating system—The primary concern among IT professionals and just plain folks is that Vista is a completely rewritten operating system. This makes people nervous. Just when Windows XP, under Service Pack 3, is considered to be Microsoft's most stable and secure OS ever, that comfortable old rug is being pulled out from under us in favor of an entirely new system. In Vista's defense, Microsoft reports that 5 million early adopters have had access to beta Vista systems, and the release build of the OS has the benefit of all that exercise.
  • Hardware compatibility—A close second criticism is hardware compatibility. Many XP-capable machines do not have all of the hardware present that Microsoft recommends for Vista (1 GB of memory, a high-end video card, a fairly quick processor, and lots of disk space.) You may still be able to run Vista if you're willing to forgo Vista's new glassy look, however.
  • Software vendor protection mechanisms—In the name of security, Vista bends over backward to ensure that administrative functions are not inadvertently executed. This is probably good for the individual user but can be a pain in the neck for administrators of large systems.
  • Software compatibility—Without much effort, I found a dozen reports of compatibility problems with Vista, among them problems with Lotus Notes and some anti-virus systems.
  • Anti-trust problems in Europe—Microsoft expects litigation in Europe regarding the bundling of associated systems with Vista.
  • Drivers, iPod software, and games—Some of these don't work with Vista.
  • Anti-virus applications—Reports about these not working are mostly about programs that access the Windows kernel.
  • Price
  • Benefit—Most of the benefit for upgrading to Vista goes to the software producers, not the consumers.
  • Upgrade Process—The word is that an upgrade can take three or four hours, if possible, and will require a clean install if not.

Many users are suggesting their colleagues wait "until the bugs have shaken out." Others don't see a need to fix something that's "not broke." Yet others feel that Vista doesn't have enough new features to merit going through an upgrade. Finally, the most expressive critics are suggesting that Vista is really more beneficial to Microsoft and others who sell software than it is to us.

The Good News about Vista

  • Vista is more secure. Certainly that's true, and Microsoft has made great strides in this regard, but no OS is completely secure, especially one used on 95% of the world's PCs. Already, a few minor security problems in Vista have been identified (like a reported exposure through Windows' voice recognition software currently getting attention), and Microsoft is taking steps to solve them. Further, Vista still requires an add-on anti-virus package and firewall protection.
  • Admittedly, the myriad of security schemes set in place by various legitimate software providers needs to be streamlined, and Microsoft has pledged its attention to developing a cooperative mechanism to make networked computing more convenient, while retaining a high level of security.
  • Vista promises an enhanced "computing experience." Vista has a new transparent, shiny appearance called "Aero Glass" that allows you to see underlying windows. Vista also has a more intuitive interface and better thumbnails (they're not just for graphics files anymore).
  • The new Windows OS also has improved features like a better search system, new Windows Mail (a replacement for Outlook Express), a new contact management program, and a new task management system called Windows Calendar.
  • Other hardware companies, HP for one, say they are ready for Vista and have capable support in place.
  • The User Account Control (UAC) feature is touted by Microsoft as something that will protect a rightful owner of licensed software from loss through theft. Critics of UAC suggest that this technology protects those who sell software more than those who consume it.
  • Comparing prices for equivalent versions, Vista is about the same price as Windows XP was five years ago. Windows offers a "Vista Ultimate" version that has no XP equivalent and costs about $59 more.

Vista Is Coming Anyway

Sure, there will be moaning and griping about Vista from some users, and there will be high praise and appreciation for it from others. In the end, more than 90% of us will be running Vista within a year. The influences that determine these things are too durable and ubiquitous to be resisted for very long. In the end, Windows Vista will roll over us like a slow-moving tsunami.

Also, people like new things. When a slick new operating system is released, there's a certain allure in being on the advancing edge of technology. (And after all, what else are two IT professionals going to discuss while riding together in a golf cart?)

Some have claimed that they are just going to stick with XP. You can't stand still, however. Even though Microsoft has pledged to sell XP until spring 2007 and support it until 2014, the mechanisms of operating system rollout are well-established. Even as I write this, there's a shortage of new PCs that come with XP. Seems the vendors wanted to close out their inventories of XP machines, and consequently the cupboard is now bare.

And think about it at a personal level. Suppose your old laptop (18 months old or so) must be replaced. OK, down to the discount computer store to see what's on sale. After doing a little comparison shopping, you see that, gee, there's a new feature on laptop A and another new feature on laptop B, but admit it: You're going to buy the Vista operating system either way, without even thinking about it. Yeah, I admit it, too.

At the business level, where IT professionals have a department to run, the most compelling reason to move to Vista is the new security measures, but not much else. In some circles, in fact, it's suggested that Vista, because of its sheer newness, represents more potential for fresh security breaches to emerge than does the veteran Windows XP, so these people are going to stay with XP. In reality, I'm afraid, these poor folks will do well to just resist Vista until service pack 1 is out.

A buttercup the size of Microsoft can't be ignored. You're going to have to knuckle under if you're going to continue to be a Windows user. Your alternative is to enter the open-source world, where there are no restrictions. This track, like that of the independent truck driver, may be the open range of business applications, but you're on your own out there. It's your choice.

Sometimes, OS releases drive hardware upgrades. When this happens, there is always resistance. (Geez, remember the "I'm staying 36 forever!" button?) The reasons are always the same ("We're waiting for the bugs to shake out..." or "Our systems don't have enough horsepower to run the new OS...").

Microsoft claims that the minimum specifications for Vista are realistic. According to reports flooding the Internet, running Vista on a PC that has only the minimum hardware present "is like riding a bicycle on the Interstate." Sure, you can go down the road but certainly not at top speed.

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. In practice, Microsoft has taken the security high road. Many things that have been transparent under XP—and about which you are not asked to make decisions—are reconfirmed under Vista. You'll be asked to agree to this and that, choose whether or not to import this configuration or that account, etc. —with several restarts in between. My own installation went fairly well, but there were some vague areas where a given step seemed to be repeated.

What About Linux?

Each time Microsoft rolls out a new operating system, the thought comes to mind that this may be enough motivation to finally take a look at the free, open-source OS: Linux. And on each of these occasions, Linux has gotten better. Linux, with its various desktops, may be friendly enough to non-computer science types now to make the transition effort worthwhile, at least for some of your systems.

If I were an IT manager grappling with these decisions, I would take a long look at Linux at this point. Microsoft needs time to identify bugs in Vista and to produce the first service pack. An evaluation period for Linux would buy me some time and would further my knowledge of this OS. It could be that Linux has real potential within my shop and, being free, would certainly appeal to management.

Vista from the Developer's Perspective

So what about us Windows developers? Well, Vista represents mostly good things. Microsoft has expressed the intent to form a renewed connection with Windows programmers and to make our lives easier. Toward this end, MS has made the base Vista operating system all-inclusive of platform support mechanisms like these:

  • The .Net Framework Version 3.0 (formerly known as WinFX) includes the new managed-code version of the Windows API. This is important because we .Net programmers have been "playing outside the sandbox" each time we access the native Windows function calls (a dangerous practice in today's perception.) Now we'll feel more confident that our programs will do no harm.
  • Part of the .Net Framework, the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF, formerly known as "Avalon") is the graphical user interface subsystem. This feature provides a degree of separation between the program's front-end and the business logic rules that are operating underneath. WPF is designed to work in concert with XAML (say "zammal" and think "Extensible Avalon Markup Language"). XAML is Microsoft's new UI and transaction-centered extension to XML (but you can expect it to become a cross-industry standard). Those who have worked with WPF hold it in high praise because the trick UI features of Vista are suddenly available to the application programmer.
  • Windows Communication Foundation (WCF, formerly known as "Indigo") supports communications between programs. Reminiscent of the old COM technology, WCF allows programs to marshal resources across process boundaries. That is, programs can be written to communicate with each other and, as a result, can coordinate their efforts.
  • The .Net 3.0 Framework is backwardly compatible with the 2.0 version of the .Net Framework. This means that we can be confident that the applications we built for that platform will be supported under Vista without annoying and inconvenient downloads and installs.

What Vista Really Represents

What's really significant in this latest release from Microsoft is the implicit change in direction that Vista represents. Microsoft and other software providers are well aware of how much revenue they're losing through software piracy. If these companies take a hardline approach and start turning the screws to us to force us to pay for all the software we use, they'll suffer the consequence of all that ill will. You can almost hear it now—the clamor over Microsoft's heavy-handed control of almost all the world's personal computers. Instead, Microsoft must play it cool and let concern for security advance its agenda.

We will adopt this operating system in more than 90% of our machines, and this event will represent the point where "wildcatting" started to come to an end. The days of unrestricted software are over. The official line (the same one taken so frequently) is "if you've paid for all the benefits you're receiving from commercial software (i.e., you're properly licensed,) then you have nothing to worry about." And in this regard, they're right. The days of pirating the Windows OS are coming to a close.

UAC quietly ushers in a new mindset in the relationship between software producers and software consumers. Nevertheless, we will tacitly look the other way as this, the first overture of controlled software licensing, is advanced. If you're willing to pay for all the software you use—as many audited businesses do—then UAC is a good thing, venerated under the umbrella of "security."

On the other hand, if you're trying to rightfully transfer your Vista OS license to your new replacement PC and have to get Microsoft's permission to do so, there'll be great hate and discontent. But this is the direction we're going. Get used to it, and get your checkbook out.

Chris Peters has 26 years of experience in the 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 The i5/OS and Microsoft Office Integration Handbook, The AS/400 TCP/IP Handbook, AS/400 Client/Server Programming with Visual Basic, and Peer Networking on the AS/400 (MC Press). He is also a nationally recognized seminar instructor and a lecturer at Eastern Washington University. Chris can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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

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

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