In the past, computer networks primarily existed in schools, businesses and computer enthusiasts' homes. But today, many households have several computers that need to share files, printers and connections to the Internet. Unlike most businesses, many average home users do not have a networking expert to set up and maintain their networks.
For this reason, Windows Vista includes several network setup wizards, which walk users through creating networks and sharing devices. It also has several built-in network tools that are accessible through a Network Center:
- Network Explorer lets users find files on networked computers and move them from to place. It's similar to other Windows Explorers that let people find files on their own computers.
- Network Map creates a visual map of all the computers and devices on the network.
Vista also includes a Network Awareness feature for people who need to use their computers in multiple locations. Network Awareness detects which network a person's computer is using and applies the appropriate settings.
Vista also includes tools to help people maintain and repair their own networks. The Network Diagnostics feature can detect and repair some network issues on its own. It can also walk users through the necessary steps to restore their network connections. To do this, it uses a collection of tools that use the Windows Diagnostic Infrastructure (WDI).
The WDI provides the structure for several components, including the Network Diagnostics Framework (NDF) and several APIs. The NDF identifies and troubleshoots client-side network issues using a Network Diagnostics Engine as well as Microsoft and third-party helper classes. The helper classes are troubleshooting protocols, and the Network Diagnostic Engine communicates with them through the helper class API. Applications that need to access the Internet can also use APIs to access Vista's troubleshooting capabilities.
Other changes to Vista should improve computers' security once they're connected to a network or the Internet. Some experts blame the Windows kernel for previous issues with security [Source: Extreme Tech]. Although Vista uses essentially the same kernel as previous versions of Windows, Microsoft has made some changes to how applications interact with it. In addition to making the computer more stable, this change will also make it more difficult for people to write malicious code designed to exploit applications and affect the kernel.
Vista also includes applications and tools that people can use to make their systems more secure. As with previous versions of Windows, Vista can check for, download and install security updates automatically. In addition, it has several new security features:
- User Account Control (UAC) lets each Windows Vista user for a particular computer set up his own account. A user with administrative privileges can determine what kind of applications different accounts can install and what kind of changes they can make to the computer's setup. In many cases, installing software and making changes to the operating system requires an administrator's password.
- UAC also lets parents use parental controls to manage what kind of games their children can play and what kind of Web content they can view. Parents can also set time limits for computer use.
- User Account Control, Windows Firewall, Windows Defender and the Malicious Software Removal Tool improve system security and help prevent and remove viruses and Spyware. However, many industry experts advise users to install additional virus protection.
Although Microsoft has presented Vista as safer and more secure than previous versions of Windows, the new OS is not without controversy. Critics have pointed out that many of its features, including search, Sidebar and preview pane functions, already exist in other operating systems, like Linux and Macintosh OS X. Beta testers have described the UAC password requirements as invasive and annoying. Some claim that the improved security that comes from changes to how applications interact with the kernel will be short-lived. Vista has also been accused of antitrust violations in several countries, particularly because of its integrated malware removal tools.
Other criticism is laptop-specific. Aero's hardware requirements for 3-D rendering may drain laptop batteries more quickly than older versions of Windows. The sleep state may also drain laptop batteries when the laptops are not in use.
Vista hit the market for volume license buyers on November 30, 2006, and it became available to the public on January 30, 2007. With the 3-D GUI and related hardware requirements, it has the potential to change how people shop for computers, especially when it comes to graphics hardware. Only time will tell whether the differences between Windows Vista and prior versions make it a more stable, secure OS or whether its most significant changes are cosmetic.
Check out Microsoft's site for more detailed information about Windows Vista's features and costs. See the links on the next page for more information on computers, operating systems and related topics.