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30/30

Microsoft announce release dates of Windows Vista to manufacturing and end users.

Microsoft Window Vista will be released to manufacturing on 30 November 2006; it will be released to consumers on 30 January 2007.

Windows Vista, previously code named Longhorn and the latest release of Microsoft Windows, arrives more than five years after Windows XP. It supposedly contains hundreds of new features.

  • Aero. A new graphical user rendering system based on Apple's Aqua.
  • Windows DVD Maker. A new multimedia creation utility.
  • Windows Mail. Replaces Outlook and Outlook Express.
  • Windows Calender. Similar in function to Apple's iCal.
  • Windows Photo Gallery. Similar in function to Apple's iPhoto.
  • Windows Fax and Scan. An integrated fax and scanning utility.
  • Windows Shell. An integrated desktop searching utility.
  • Windows Sidebar. Similar in function to Apple's Dashboard.
  • Windows SideShow. Enables Windows Sidebar display on auxiliary devices.
  • Windows Meeting Space. Replaces NetMeeting.
  • Windows Snipping Tool. Similar in function to Apple's Grab and additional functionality built into the Apple desktop. Allows free form snips.
  • Games. Minesweeper, Solitaire, Hearts, FreeCell, and Spider return; Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans, and Purble Place are new.
  • Windows Experience Index. Similar in function to Apple's Activity Monitor.
  • Windows Backup. Creates images in Virtual PC format.
  • Windows Update. Now runs completely as a control panel applet.
  • System Restore. Proactive creation of restore points. Similar in function to Apple's Time Machine.
  • Windows Mobility Center. Control panel applet for mobile computing.
  • Windows Task Manager. Now includes a 'services' tab.
  • Internet Explorer 7. Now has tabs, can read RSS, and has a phishing filter.
  • Networking. A completely redesigned (and rewritten) protocol stack.
  • .NET 3.0. A new release of a high level programming environment.
  • Full PNG Support. Previous releases of Windows have not been able to render PNG transparency despite the standard being almost ten years old and all other browsers being capable of correct rendering for almost as long.
  • Windows Media Player 11. A new version of the proprietary media player.
  • Windows Media Center. Available in the Home Premium and Ultimate editions.
  • IIS 7. Microsoft's web server software.
  • Speech Recognition. Supports multiple languages; can take diction; can be trained for voices.
  • Full Symlink Support. But the ln command has been renamed mklink.
  • Security. New and enhanced security features.

As all or most of these features are already found elsewhere with other operating systems, the most important 'feature' remains the last - 'security'.

Security

Of all the Achilles heels of Microsoft Windows, security has always been the worst. The debate over whether the system is victimised because it's widespread or because it's inherently weak is moot: the fact is it's victimised - on a ridiculous scale - and no user can cope with such a situation in the long term.

As a result, several new security technologies have been incorporated into Windows Vista.

  • Windows Resource Protection. Prevents tampering of system files, limiting write access to Windows Installer.
  • Protected Mode IE. Internet Explorer runs in a separate low privilege account.
  • Windows Firewall. Now supports egress filtering, full IPv6 support, and a new management console configuration interface.
  • New User Sessions. Users no longer share their session with system services.
  • Hardware DEP. Runs only with advanced x86 compatible processors.
  • Address Space Layout Randomisation. Helps prevent buffer overflow attacks.
  • BitLocker. Similar in function to Apple's FileVault. Can encrypt all data on the hard drive. Can integrate with smart cards to allow access only when such a card with an EFS key is inserted into the computer.
  • Code Integrity. Ensures that system binaries have not been tampered with.
  • User Account Control. Blocks administrative actions and requires authentication before they're performed.
  • Windows Defender. Microsoft's anti-spyware utility acquired from third party vendors and revamped.

Additional Provisions

  • XOR on addresses. Addresses to functions are XORd with a random number to thwart malware attempts to find them.
  • Stack overflow protection. Binaries now have intrinsic support to detect a stack overflow and in such case kill the process.
  • PatchGuard. Prevents unauthorised system updates.
  • BrowserShield. Protects Internet Explorer from exploits.

What's Missing

It's obvious Microsoft, Jim Allchin, and the Vista developers have been working hard. For more than five years. Yet this enormous effort belies either a lack of understanding of the underlying issues or a realisation that nothing more substantial can be done about them.

For it's not the exploits that harm Windows: anyone can break through the 'perimeter' and try to wreak havoc on the system within. No: it's the inability of the system itself to protect itself.

Outlook and Internet Explorer have been described as the number one and number two exploit attack vectors respectively, but they're only the shoddy code that gives the intruder a chance. It's what happens afterwards that's determinant.

And Windows, with or without all these new touted features, remains endemically the same insecure 'standalone' system it's always been.

All that's going to happen now is that the black hats will have to find new ways to break through; all Microsoft can do is plug the new holes after the fact, whereupon the black hats will again go back to the drawing boards.

The eternal cycle of humiliations for the Windows user will never end.

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