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Microsoft's delayed Longhorn operating system appears to be taking a page from the Unix management book by curbing user's administration rights.

Mike Nash, Microsoft's security business and technology unit corporate vice president, has said Longhorn would accord end-users certain rights and privileges apparently ending the concept that everyone using their PC is also the PC's administrator.

Speaking at Microsoft's Worldwide partner conference on Sunday, Nash indicated the architectural change is part of a move to improve security of desktop systems by limiting the ability for end-users to install applications or for malware to take control of a machine, turning it into a zombie.

The move mirrors techniques used in versions of Unix and Linux to create more limited variations of "the God user" or root account. This account provides a single user with total control of, and access to, an entire system's resources. Sun Microsystems, in particular, has touted very sophisticated user access controls - borrowed from Trusted Solaris - with its new Solaris 10 operating system. These controls let government agencies, for example, store information of different classifications on the same computer, as the OS governs who is authorized to see the data.

"In October 2003 someone asked: 'How come, when I go to a Windows machine, everyone has to be an administrator?'," Nash told conference delegates, referring to an incident at Microsoft's partner conference two years ago.

Nash said a key Longhorn feature would be increased "granularity" in administration capabilities "so people need a lower level of privilege to install applications and printers. When a higher level of privilege is required, we can elevate that. You can use Longhorn in a very effective way without being an admin."

Nash also used his presentation to try to disparage claims the open source method of software development produced more secure systems than Windows. "There's a big theory that with open source and more people looking at the source, this will lead to more secure products. We think our approach delivers more benefits," Nash said.

Among those benefits, according to Nash, is Windows XP Service Pack (SP) 2 which he said means users are up to 15 times less likely to become infected by malware than if they simply use XP SP 1 or Windows 2000 professional. Nash said 281m copies of XP 2 have been distributed during the year since launch.

Nash also trotted out figures from the Microsoft-sponsored Security Innovation study published in June that claimed Windows Server 2003 running SQL Server 2000 SP 3 is more secure than Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 3.0 running MySQL and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 running the Oracle 10g database.

The study, part of Microsoft's "Get the facts" campaign, claims SQL Server had zero vulnerabilities over the course of the year compared to seven for MySQL and 30 for Oracle 10g.

In a reference to Oracle's "Unbreakable Linux" advertising campaign, Nash said dryly: "Unbreakable? I think not."®

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