Microsoft offers a view to Vista

People are wondering: Why Vista? I think Microsoft chose this new name for its forthcoming OS carefully, precisely for its banality. It has neither logo presence (as does Mac OS X, with its titanium lettering) nor numerical significance (as would, heaven forbid, Windows 2007). It's like a condo complex deep in California's San Fernando Valley: "Windows Vista: Rent now and enjoy our free pool, view of the parking lot, and unavoidable online content management." You can't hate the name, because it's just too bland.

I wish they had kept Longhorn. At least then I could have had some fun with Boogie Nights jokes. But Windows Vista it is, and last week the folks from Redmond gave us a tour of its fundamentals. Our colleagues at PC World will write about Vista's vivacious upgraded client security, its spine-chilling online content controls, and IE 7 enhancements such as anti-phishing and anti-pharming capabilities.

Here at InfoWorld, though, we're wondering whether it will help the average IT worker. Answer: It will. First, there's Vista's veteran security, which boils down to increased client account protection, more finely tuned audit controls, and nifty features such as data protection with full-volume encryption. Additionally, the prudish Windows firewall will finally swing both ways, and we'll see our first iteration of NAP (Network Access Protection).

NAP embodies a concept that several vendors are chasing, not the smallest of which being Cisco. Put simply, NAP scans clients and ensures that those logging on to the network conform to certain minimal levels of security as defined by that network's administrators: A certain anti-virus program must be installed; anti-virus definitions must be up-to-date; certain Microsoft security patches must be installed; and so forth. If the client fails, it gets dropped into a quarantined zone where it's allowed only the access necessary to bring it into compliance.

What Microsoft couldn't answer was whether it had been working on NAP in conjunction with Cisco. Cisco's version, NAC (Network Admission Control), is in production on the company's smaller router products and will soon be coming out on its entire switch line, if it hasn't already. What happens when you put both NAC and NAP on the same network? Do they play nice, or do you have to kill one for the other? Microsoft didn't know, and Cisco didn't get back to me. I smell a lab test.

What IT folks will like even more than better security, however, is Vista's vital new deployment options. Unlike the product's name, these features are actually attractive, though Symantec Ghost product managers will likely cringe. Voracious Vista will exorcise much of the need for Ghost by incorporating the feature set into a file type called WIM (Windows Imaging). Microsoft didn't stop there -- it actually improved on the concept.

Not only can administrators deploy WIM images remotely, they can modify them offline. Got a new security patch? Call up the WIM image, apply the patch, and save it. No need to reimage the entire configuration. Even better, you can store several images in a single WIM file. So if the Sales, Marketing, and Pretty People departments have nearly identical image configurations, you can save them all in a single WIM file, which will store all common points. That means quite a bit of storage savings -- 50 percent or so -- when compared with doing it one image at a time.

Vista's valuable desktop management features complement WIM as well. You'll have a new Task Scheduler, improved diagnostics (including a host of new client-side built-ins), and a new event logging scheme based on XML for richer feedback. Oh, and of course, the usually promise of fewer reboots.

This only skims the surface of the venerable Vista. And with Microsoft still building much of the new OS, you can be sure there'll be plenty more information to follow. In fact, they'll eventually give me a beta build that's actually stable enough to be worth testing.

In the meantime, it's a promising new platform. And yet, I can't get that revved up about it. Probably because clients paying me to deploy Vista will simultaneously harangue me for "forcing" them to upgrade to "all this new Microsoft stuff." Vista does promise some vivid new features, but with many customers still working to get off Windows 2000, a third new client platform may just be vulgar. A new OS every two years is simply moving the ball too fast for many -- especially the small-to-midsize set. Just ask Windows 2000 users, whose free support for their platform dried up last week. What's our Vista view going to be two years from now when Longerhorn is on the horizon?

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