Windows Vista Actual Benefits

28Mar08

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Moving drivers from kernel mode to user mode

Ever noticed how many of the ‘crashes’ people experience with Windows systems seem to relate to device driver problems? Currently device drivers load at the ‘kernel mode’ or core operating system level. Under Windows Vista device drivers will load at the ‘user mode’ level. Driver crashes will be able to be restarted, and won’t be able to take the entire system down as easily as they currently do. That change won’t eliminate driver-related problems, of course, but it will certainly have a quite dramatic impact on system stability nevertheless.

Two way firewall.

The Windows Firewall included with Windows XP, and improved with Service Pack 2, brought us a measure of protection and a sense of security. But it’s a ‘one-way street’ which acts on inbound traffic only. If you have Firewall and Antivirus on your system you’re pretty safe from the things they trap. But other nasty intruders get through, and when they do they can ‘phone home’. Traffic in that direction isn’t blocked because, after all, it’s ‘trusted’. You let it be there, didn’t you?

Not the case with the Firewall for Vista, which is a more complete two-way solution. Applications which try to ‘phone home’ are monitored, and only the traffic you permit will be allowed through. That brings a greatly enhanced level of protection to the system.

Receive window auto-tuning.

There are numerous ‘bottlenecks’ to network throughput contained in the implementation of TCP/IP which have been addressed in Windows Vista. One of the more important is changes to the ‘Receive Window Size’ of the TCP/IP ‘stack’.

Windows 2000 saw the receive window (the size of the buffer for incoming data) become scalable. Under Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 the size is ‘controlled’ via a registry value, and is ‘negotiated’ in accordance with the link speed of the sending device and with the requests of the applications being run. Despite having the capacity to ‘scale’ from the default maximum of 64k to 1G, there can still be bottlenecks to network traffic because any change made affects all connections.

Under Windows Vista scaling becomes enabled by default, and allows up to a 16M window size. Auto-tuning continually monitors bandwidth delay and application retrieve rates and makes adjustments accordingly, rather than using a global configuration set in the Registry. Network congestion issues and throughput should see quite an improvement.

GUI enhancements for productivity

The new ‘look’ isn’t all just ‘eye-candy’. Shell improvements are designed with productivity in mind.

On the new Start menu, for example, recently used applications gain more prominence, along with Search. The annoying ‘All programs’ popup is gone. In addition to your personal ‘User’ folders you have a ‘Library’ entry which, via use of the new ‘Virtual folders’ feature, gives you access to cataloguers of such things as the Contacts, Movies, Music, Photos, Documents and Games stored on your system.

‘Live preview’ helps you find what you’re looking far more easily by showing you what the files contain. Vista’s ‘Sidebar’ brings a easy access to settings, system monitoring, monitoring and previews of on-line content and much more to your desktop. ‘Task flip’ simplifies switching between open applications.

Windows Deployment Services (WDS)

I think of WDS (Windows Deployment Services) as a son of Windows 200x’s RIS (Remote Installation Service). Vista’s Key new feature of WDS is that it supports Windows Imaging format (WIM). I have always believed that RIS had a future, well here it is in the guise of WDS. Look out for integration with other services, for example, DHCP – option 60. (Checks on port 67, perhaps it should be called option 67!)

To recap, the idea behind WDS and RIS is that you start with new ‘virgin’ machine with no operating system. When you boot this machine, its PXE network card finds the DHCP server, from there it contacts the WDS (RIS) server and downloads Vista (XP). The killer advantages over Ghost are that you can control the whole process by Group Policy. It is also possible to include applications such as office in the image.

With WDS, you must have faith that this is a good technique, in which case you will enjoy getting it to work. If you prefer Ghost, then good luck to you, but I hope that I have planted the seed that WDS or son of WDS is the way of the future. My belief is that one day Ghost will be seen as an evolutionary backwater along with WINS and the NetBEUI protocol.

Microsoft have other improvements for deploying the Windows Vista clients. If you need to migrate users’ settings, then investigate the improved User State Migration Tool (USMT) and new the PC Migration Assistant. While a fresh installation would always be my first choice, Microsoft are making it easier to upgrade to Vista from XP.

BitLocker Drive Encryption

BitLocker Drive Encryption is a new name for the full-volume encryption feature of Windows Vista. Its crucial feature is that BitLocker is hardware-based. By encrypting the entire Windows system volume, data is better protected than with XP’s file and folder encryption. We are assured that recovery is easy – provided you have administrative credentials.

To get the most from BitLocker remember to buy machines with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Hardware. TPM is an extra microchip on the mother board that stores the passwords, and certificates. Apparently the Microchips cost less than $5 so, it’s not about cost, just making sure you specify TPM 1.2b (or later) when you order your new machine(s).

Vista also features Secure Startup, this foils the old trick of thieves installing a parallel operating sytem in order to steal data. Secure Startup relies on TPM. If you ever had to repair such a machine, then you need recovery keys. Note: BitLocker Drive Encryption is only available in the Ultimate edition of Vista.

ClickOnce

Developers use Visual Studio to make installing programs easier – just ClickOnce. You may have already seen Authenticode messages if you install programs over the internet, ClickOnce combines with UAC (see above), certificates and BITS to provide a fast, easy and secure installation experience. Watch out for the benefits of ClickOnce.

Vista’s Sidebars and Gadgets

Sidebars are in one one minute, out the next. In the final release of Vista Microsoft have hit on the compromise of allowing users to enable of disable these panels. Watch out for a rash of tools that you did not know that you needed!

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft or third parties make utilities, for instance, National Geographic and Wikipedia are making Gadgets that you can download from Microsoft’s official Gadget store. See here for more about Sidebars and Gadgets

Volume Shadow Copy

I missed this first time I looked at Vista for the simple reason that I had forgotten that XP did not have Shadow Copy, it was only present in Windows Server 2003. The advantage of the Shadow copy technology is that it improves backup and enables Vista to create restore points on a volume by volume basis.

AERO Graphics – Replaces XP’s Luna Desktop

Vista’s AERO delivers a new graphics engine to produce stunning new icons, menu and desktop visuals. Vista’s AERO achieves that rare feature of combining work with pleasure. Enjoy the glass visual effects which bring clarity to your world.

Benefits of the New Vista Explorer

With Vista you get a brand new Windows Explorer. You will immediately see the benefit of the upgraded icons, toolbars and navigation structure. You can sense all the ergonomic research that has resulted in the best ever Windows Explorer. Appreciate the enriched file information where smart meets beautiful.

Microsoft Vista’s ‘Searches’ / Virtual Folders

Virtual Folders or ‘Searches’ are part directory and part the result of a file search. One recurring theme in Vista is that way that one new feature enhances another. In this case, it’s a only a tiny point, but the AERO displays virtual folders in blue. Discover the knack of creating your own ‘Searches’ or Virtual Folders.

Windows ReadyBoost

I thought this was an April 1st Joke. The scoffed at the idea that you could plug in USB flash memory and get extra performance out of Vista. It turned out the joke was on me, ReadyBoost really does work especially on older machines with only 256 MB of RAM. Also ReadyBoost is handy for trainers to carry a 1 GB USB memory key. Some training companies are notoriously mean with RAM for machines, demonstrating makes the instructor look like an idiot. ReadyBoost really does work.

A separate feature is SuperFetch memory management technology. This improves on XPs PreFetch and predicts which programs need to be loaded into RAM before you need them!

Yet another performance improvement is Hybrid Hard Disk Drives. To benefit you need standard hard drives which include both rotating media and an integrated cache of NVRAM (non-volatile flash memory). This cache buffers disk writes and improves the battery life of laptop computers. By using the non-volatile cache improves the latency of the standby and resume processes.

Task Dialogs – Windows Network Diagnostics Tool

In Windows Vista task dialogs replaces the error message box. In a nutshell, Task Dialogs include troubleshooters and links to help you cure the problem. Related to Task Dialogs are a new generation of built-in Windows Network Diagnostics Tool. For example, help connecting to a network, or warning of impending disk failure.

Networking

PNRP is the one genuine new technology in Vista

Peer Name Resolution Protocol (PNRP) is like a poor man’s DNS in that it allows hosts to discover one another. PNRP uses the Winsock 2 Namespace Provider API. Apparently PNPR only works on IPv6. Could be used for applications to find and connect with each other.

4 Other Network Technologies that have been extended or improved

  1. WWAN – Requires routers for the ‘Big solution’.
  2. WLAN – Makes indoor connections
  3. VLAN – Allows devices on different LANs to communicate as if they were attached to the same wire. VLANs are based on logical instead of physical connections
  4. Wi-Fi – Uses radio frequencies 2.4Ghz IEEE 802.11g

Improvements for Mobile Computers

To support growing business interest in mobile PCs, such as laptops and tablets, Vista will run better on computers running on battery power and using wireless network connections. For example, a new Mobility Center combines the common controls that users may need to modify when they are on the road.Microsoft has also improved alternative input methods, making incremental yet measurable improvements to Vista’s ink and speech recognition abilities.Vista also supports a new feature for application sharing and real-time communication, Windows Meeting Space. However, Meeting Space supports collaboration only among users running Vista, and it competes with other more strategic Microsoft products, such as Live Communications Server.

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