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0 comments | Thursday, November 30, 2006

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Among the hundreds of Vista reviews I've read, I don't recall seeing one that actually mentions real features that are new in Windows Vista. That means OS-specific features, not bundled applications such as Internet Explorer 7 or Windows Media Player 11

The problem is, Microsoft has been pushing their bundled apps as features for so long people have probably forgot what an OS-specific feature is. IE7, WMP11, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows DVD maker...hell, even Windows Aero GUI, those are all nice and dandy, but I for example use Firefox, Media Player Classic, ACDSEE Classic, Nero and BBlean as shell. Not much there in Vista for me, eh?

Wrong. Contrary to the popular belief, Vista does carry a significant number of new, important features. Here's a rundown of some of the interesting ones:

- User Account Control - asks for the admin password whenever some app or part of the OS requires administrative privileges. The idea isn't new - all Linux variants have something similar. At the moment it's relatively poorly implemented - it will be annoying to the end user who will want to turn it off at all cost.

- Various security measures, including ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) which prevents exploits, Windows Service Hardening which prevents services to edit registry or the file system, Data Execution Prevention (DEP), and PatchGuard, which prevents third-party software from modifying the kernel. Most of these sound good, but we'll have to wait and see how they really work.

- Hard drive encryption. Hopefully Microsoft wasn't forced to include backdoors in there.

- DRM measures. One of the bad ones. One is Protected User Mode Audio (PUMA) which restricts the copying of copyrighted audio. Protected Video Path - Output Protection Management (PVP-OPM) and Protected Video Path - User-Accessible Bus (PVP-UAB) do the same thing for video. Finally, there's Rights Management Services (RMS) support, which allows setting DRM restrictions to documents and email. Not much to say about these, except that we can all hope that someone will be able to reverse engineer them.

- Desktop Window Manager - handles drawing of all content to the screen. Uses more video memory than the previous one, enables all those fancy Aero effects. Lets hope we'll never see the dreaded 'dying window' effect when the system is low on memory, which was a common occurence in WinXP.

- DirectX10. This one was covered well in the media, probabyl because people actually care about playing games.

- Windows Color System - should make color calibration easier. Nice for designers.

- Audio stack completely rewritten - basically, it should make all things audio faster and more stable under Windows. Audio professionals should be able to get lower latencies. Oh yeah, and if anyone ever used speech synthesis under Windows, there's a new voice doing it, and it should sound less robotic.

- Network stack completely rewritten - native support for IPv6, better performance, better encryption, better support for P2P networking, and *much* better support for wireless networking which is good, because the old one sucked

- Stand by and Hibernate are now combined into a single 'Sleep' function, which basically does both: writes all the data from memory to the hard disk, and then goes to stand by mode, waits for a specified amount of time, and then shuts of completely (goes to hibernation).

- ReadyBoost - the ability to use memory from USB flash devices as RAM memory. You can also use RAM from other networked PCs running Vista as your RAM. The idea seems nice, until you remember that the idea of RAM memory is to be fast, and USB drives aren't fast enough, nor is ethernet. A USB 2.0 flash drive is better at sending small chunks of data than the hard drive, which is obviously better when it comes to accessing and copying big amounts of data. Microsoft says that this works in combination with SuperFetch, which is a new and improved version of Prefetch, and that we should expect 'impressive improvements in system responsiveness'. I think it all boils down to: if you need more memory, buy more RAM. If you're desperate, stick a USB drive and hope for some minor improvements.

- Improved memory manager and processes scheduler - these, together with other Kernel and core OS changes, are IMO the most important features of Vista. These will actually determine the real performance of Vista. When you switch all the fluff for third party apps, and when you start doing some real work, this is what you will care about. Although I don't explicitly see it in any lists, Vista should also be better at using multicore processor power.

This is just a short rundown, the most complete list of features new to Windows Vista, (but also possibly tiresome to read), see the Wikipedia article under the same name.

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