What's New Since RC1?

While we saw a great deal of changes between our initial review of Windows Vista Beta 2 and Release Candidate 1, it should come as no surprise that there have been far fewer changes between RC1 and the final version we are looking at today. For better or worse, RC1 was the last chance for Microsoft to implement any changes in Vista that were design changes; everything since then has been in the realm of last-minute polish and bug fixes. As a result, certainly Vista is in better shape than ever before, but at the same time it means that design issues we identified have not been resolved.

Given that, prospective users of Vista are going to find that our previous complaints about the User Account Controls still stand. We still find it's a good idea and a major improvement over the lackluster security features of previous versions of Windows, but even with the improvements Microsoft has made to it, it's still too annoying from a power-user perspective.

When Vista first entered widespread public testing about a year ago, a series of screenshots were circulated showing the worst-case scenario for the number of operations required to permanently delete a single file. At the time it was six operations ranging from confirmation of the delete to granting security permissions to empty the recycle bin. To Microsoft's credit they've reduced that somewhat, but we can still replicate that situation and come up with a worst-case scenario that takes four steps. Two of those steps are the required confirmation for deleting the item and then emptying the Recycle Bin, but the other two are security confirmation steps and while it's admittedly nit-picking, it's overly redundant to require two security steps to delete a file; this makes it twice as hard as it is under any previous version of Windows. UAC security will be accepted up to a point, but even one more operation than is necessary is going to quickly cause UAC to end up disabled by those who know how to do it.

Click to enlarge

Similarly, launching an application that requires administrative rights is still more difficult than it needs to be. As we touched upon this briefly last time, with the launch of Vista a lot of common 3rd-party applications will continue to require administrative privileges to run correctly, and it will continue to be this way for some time until everyone has had a chance to retrofit their applications for Vista. Unfortunately, every time one of these applications is launched the user needs to approve the application, and like the deletion scenario this gets increasingly redundant as the same applications are reused day in and day out. A pre-approval method or some other system is desperately needed for Vista's UAC system if the goal is to maximize security while minimizing the number of users disabling these advanced security features. Otherwise there are only so many orange screens that one can stand before UAC becomes a victim of its super-secure design.

One of the few noticeable changes since RC1 has been the driver situation with Vista, which has steadily improved since we first looked at Beta 2. Between the final driver submissions for RTM and a much smarter Windows Update, Vista was able to install drivers for all of our hardware in one of our test systems, other than the driver for a PhysX card. Working drivers were found for our motherboard, video, sound, network, on-board SCSI, and even TV cards. This is likely the high point for Vista as newer devices will ship without drivers built in to Vista, but nonetheless it's a refreshing experience after the amount of work required to completely install a set of drivers on XP. With the ability to load drivers off of a USB drive at installation, it should never be that bad again either.

The one weak spot as far as drivers are concerned continues to be audio and video drivers, but that too has been improving. We'll take a look at later with our benchmarks of Vista, but video performance is much closer to that of Windows XP compared to our first look at Vista, at least as far as DirectX 9 titles go. DirectX 10 and OpenGL are not as clear as there are no DirectX 10 games (and they will require Vista regardless) and AMD is still working the kinks out of their new OpenGL driver for Vista. For audio, earlier concerns about the new audio stack breaking older games has been partially resolved as Creative Labs has released a DirectSound3D-to-OpenAL wrapper that works with some games, showcasing that it's possible to work around the stack changes.

Even with a lengthy preview article, there is still a lot of ground to cover when taking a close look at the final release version of Windows Vista. We have attempted to create a comprehensive look at the new operating system, but even then there are still plenty of items that will have to wait for another day before we can truly evaluate them. The big question that almost everyone is going to want answered is pretty simple: should you upgrade to Windows Vista now or wait awhile longer? That's a question we hope to answer by the time we finish this article, so without further ado let's take a look at some of the new features.

New I/O Features
POST A COMMENT

104 Comments

View All Comments

  • haplo602 - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    Yes I am biased. I am fed up with MS. All the delay was for what purpose ?
    Yes please, point me to the documentation, I'd be glad to learn something.
    Reply
  • vailr - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    A quick look on Newegg shows the least expensive DX 10 cards (all NVIDIA 8800 based) are priced around $400. When can we expect to see DX 10 cards costing: <$200? Reply
  • Brazos - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    I believe that Nvidia is releasing a broader range of directx 10 gpu's in March. They're supposed to be for the low - mid range video cards. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, February 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    BitLocker is the only feature that the Ultimate edition has that no other edition has, but given it requires a Trusted Platform Module to be used...

    Vista Enterprise/VLK also includes BitLocker, it is not a feature unique to Ultimate Edition, but like you say it requires a TPM to be used and if I had a TPM on my mobo, I certainly wouldn't have the hateful chip enabled.

    quote:

    So far however this does not appear to be the case for Vista, as Microsoft has done away with VLK in favor of requiring activation on all copies, with the Enterprise version of Business using a keyserver. The lack of an immediately piratable version of Vista will undoubtedly slow its adoption compared to XP, and the Business versions' popularity will not be as lopsided.

    Before you say that Vista Enterprise is not a copy that any of us are likely to personally choose, because unlike XP it still requires activation, bear in mind that Enterprise edition activation is rather different from other versions and likely to be the first that is cracked indefinitely. Given that you also recommended Vista Business as the preferred version of Vista for experienced users unwilling to pay the extra for Ultimate, that makes Enterprise even more viable as it includes a superset of Vista Business features and the only things it is missing from Ultimate are a few entertainment oriented apps that no one will miss. That's not to say I condone unlicensed use of Vista Enterprise, I'd never say anything like that here, but I think the use of it may be a lot more prelavent than the article suggests.
    Reply
  • stash - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Vista Enterprise/VLK also includes BitLocker, it is not a feature unique to Ultimate Edition, but like you say it requires a TPM to be used and if I had a TPM on my mobo, I certainly wouldn't have the hateful chip enabled.

    BitLocker does NOT require a TPM chip. It can also use a usb flash drive to store the key material.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    BitLocker requires a TPM chip. This confused us at first too when we were working on the article, but the documentation in Vista for BitLocker clearly states a TPM chip is required. If it's a 1.2 chip or higher the key is stored on the chip, otherwise it's stored on the flash drive.

    If it was possible to use BitLocker without a TPM chip, we would have more than likely thrown in some BitLocker benchmarks.
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    You're wrong Ryan. BitLocker does NOT require TPM chip. You can store the decrypt AND recovery keys on a USB FOB. Just go here and read scenario 3:

    http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsVista/en/libr...">http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsVi...57-b031-...
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    Interesting; we looked for something like this when we were doing the prep for this article and came up empty-handed. It's nice to see it's there, though I'm not sure for the reason on why MS would go out of their way to disable this option and not leave any instructions in the Vista help on how to enable it. Thanks for the link. Reply
  • stash - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    Couple of reasons:

    First, it is a hell of a lot more secure to use a TPM to store key material than a USB flash drive. A TPM is essentially a smartcard soldered directly to your motherboard. It is physically and logically tamper-resistant.

    Secondly, BitLocker will only do repudiation checks of the system files with a TPM. When using a TPM. the hashes of certain system files are stored in the TPM. On boot, they are compared and if they have been changed, the user will be notified.

    So, are you going to answer my question about which common 3rd party apps require admin rights to work properly? Cause right now, my impression of that comment is that it is pure FUD.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, February 02, 2007 - link

    I was concerned about this too, but my new issue of MaximumPC shows how to use Vista's BitLocker without a TPM.

    Instead of the TPM holding the security key, you need a thumbdrive to do it instead. Doesn't require a high-capacity one, so any cheapie should do (though I'd choose one with a somewhat bulletproof casing to ensure you never break it and end up screwed).

    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now