1. Increased Security
One of the stated goals of the Windows Vista release is to improve the security of the Windows operating system. To this end, Windows Vista includes a new security model known as User Account Control (UAC), which represents a shift from the traditional Windows user privilege model. It aims to improve the Windows standard user experience by reducing or eliminating the threat of malware, which has grown to epic proportions in the last few years. In spite of antivirus and anti-spyware software and firewalls, even a careful user can be burned by malware. Infected downloads or e-mail attachments can render a computer unusable and lead to several hours spent restoring the system.
Under UAC, all Vista users, including those with administrative rights, interact with their PCs as nonadministrators (that is, standard users) while performing common tasks. Interacting with the operating system as a standard user was nearly impossible at times with previous versions of Windows because standard user accounts were often too restrictive to be used with most application software. As a result, the majority of Windows users work with the system as administrators to implement many operations, such as installing software and printers, changing power settings, and even changing the time zone, all of which require administrator rights. Some applications even fail under a limited-user account because they were created with the expectation that the user would have access to protected directories and registry keys.
Under Vista, only users with administrative privileges can execute security-sensitive operations such as software installation. When you initiate an action requiring administrative rights, such as software installation, you are first prompted to confirm your action (or you are asked for an administrator password if you are not an administrator). At the same time, UAC also changes the privileges required for many common tasks, such as changing the time zone, power settings, and installing approved devices, so nonadministrator users can perform those tasks.
While the security changes in Vista will help prevent viruses and other unwanted software from gaining control of a PC, it requires an adjustment on the part of the typical Windows user accustomed to complete control of a PC. In the future, all Windows users will need authorization from an administrator to install software on a PC running Vista.
2. Improved Search
Searching for information in previous versions of Windows was often clunky and difficult. In Vista, the new Instant Search feature provides improved search capabilities similar to those found in other separate search tools such as Windows Desktop Search. Files are indexed based on metadata, and search results can generate dynamically as you add more search terms to the search parameters. To make searching easier, Microsoft has added search boxes to the start menu, Windows Explorer, and several of the applications included with Vista.
You can also save search information to quickly query again later, effectively creating virtual folders containing related documents. By default, the Instant Search indexes only a few folders, such as the start menu, the names of files you have opened, the documents folder, and e-mail messages.
3. 64-Bit Option
Microsoft will introduce both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista, which have identical features. Both versions can run 32-bit application software such as National Instruments LabVIEW. On the 64-bit version of Vista, this occurs automatically without any need for user configuration through an operating system abstraction layer known as Windows on Windows (WOW64). However, driver software, which runs in the kernel, must be 64-bit.
National Instruments will provide 64-bit hardware drivers after Vista is available in 2007.
4. .NET-Based API
Developers creating software for Windows are accustomed to interacting with the operating system through calls to the Win32 application programming interface (API). In Windows XP, Win32 is the most direct way to programmatically interact with Windows. In Windows Vista, there is a new interface for interacting with the OS – .NET Framework 3.0 (formerly known as WinFX). Now based on Microsoft .NET technology, this interface was completely redesigned to be easier to use and more consistent across all Windows Vista features. However, if you have any existing applications that call into Win32, don’t fret. Your applications should continue to work just as they did before thanks to Microsoft backward compatibility.
5. Improved Visual Effects
For the average user, the most noticeable change in Vista will likely be the eye-catching visuals that permeate this release. While this aspect of Vista is not as essential for most engineers and scientists, it makes for a more pleasant and intuitive user experience in many cases. Two of the biggest visual enhancements are Windows Aero and Windows Gadgets.
Windows Aero (which stands for authentic, energetic, reflective, and open) is the new visual style in Vista designed to be cleaner, more powerful, and more visually appealing than previous versions of Windows. One example of the Windows Aero design is translucent edges found on all windows and user interfaces running under Vista. Another is the completely revamped Windows-Tab view, which makes it easier to find the open application for which you are looking.
Another interesting feature is the Windows Sidebar, a new panel on either the right side (default) or the left side of the Windows desktop. The Sidebar is an engine for Desktop Gadgets, which are mini-applications you can use to control external applications and simultaneously display different information such as the system time and Internet-powered features such as weather feeds. Desktop Gadgets can run on either the Windows desktop or the Windows Sidebar.
Windows Vista features several new noticeable visual effects, including this completely revamped Windows-Tab view of open software applications.
To take advantage of the new Windows Vista visualization features, you must meet or exceed the following system requirements:
• 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
• 1 GB of system memory
• DirectX 9-compatible graphics processor, with a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver, and a minimum of 128 MB of video RAM
• 40 GB hard drive with 15 GB free space
LabVIEW Product Marketing Manager
This article first ran in the October 3, 2006, issue of NI News.