Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Microsoft Vista

Since I'm on a geeky kick this week, I figure I should devote some page space to Microsoft's newest version of Windows, Vista.

First off, if you're the average user and thinking of upgrading to Vista, I wouldn't recommend it until you've done some research. Not all computers will support Vista (check the minimum requirements listed here), and some programs you want to use may not necessarily work on Vista. I'd especially be cautious if you use a screen reader or voice recognition software as those may not be compatible with the new OS. Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 is not compatible with Vista according to their website. Add to that the recent news about Vista's "fine print" and it's pretty scary:

Vista's legal fine print includes extensive provisions granting Microsoft the right to regularly check the legitimacy of the software and holds the prospect of deleting certain programs without the user's knowledge.

The advantage of switching to Vista for the majority of users will be minimal. Many users with older PCs will see their computer's performance drop since Microsoft has a tendency to make Windows use more and more resources with each new version. I won't be upgrading my home PCs. To me, it's just not worth the cost of the upgrade and the time that will have to be spent on the upgrade and the possibility of having to add more memory (RAM). I like my laptop just fine as is, and I'll upgrade/change when I get a new computer.

I have my reservations about the news that NSA helped Microsoft with Vista. NSA provided its assistance to Microsoft, a private company, for free. So, our tax dollars were spent on government employees spending time and resources on a Microsoft product. From a purely economic standpoint, that really ticks me off. From a more paranoid perspective, NSA has two separate missions that seem to be in conflict with each other, and Bruce Schneier says it best:

Basically, the NSA has two roles: eavesdrop on their stuff, and protect our stuff. When both sides use the same stuff -- Windows Vista, for example -- the agency has to decide whether to exploit vulnerabilities to eavesdrop on their stuff or close the same vulnerabilities to protect our stuff. In its partnership with Microsoft, it could have decided to go either way: to deliberately introduce vulnerabilities that it could exploit, or deliberately harden the OS to protect its own interests.

Upgrading to Vista should be a relatively easy and painless option for those who desire to do so, but, it's not necessary. The new version of the Windows OS should provide some additional IT security advantages, but from my perspective (and that of other security professionals), those security advantages can be circumvented (hypervisor rootkit anyone?).

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