Microsoft Claims Vista UAC Is 'Misunderstood'

It's safe to say that there are aspects of Windows Vista that many users find annoying, with problems related to application compatibility, system performance, and Vista's User Account Control (UAC) feature topping the list of complaints.

But In a document published Tuesday that's sure to rile many in the 'Vista Sucks' camp, Microsoft insists that the pain some users have experienced is due to misconceptions that exist about certain features in Vista and what makes them tick.

In Microsoft's view, the User Account Control feature in Vista, which has been widely criticized for the nagging alerts it generates, has been unfairly maligned in IT industry circles. "If there's one feature that has received a bad rap it's User Account Control," Microsoft said in the document.

As a security measure, Vista emphasizes that users run with reduced, or Standard User privileges, in order to lower the impact of security exploits by limiting file and registry access by applications on the PC.

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The problem, according to Microsoft, is that third party software developers are still developing applications based on Local Administrator privileges, and UAC has become a scapegoat of sorts because it's designed to limit the functionality of these applications.

"In some cases, prompts are triggered by third-party applications that have not been written to run with Standard User privileges," Microsoft says in the document. "A key goal of UAC in Windows Vista is to help nudge ISVs towards designing applications that function in Standard User mode."

Microsoft's claim that UAC's reputation has been unfairly tarnished is ironic. In February at the RSA 2008 conference, David Cross, a product unit manager at Microsoft who was part of the team that developed UAC, said that Microsoft's strategy with UAC was to annoy users and ISVs in order to get them to change their behavior.

Bob Nitrio, president of RanVest Associates, a system builder based Orangeville, Calif., says UAC "can be very annoying", but understands that Microsoft included it as a measure to boost security. However, without wholesale cases in which XP users are being compromised because of the lack of UAC, it's tough to make a substantial case for UAC, Nitrio said.

NEXT: Why UAC Is Good...

Other solution providers feel that UAC is a key feature that lets inexperienced users avoid making crucial mistakes.

"You want people to think about what they're doing. In XP, people would tend to go into autopilot mode and start clicking 'yes,' 'yes,' 'yes,' and before they knew it, they'd trashed their machine," said Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a Manalapan, N.J.-based solution provider.

"We don't see the dozens of security pop-ups a day that people talk about. For machines that are configured properly, they're few and far between," Harrison said. "When you do get pop-up, it's when you're about to install or delete, or do something that takes more thought and expertise than a typical user might have."

Internet Explorer 7's protected mode, which is akin to UAC for the Web browser, is another source of incompatibilities between Vista and third party line of business applications, according to Microsoft.

Vista represents a significant evolutionary step beyond XP, so there are going to be aspects of it that are going to seem annoying," said Chris Labatt-Simon, president and CEO of D&D Consulting, an Albany, N.Y.-based solution provider.

"However, once third party vendors start writing their software and hardware drivers to support Vista controls, people will realize that these annoyances are actually progressive," said Labatt-Simon.

"Line of business applications haven't been updated to the Vista architectural standard, and hardware manufacturers haven't updated their drivers, so customers are hesitant to move to the platform," said Nitrio.

"The platform shift from XP to Vista is something that third party vendors should have been involved with from the design stage of Vista, but it's expensive to adapt your hardware or software to someone else's standard," added Nitrio.

Microsoft also claims that the notion that Vista runs slower than XP on identical PCs is a fallacy, and exists because Vista works harder and contains more features and functionality than previous versions of Windows. In the document, Microsoft offers a somewhat convoluted explanation for why this is so.

While a search application would consume more processing power during peak loads -- for example when copying a large number of files -- the search service has "far less impact on available computing resources," but takes "a bit more time" to complete these types of tasks, Microsoft noted.

"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," Microsoft said in the document.