Analyst: Vista's Security Will Be Pain In The Neck

Although Microsoft touts Vista as its most secure operating system ever and is relying on security as a prime marketing message to corporations, the Yankee Group's Andrew Jaquith sees it as somewhat of an albatross.

"Microsoft's predicated its 400 million desktops within 24 months on three things," said Jaquith, a senior analyst with the Boston-based firm. "One is that corporate and consumers will buy a lot of PCs, two that they'll be interested enough in Vista to run it on those machines, and three, once they run it, they won't have a negative reaction.

"Numbers one and three, I think, are trouble spots."

But while Jaquith sees the first of the three as a stumbling block -- "Vista just won't run acceptably on a machine that's more than a year old, so Microsoft's saying you can't get the extra security unless you buy a new PC" -- it's the third that could be the deal breaker.

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"Anytime you put in a new security system, you're asking users to make changes," he said. But the shift in Vista, which Jaquith characterized as the first major security modifications since Windows NT, will require a huge alteration in how people interact with Windows.

"In the Windows world, there are few limits on what a user can do."

That's part of the problem, says Microsoft, which has instituted a feature in Vista dubbed "User Account Control" which takes a least-privilege approach to changes made to the OS. Many current Windows users run the operating system in administrator mode, which although convenient, leaves the system open to attack by hackers and spyware creators, who can easily install their malicious software. User Account Control (UAC) figures to lock this down, and will require a user password for many common chores, including software installation.

Trouble is, said Jaquith, Microsoft's gone off the deep end with its implementation of UAC.

"It's a real Chatty Cathy. The alerts are non-stop. Even simple tasks such as opening Control Panel applets require administration credentials or consent."

Jaquith criticized Microsoft's engineers for passing the buck to users under the guise of "choice," rather than making the tough decisions themselves about what should be sensible defaults. "That's a dodge," he said. Putting the burden on users' shoulders will probably do exactly what Microsoft doesn't want: make them ignore the warnings. "Users will be slapping the OK button in those dialogs like they do the snooze button on the alarm clock," Jaquith said. "It's an inelegant copy of [the rights management in] Mac OS X," he added. "On the Mac, users are alerted to important events, like installing software, and the alerts appear for the average user maybe once a week. The difference between being hassled once a week and being hassled every five minutes is dramatic."

UAC will be one of the things users rebel against, Jaquith believes, one of the prime factors in making Vista a "pretty muted adoption" by businesses, and one of the reasons he recommends that enterprises put off Vista until year-after-next.

"Microsoft's challenge with UAC highlight just one of the many problems when migrating to Vista. Enterprises that don't want to be on the bleeding edge should defer upgrades until mid-2008 at the earliest."