by Shane O'Neill

Why I Didn’t Skip Microsoft Vista: Security

Nov 20, 20085 mins
Small and Medium BusinessWindows

Microsoft's Windows Vista OS continues to be dogged by a bad reputation, but some recent security reports give it an edge over Windows XP. And some users say security is precisely why they didn't skip Vista.

It’s been a hard road for Microsoft’s Windows Vista, but even though negative perceptions have followed the operating system since its release, recent data and positive user feedback show a glimmer of hope for Microsoft that Vista’s ship is turning around.

Microsoft’s recent Security Intelligence Report shows that Windows Vista was more resistant to exploits than Windows XP in the first half of 2008.

In addition, veteran Microsoft blogger Ed Bott recently ran some numbers and concluded that Vista has a security edge over Windows XP.

Another security report, from last month, by Jeff Jones, Security Strategy Director in the Microsoft Security Technology Unit, cites that Windows Vista was affected by 50 percent fewer vulnerabilities than other desktop operating systems in the first half of 2008 and had 19 percent fewer vulnerabilities than Windows XP SP2 in the same time period.

Security reports from Microsoft touting its own operating system have been met with endless debate over the metrics used to crown Vista the most secure operating system.

Nevertheless, some IT professionals contacted for this article who have upgraded or are upgrading to Vista point to the OS’s security as a major plus as compared to Windows XP.

(For the IT viewpoint from the other side, see our recent article “Why I’m Skipping Vista”).

Vista Offers Better Search, Better Security

“The two features of Vista that are significantly better than Windows XP are security and search,” says Scott Noles, Director of Technology and Education at Kinex Medical Center, a post-operation rehabilitation facility in Waukesha, Wis.

Kinex, an early adopter of Windows Vista, currently has it installed on 90 desktops, 22 laptops and is in the process of installing Vista on 170 tablet PCs.

Noles says the security features built into Vista’s Windows Security Center, including the notorious UAC (User Account Control), have proved effective in protecting his users’ desktops. “With Vista we can keep unwanted software and configurations out of our environment without needing third-party tools and with less effort than in previous versions of Windows.”

A big part of Noles’ job at Kinex Medical Center is making it easier to track and find patient data, and the search capabilities in Vista are more user-friendly and faster than those in XP, he says.

“Vista’s ability to find files, applications and pieces of data whether it is in e-mail, network shares or on the local computers has allowed our employees to be more efficient.”

Farther south, Jim Osteen, Assistant Director of IT for the City of Miami, is in the process of upgrading to Windows Vista. Currently, Osteen has Vista installed on 100 workstations, with a goal of 900 workstation installations by September, 2009.

Osteen agrees that Vista’s search and security features exceed XP’s, adding that he believes Microsoft’s response times to new security threats in Vista are the best in the industry.

The City of Miami’s switch to Vista coincides with its move from a mainframe environment to a Windows Server environment and also a move to a centralized storage infrastructure, he says. Vista’s data backup features can do automatic incremental data replication much better than XP, Osteen says. “The replication model of XP was causing bottlenecks,” he added.

Osteen expects to save $80,000 in power savings through the use of Vista’s GPOs (group policy objects), which enable quick transitions between a computer’s active and sleeping states. “Windows Vista has improved sleep mode; with XP, we were always turning computers on, wasting energy and money,” he says.

Vista Not Perfect, But We Can’t Wait Two Years

Noles and Osteen are not immune to the negative perceptions about Windows Vista. But both attribute most of the negativity to lack of education and testing by users.

With any operating system, Noles says, there are good items and bad items, and the key for businesses is to do complete testing to see if an OS is a good match.

“When we participated in the Vista beta program we tested the operating system in all areas of our business,” Noles says. “We were not listening to the press, but testing to make up our own minds whether we wanted to move forward with it. From testing we determined that Vista would be effective in our environment.”

Not that Vista has been perfect for either Noles or Osteen. Both have had driver compatibility problems and are disappointed in how long it has taken third-party vendors to release software and hardware that works effectively with Vista.

But Osteen notes that he has seen reliability and compatibility improvements since the release of Vista Service Pack 1 last February.

Did either of them consider skipping Vista and waiting for its successor, Windows 7?

A company can always wait for the next generation, Noles says, but in the end it will still have to change.

“Windows Vista is a complete architecture change, so migrating to it earlier will allow us to go to Windows 7 more effectively,” he says. “We will have some of the growing pains out of the way.”

Osteen adds: “Windows 7 seems like a service pack for Vista with a different interface. Plus, we’re on a tight timeframe. We can’t wait two years for Windows 7.”