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Five misunderstood Vista features

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Microsoft has posted a nine-page document on Five Misunderstood Features in Windows Vista [unavailable for download since Tim wrote this, but touched on in the Windows Vista team blog here - Reg Dev ed]. 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 emphasis is mine. If there are no benefits, it seems odd that most Vista installations I see are set up in this way. I realize 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 that 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".

This article originally appeared in ITWriting.

Copyright © 2008, ITWriting.

A freelance journalist since 1992, Tim Anderson specializes in programming and internet development topics. He has columns in Personal Computer World and IT Week, and also contributes regularly to The Register. He writes from time to time for other periodicals including Developer Network Journal Online, and Hardcopy.

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