by July 16, 2006 0 comments

Over the past half year since the first public beta of Vista rolled out, we
have been looking in detail at the various aspects of this new client OS and
exploring if it merits a switch over from the tried and tested Windows XP. Last
month, we’d promised to take a look at Beta 2 that was going through the
Microsoft compile farms just as we hit the press and that’s what we’re going
to do this time. Since the time that beta became available to a wider but still
restricted testing audience, a lot has happened out there too, which we shall
talk about as well.

5308 vs 5384
Build 5308 was the Feb CTP and the 5384 came out in May. There are several
significant improvements in the new build. Some of them are the new UIs for a
lot of things, especially what were annoying things in 5308 for the desktop
user. Some of these include dialog and message boxes that have been reworked to
changes in the way the UI responds to different tasks. Then there are absolutely
new things such as boot menus, services, and knick-knacks here and there that
make life easier in Vista.

IT managers
Vista Beta 2, should you really consider the upgrade next year?
vista beta 2

New boot screen
Two things are new here. One, Vista no longer calls your instance of XP or other
operating systems as a ‘legacy’ instance. Instead you see ‘Earlier version
of Windows’. Then, there is a second menu displayed below the OS selection.
This new menu currently has only one item: Memory Diagnostic. It directly
launches the Memory Diagnostic tool and checks for errors in your RAM. Results
are displayed immediately after the system reboots into your regular desktop.

Efficient disk management
The Disk Administrator includes options to expand and shrink volumes. While you
can shrink most volumes, you see the Expand option only for volumes that are
adjacent to free spaces. You will see the Expand option for the last NTFS volume
on every disk, this is because of the 2-8 MB free space resulting from the
creation of a new NTFS volume. This means you no longer need to install and use
costly third party software to do this.

New in

  • Deployment can be done using the
    Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) available with the May CTP. This is
    version 4.4 of the tool and adds Office 2007 slipstream installation
    capability. You can download this at:
    for free.
  • Windows Deployment Service will be
    added soon when Longhorn Server debuts for remote deployment via PXE
    boot environment.
  • Drivers are separated into different
    groups according to required privilege levels so that they run with
    optimal and minimum required permissions.
  • Network Access Protection will be
    fully available when Longhorn Server debuts and this will be a server
    enforced policy environment to isolate systems on a network when they
    do not meet safety and security requirements.

Privilege elevation
Remember the UAC privilege elevation dialog that comes up every time you need
higher account authorization to do something? Well, now once that box is on your
screen, you cannot do anything else before selecting an option from the UAC box.
The desktop is blacked out with a bitmap overlay and you can no longer work on
something else, selecting to respond to the elevation request later. This is
supposed to prevent malware from selecting one of the options on the screen.

The Task Scheduler console (new to Vista) lists a number of pre-defined tasks, classified by the part of the system they affect

New services
There are a number of new services in this build vis-à-vis the 5308. Some of
these are: Block Level Backup Engine, CNG Key Isolation, Function Discovery
Resource Publication, Health Key and Certificate Management, Microsoft Digital
Identity Service, TPM Base Service and four services for the Media Center. We
shall have more on some of these services for you in later articles on tuning,
optimizing or making better use of your Vista systems.

Better networking
One aspect of Vista we’ve been cribbing about in our previous installments of
this series has been Vista’s network quirks. Build 5384 has an improved
network presence detection and can detect if it is on an active LAN or Internet
connection more intelligently. And… at last they’ve added the activity
lights (the winking lights on the network icon in your system tray) back on.
But, it is turned off by default, so you need to right-click on the network icon
there and turn it on.

Easier transfer
Windows Easy Transfer has become a lot easier to use, with more options to
install the program on the other system, resume and save information at. Butone
of its options is flummoxing to the new user. ‘Windows Easy Transfer USB Cable’
sounds like you get such a cable with your copy of Vista! This is a kind of
cross-over USB cable that can directly connect two computers. It can also resume
broken transfers more easily and you don’t need to restart the operation from
the beginning.

Bug status
Through our series, we’ve pointed out a few bugs, annoyances and
problems. How far have these issues been resolved? Here’s a quick scan:
Bug Nature Status
UAC prompting happens too frequently Annoyance Graded prompting and less intrusive. Also, the background is blacked out till you click on an option in the prompt 
Administrators and the first user of Vista were not treated at par with counter-part accounts on XP Severe / Can break applications This is now changed. First user now is a de-facto administrator just like on XP
Changing the dates in the Reliability Monitor does not work Annoyance Only the dates for which information is available is displayed and you can change dates to view its report
Wizard when you click on New in the Diagnostic Console is non functional Severe The wizard now works
There are no pre-defined data sets to use in the Diagnostic Console Non critical Predefined data sets are there. You can also reconfigure them
There are no reports available from the Diagnostics console Non critical Unchanged
Cannot add new things to monitor in the Windows Firewall console Severe Unchanged
No way to recover from errors when using the Easy Transfer wizard Severe Fixed, now there are lots of options
Taskbar on auto-hide does not show when you do a mouse-over on a program button on the bar Non-critical Unchanged
There are no details in the network diagnosis screen Non-critical Unchanged
VPN connections disappear after configuration Severe Fixed, now you can access it from the Network Center’s Manage Connections or Connect To menus
No prompts to setup an Administrator password during setup, and default password is blank Critical Unchanged

Task scheduler
We have known the task scheduler from Windows 95 onwards. But this one is
stupendously larger in scope. The way to configure it now is through an MMC
snap-in and this is available right inside your Computer Management console.
Now, you can set up triggers for the task to be launched, pre-launch conditions
(like what kind of power the system is on, whether the CPU is idle or not and
network presence), repetition and on-demand launches. You can also set up what
programs to run as part of this task. To set this up, you can create the task as
a basic or an advanced task (the difference is the number of options that the
wizard will let you configure).

Dialog boxes
Previously giant dialog boxes with a ton of information have now been condensed
in true Microsoft style, giving as less information as possible in the interest
of not confusing the average-Joe user. For instance, there was this conflict
resolution dialog that came up earlier when you copied, moved or renamed files
while the source folder had a file or folder with a matching name. The 5308 box
gave a lot of information for both and three choices at the end (keep both, keep
the one in the source and keep the one in the target). Now, this has been
simplified with a smaller box that simply tells the user that a conflict exists
with a choice to continue or cancel.

When the user selects a large number of files and drags them to a different
location, previous versions of whatever, Windows displayed all the icons making
it tough to target the copy/move to a particular folder. Now, only one icon
appears with an overlaid number indicating how many objects are being
transferred. Similarly, animations for different transfer or processing
information have been subtly changed.

Sidebar gadgets
Compared to the 4-5 sidebar gadgets that were available in the 5308, the new
build bundles a lot more. Now you have a calendar, clock, CPU meter, currency
converter, feed viewer, feed monitor, notes, number puzzle, picture puzzle,
recycle bin, slide show, stock watcher and a timer. The difference between the
feed viewer and monitor is that a feed viewer is a continuous scroller for your
RSS feeds while feed monitor displays just what is changed. The timer is an
interesting gadget. You can drag and drop it onto any activity (like a file
copy, slide show, whatever) and the timer keeps track of the time that task has
spent. When the window is closed or the task completes, it shows you the time

Around the globe
Till recently, the stables of Redmond had been quiet on both Vista as well as
Office going by the scale the promotions were for the last releases of the
client OS and the office suite. Now, they seem to have started on a blitzkrieg
with events and training sessions being conducted around the world. The Office
family for instance is being debuted bits at a time, because they say, its too
huge to be understood all at once. Both the OS and the suite have undergone
changes not only in the fundamental way we work with them, but also in the
combinations of SKUs available to customers.
Training sessions are being organized at various locations around the globe for
continuously devolving groups, in an attempt to spread the word. This author was
hosted at Singapore for a two-day workshop on Vista (Beta 2) and Office 2007
where both of them were discussed under varying degrees of NDA. In parallel,
Windows developers are being trained in the nuances of writing code for Vista,
its new paradigms whether in its spanking new ‘Presentation Foundation’ or
working with the UAC’s idiosyncrasies. The expectation is that when the
OS/platform goes RTM later this year or early 2007, enough information would
already be out there for those who need to decide, either way.

The verdict
We have been working with it during the course in a production environment, on a
network, attached to a Win 2003 domain, with all the regular office productivity
software and messaging tools. This has been one long review. But the new client
OS designates a departure on many fundamental fronts in the way we do things.
While the repercussions of what they have got right or wrong will be visible
only a year from now at the very least, one thing is clear. Enterprises need not
tumble and tussle to get a copy and deploy it across their infrastructure as
soon as it’s released. There are many features in Vista that can only be used
with Windows Longhorn Server, which will be released about two years from now.
So Vista’s true potential will only be realized then. Till that time, it’s
good old Win XP SP2 at the desktop, which is tried, tested, and your
applications know how to work with it.

Sujay V Sarma

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