Misunderstanding Vista

Microsoft has posted a 9-page document on Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista. Apparently these “cause confusion and slow Windows Vista adoption for many folks.” Here they are:

  1. User Account Control
  2. Image Management
  3. Display Driver Model
  4. Windows Search
  5. 64 bit architecture

I thought I did understand User Account Control, but now I’m not so sure. I understand the long-term goal of UAC, which is to move Windows to the position enjoyed by Unix-like operating systems, where users run with limited rights. Fixing this means fixing applications that require local administrator rights; but making third-party app vendors change their practice is hard. UAC takes a multi-pronged approach. It makes it safer to run as local administrator; it makes it possible to run some applications that used to require admin rights without really having those rights; and it is sufficiently annoying that app vendors will feel under some pressure to fix their next release.

This statement caused me to pause:

Enterprises should not run as default in Protected Admin mode, because there are really no benefits—only the pain of prompts. Instead, strive to move users to a Standard User profile.

The highlighting is mine. If there are no benefits, it seems odd that most Vista installations I see are set up in this way. I realise that in this context UAC is not a security boundary. Nevertheless, I figure there are some benefits, in that the user is running most of the time with standard user credentials. If there are no benefits … why does the feature exist?

I’m not sure the Image Management is “widely misunderstood”; it mostly matters only to network administrators whose business it is to understand it. Windows Display Driver Model … again, not sure; I think it is Desktop composition which is misunderstood; people dismiss this as eye-candy, when in fact it “fundamentally changes the way applications display pixels on the screen”, as the referenced article explains.

Windows Search is an interesting one. I think it is misunderstood, but not in the way explained by this new paper. People have questions like, “why does it not index all my files?”

What about performance? In my view, this is far and away the primary problem users have with Vista. It is not in any sense a misunderstanding, however Microsoft spins it. It is bewilderment: why does my new machine, which should be fast, spend so much time spinning its little bagel when I want to get on with my work?

Here’s what this document says:

We’ve heard some of you say that Windows Vista runs slower than Windows XP on a given PC. So what‘s really happening here? First, we need to avoid comparing apples to oranges – Windows Vista is doing a lot more than Windows XP, and it requires resources to conduct these tasks.

It goes on to say that:

On machines configured with the appropriate specifications for their operating system, the speed of most operations and tasks between Windows Vista and Windows XP is virtually on parity. Which is pretty remarkable when you consider one key thing Windows Vista is doing that Windows XP isn’t: indexing for near instantaneous search results for desktop files, even embedded in email messages. The result is users can find information significantly faster (measured in minutes), increasing productivity far in excess of the loss in speed of operations (measured in milliseconds).

Microsoft is off-target here, despite the sleight of hand about “appropriate specifications”. First, search can be a big drain on performance; sorry, not just a few milliseconds. Second, Vista can be dramatically slower than XP, often thanks to poor configuration by OEMs. See Ed Bott’s discussion about fixing a Sony laptop.

There’s recently been discussion about Windows Server 2008, which performs very well, versus Vista, which tends to perform badly. It’s all to do with configuration and disabling unnecessary processes. This is the core of Vista’s problems, not a series of “misunderstandings”.

Update: the document is no longer online. Perhaps it will reappear with amendments?

Further postscript: The Guardian has posted the document here.

6 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Vista”

  1. “because there are really no benefits”

    In an enterprise, that’s true. The goal is to prevent standard users from modifying the system installation without a real admin’s approval. In consumer or small biusiness settings, the user is the admin, so running as a standard user is not an option.

    At least that’s the way I took that.

    As for search, have you installed the Windows Search 4 Preview?


  2. @Ed

    Running as standard user is better, of course. But the question is: if you are running as admin (whether or not in the enterprise) is there any benefit to admin approval mode with elevation prompts? I’m surprised to see a Microsoft paper saying there are no benefits.


  3. I think it’s a poorly written sentence. The key word, if I read it correctly, is “Enterprises should not run as default in Protected Admin mode…” If the user can elevate at any time and do unlimited damage to the system configuration and potentially to the network (what an earlier paragraph in this section calls “the family jewels”), there really are no benefits to the business. The key is the audience. This paper isn’t aimed at end users or small businesses but rather at enterprises. The goal for the enterprise should be for every user to run as a standard user.

  4. @Ed

    Let’s hope the author sees this and clarifies what was meant. Sure, the main point is that users should run as standard users. But when I read “there are really no benefits – only the pain of prompts”, that says plainly that admin approval mode with elevation prompts is no better than old-style admin mode. Perhaps (I don’t altogether agree); but it’s a suprising statement.


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