Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Microsoft Windows Vista beta 1 Preview Report

I was at the recently ended Longhorn Lab event at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.

The event was a revelation, affording me an unprecedented and very detailed look at the forthcoming next generation of the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for Microsoft Windows Vista, nee Longhorn.

At this event, Microsoft made privy to us unprecedented access to Windows Vista and the development process of the world’s leading operating system. This opening of the kimono also extended to Internet Explorer 7, the RSS capabilities of Windows Vista, and the Xbox 360.

This preview will delve into the non-NDA’d information that Logikworx feels you would need to possess in order to adequately prepare for the Borg-like inevitability of the release version of Longhorn, Microsoft Vista. (If you had attended the very informative legal briefing by the gorgeous Senior Veep from Microsoft Legal, you would understand NDA’s better.)

This report will use Vista as the name of the operating system. All references to Longhorn will be explicit.

Microsoft has three primary goals for Vista:

Connected – this OS is built for the networked and internet age, with most of the communications stacks totally rebuilt or beefed up. For example, the internetworking underpinnings of Vista are built to the new IPv6 specs, as opposed to IPv4 most everywhere else.

ClearVista will introduce new levels of usability and clarity to the user experience, a position Microsoft is not about to cede to anyone else.

Confident – Right now, Windows, in all its client iterations are blamed, mostly unfairly, for the myriad number of security failures. Vista will attempt to remedy this by being, right out of the box, the most secure operating system Microsoft has ever produced, by design. This also includes all server products.

Based on my preview of beta 1, Microsoft is well on its way to facilitating all of the stated primary goals.

This review will be broken into the following six parts: The UI, and how it was derived, beta 1/OS fundamentals, IE7, RSS & Windows Vista, my hands-on experience with beta 1, and my conclusion.

Windows Vista User Experience
When it was released, Windows XP boasted the advanced User Interface anywhere, bar none! OS X 10 only surpassed it in the past few, and that lead added to in the past year with the release of OS X ‘Tiger’.

All that is about to change. Vista will utilize Aero with the new Avalon graphics subsystem to create ‘Glass’, a UI that has to be seen to believe.

We were fortunate to be briefed by the director of the Windows Vista User Experience team who showed us the amazing amount of work done, over the years, that culminated in ‘Glass’. Suffice it to say, this product has the oomph factor to rev up your adrenaline. And rev it up fast.

In Aero, and the ‘Glass UI’, Microsoft selected effortless usability over features, and, from what I saw, reduced a trend normally associated with Microsoft products: feature bloat.

The sleek, new minimalist interface excites you immediately with its simplicity, with gobs of real estate for the inclusion of metadata in file information. ‘Glass’ also virtualizes the data store, allowing you to manipulate your data, regardless of the physical location of said data on your system.

Avalon, Aero, and Glass encompass several more improvements that I cannot share with you at this time – think of the admonishment of the Ms. Legal VP. Be rest assured, however, that as soon as I can, the information will be passed along.

Short version only. The Vista UI and UE subsystems have their origins in work started before Windows XP was released. Yes, as far back as then, incorporating lessons learned along the way.

Windows Vista beta 1 OS Fundamentals
In released Windows Vista literature, Microsoft identified three goals, previously mentioned above: connected, clear, and confident. A look into the OS will show how they have tried to accomplish these goals.

From the get-go, Windows Vista will be on patrol. It will incorporate anti-malware scanning for new installations, and upgrades from previous versions of Windows. It will also allow for a secure startup, employing full volume encryption of drive contents.

Windows Vista’s improved process threat modeling, employing intense code reviews and code scanning, will help in the isolation of the OS, and provide greater resiliency against malware attacks. Windows Vista will also include better hardware detection.

Windows services will be greatly hardened, with user-configurability of most services a la carte.

The built-in anti-malware capability will provide cleaning and block behavior exploits of the system.

Another welcome feature of the operating system is a restart manager. The Windows Vista team has a stated goal of 50% fewer restarts during/after security updates; the restart manager will tasked with this goal.

There has been a rewrite of the internal communications stack to the IPv6 specs, allowing for greater headroom and security.

For consumers. Secure startup is one of the features of Windows Vista apart from the above. Parental controls are extremely beefed up; with the parent/administrator of the system have a very granular control over the use of the computer system. Browser security lockdown is standard.

For the enterprise. In addition to the above, Windows Vista has improvements aplenty for the enterprise. Windows Vista includes a client base security scan agent, audit controls, and network access protection. Firewall/IPSEC integration, Smart cards deployment, and pluggable crypto are also added.

Administrative rights are greatly improved with user account protection and hardware-based secure startup fully integrated.

Deployment. As the primary business client worldwide, any improvement to Windows must include improvements in deployment, reducing budgetary costs. I am pleased to report to you that in this aspect, Windows Vista really shines!

A goal of the Windows Vista team was for faster and more reliable deployment. Windows vista will be able to meet this by employing an integrated suite of deployment tools, combining a comprehensive best-practices guide, better application compatibility, and a new tool to help reduce the number of deployment images requires over various configurations, greatly reducing costs.

This tool will use a new file-based format, WIM. This is a hardware-independent format, allowing for multiple images and is bootable. You can make a non-destructive upgrade of the operating system, and each media can contain either a single instance, or compressed multiple instances. Extensive modularization is built-in, with the OS to be deployed built out of interdependent modules; allowing for the addition or removal of drives, patches, and languages on the fly. This image customization will let an enterprise create a single, worldwide deployment image. The setup manager also uses offline image servicing.

Internet Explorer 7 (IE7)
An integral piece of Windows Vista is Internet Explorer 7, or IE7. IE7 will be built into Windows Vista and a beta 1 version for Windows XP (SP2 only), will be released coincident with the release of Windows Vista beta 1.

Most of the improvements to IE7 lie beneath the hood. However, the UI is improved with a basic implementation of tabbed browsing in beta 1.

IE7 will operate in protected mode, i.e., it is a low-rights program, disallowing errant and malicious programs the opportunity to crash the system. When IE7 crashes, it, and it alone will be terminated, protecting the underlying operating system.

Another new feature in IE7 is the phishing filter. When used in conjunction with a service Microsoft has developed, the filter will seek information about hyperlinks in web pages from the service and present the user with an option to either continue, or to go back. A much needed tool in these times.

More information will be forthcoming as more time is spent with IE7.

Windows Vista & RSS
In a briefing by the Lead Program Manager for RSS on the Windows Vista team, we saw how RSS and Atom feeds have become assimilated into Windows Vista.

Coupled with the †extensions Microsoft developed and virtually gave away, feed syndication will move away from the somewhat clunky implementation it is today, to a more closely-coupled part of a user’s day.

When new applications are developed to take advantage of this feed syndication integration, a richer level of relevant information will be presented to the uses, improving the user experience.

Microsoft developed some extensions to RSS and published them under the Creative Commons license, virtually placing them in the public domain.

Hands-on with Windows Vista beta 1

After the technical presentations, we got down-and-dirty, with Windows Vista beta 1.

The first thing that strikes you is the ‘Glass’ user interface. That baby is so cool, you will want to take it home! Moving to navigation, I was impressed at how fast, for a beta 1 product, the system snapped to it. The icons looked great and the control panel was populated by several new options, giving the system administrator greater control over more aspects of the system over Windows XP.

Windows Explorer has also been vastly improved, with data files using metadata to virtualize the physical location of the files. You can also associate files and manipulate the in an almost spreadsheet-like manner, taking the drudgery from file keeping.

Search is also enhanced, permeating virtually aspect of the OS. It better be, since the virtualization of data file location demands a capable search mechanism to locate items.

The stability of the OS build, the build# I would not reveal here, was also very striking. We were allowed to use the systems without chaperones, showing the confidence of the development team in their product. They had nothing to fear. In all, a very good showing.

Conclusion

This visit to Longhorn Lab went way deeper than PR fluff; it revealed details about the thought and development processes that have gone into, are going into, and will go into the Windows Vista product before it is RTM’d.

Windows Vista shows that Microsoft, as usual, has done what no other market-leading company has done before: adapt. Microsoft has learned a lot from the lambasting Windows, and its reputation, have been getting in the press. As a result, they have responded with a product that will be able to overcome the bad press, and move the users back to the confident place they were before all the issues with security, an outdated UI, and usability come to fore.

If Windows Vista’s development follows the targeted path faithfully, there isn’t any reason why the product will not be the greatest thing since, well, Windows 95.

For that, the only demons Microsoft has to slay would be the internal demons of software quality and a lack of clarity in product segmentation, branding, and marketing.

This was the final Longhorn Lab event. My assumption is that future events will be called Vista Lab events.

No comments: