Why you and your customers want and need Vista

The popular press suggests users would rather bang their heads against a wall than use Vista. Microsoft, on the other hand, would say Vista is the panacea for all their desktop problems. The truth is, as always somewhere in the middle.

While Windows XP is still available from a number of hardware suppliers, it is an ageing operating system that is simply in maintenance mode. This means that there are no new features just bug fixes and security patches being issued by Microsoft. Vista, in contrast, is looking forward to SP2 early in 2009 and has drivers for some of the latest hardware on the market. This is especially important in the video and optical market so anyone who works in the creative industries and wants to use Microsoft tools should consider Vista.

Click here to go to the main feature - Is it time for Windows Vista? Planning and upgrade issues

From a business perspective, Vista’s security improvements like BitLocker and User Access Control (see page 50, and page 54, Vol1, Ed1 — feature finder code 1154a) are key. BitLocker whole volume disk encryption is built into the operating system (in the Ultimate edition), meaning any protected drive cannot be booted from an external disk or mounted as a drive. This makes it impossible for a thief to recover information on a hard disk. With the number of laptops lost and stolen, this is an extremely important security improvement. You can block also removable drives using Group Policy.

The backup tool has finally been improved too: Microsoft seems to have got the message that backup has to be simple to use and integrated with the operating system. Shadow copy is turned on automatically, so users can recover previous versions of files and folders directly from Explorer.

In general, Vista is a much more secure operating system than previous versions, which means fewer patches for you to apply and fewer security incidents to deal with. The enhancements to Internet Explorer 7 are also important. The Phishing Filter scans sites and warns users they are visiting a potentially dangerous site (although you will need IE8 to enforce this through Group Policy).

There are workarounds for managing power remotely for Windows XP; in Vista, businesses can save money by controlling power management more easily through Group Policy. Laptop users will typically see slightly increased battery life with Vista over XP. And while there can be resistance to the new user interface initially, the built-in document search will often increase productivity, especially in a small office where Vista lets users search each other’s PC remotely.

Why you want Vista
Deploying Vista is easier than deploying XP; although you do have to go to the effort of changing your deployment techniques. Because the Windows Imaging Format is file based rather than sector based you can often maintain only a single image for the majority of customers. A WIM image can store multiple images, with and without core apps for example, and it’s a single-instance store to save space so you can update all the images by updating one of them. You can mark one image in a WIM as bootable, and you can service images offline instead of needing to boot and re-image for every change. This doesn’t work for SP1 unless you use a utility like v-lite (www.labnol.org/software/tutorials/slipstream-vista-sp1-bootable-windows-vista-dvd-integrated/2750/); store the scripts you use to create images and start again with an integrated SP1 distribution.

Vista is also easier to support, as long as you take the need for user training into account. The new Windows Diagnostic Infrastructure covers hard drives, memory, network connections and system resources; some problems will be fixed automatically, some will offer troubleshooters to the users (for example if a Web page doesn’t load) and all the details will be recorded in the Event Log for you to refer to when tackling user problems.

Remote Assistance in Vista works through NAT firewalls, so you can deal with more issues without visiting the customer; you can also invite a colleague into a session to help and continue the session after a restart. The Startup Repair troubleshooter will deal with many boot problems you’d previously have had to make a visit to fix.

There are 700 new Group Policy settings in Vista, covering nearly all new features and some that have been in Windows for years (like power management). Both NTFS and the registry are now transaction based, making roll-back much easier.

When you move a customer to Windows Server 2008 or SBS 2008, you can set up Network Access Protection to quarantine returning laptops for security checks. Gathering the data to move customers to Windows Vista will also provide an opportunity to better manage licence programs and upgrades to their software. Warranties for hardware can be tracked and support contracts arranged before a problem shows up on hardware that’s no longer supported.

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tools If you're trying to solve connectivity problems at a customer site, you can ask a colleague back at your office to use ping and traceroute to see how the network appears to the outside world; or you can use the tools at http://www.heise-online.co.uk/networks/nettools/ to do it yourself. There are tools for looking up Mac addresses and calculating subnet masks too. If you need a more detailed trace, http://w3dt.net/tools/pathping has a pathping tool.
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