Everybody uses an operating system in a different way and approaches a new
operating system with different expectations. Some of those expectations are
nearly universal: We all want an OS that's fast, secure, and stable, and if it's
pretty to look at as well, that's a bonus.
Beyond all that, different types of
users focus on different aspects of the system. The rest of this chapter looks
at nine different user typesIT professionals, developers, power users, digital
media users, business users, road warriors, small business owners, gamers, and
parentsand discusses what in Vista should appeal to them (or repel them).
The big news for IT pros is the new set of deployment tools and technologies
that Microsoft has created for Windows Vista. In the past, deploying Windows to
multiple desktops was a time-consuming and complex chore that require a
hodgepodge of tools from not only Microsoft, but usually a few third-party
vendors as well. Here's a summary of what's new that will make your life
- Modularized - Windows Vista begins with a core OS that contains
95% of the functionality, and all the other editions are created by adding
the appropriate modules to that core. This includes not only OS features
such as Media Player and games, but also language packs.
- Windows Imaging (WIM) - This is a new file-based imaging file
format that enables you to create images for deployment. WIM files can
contain images for multiple SKUs, so you can deploy any edition of Vista,
for any computer type, in any language, customized in any way you want,
using just a single file.
- System Image Manager - This new GUI and command-line tool enables
you to create a custom Vista deployment.
- XML answer file - The customizations and settings created
by Setup Manager are stored in a single XML file, usually called
- XImage - This command-line tool enables you to capture volume to
image files, mount image files to folders for offline editing of the image,
and perform other image-based tasks.
Support professionals always want a more stable Windows to make their lives
easier. Vista innovations such as I/O Cancellation, Service Recovery, and the
Startup Repair Tool should help keep users up and running, and the extra
security offered by User Account Control, Windows Defender, and Windows Service
Hardening should keep users out of trouble. However, it's also good to know that
diagnostic tools such as the Reliability Monitor, Disk Diagnostics, and Network
Diagnostics should ease tech support when problems crop up.
However, if there's one technology that has the potential to turn IT
engineers into corporate stars, it's probably Transactional NTFS and the
previous versions of files that it creates. There probably isn't a support desk
pro who hasn't been yelled at because an employee has lost all of his or her
work due to a program crash. By restoring a recent version of that work with
just a few mouse clicks, there will be kudos and glory for all.
The big news for independent software vendors (ISVs) and other Windows
developers is WinFX, the new application programming interface (API) for Vista.
WinFX is based on (actually, it's a superset of) the .NET Framework. That's
where the name comes from: WinFX is the Windows .NET Framework Extension.
Its .NET underpinnings tell you that WinFX is a managed API, which means that
the runtime environment handles things such as allocating and reclaiming memory.
(In the old Win32 API, programmers had to manage memory themselves.) This should
mean that WinFX applications are a bit more stable than their Win32 counterparts
because there's less chance of memory mismanagement or other programmer error.
(Of course, the old Win32 API is still supported in Vista, meaning that most
Windows applications built on the Win32 framework will still work in Vista.)
A major component of WinFX is the Windows Presentation Foundation, which
developers should love because it replaces the myriad of APIsincluding but not
limited to the Graphics Device Interface (GDI), Direct3D, OpenGL, DirectShow,
USER32, and Windows Formswith a single API. With WPF, developers can do 2D, 3D,
animation, imaging, video, audio, special effects, and text rendering using a
single API that works consistently no matter what type of object the developer
is working with.
Developers also get to play with a new markup language called XAMLeXtensible
Application Markup Languagewhich acts as a kind of front end for building
interfaces. XAML implements a simple markup language that enables developers and
designers to work together to build user interfaces.
Microsoft has also put together a number of APIs that enable developers to
hook into other new Vista features. Here's a list of just a few of these new
features that come with APIs:
- Microsoft has published the API for viewing and manipulating XPS
documents, so there's little doubt that third-party developers will come up
with XPS viewers for the Mac, Linux, and other systems. Microsoft is also
licensing XPS royalty-free, so developers can incorporate XPS viewing and
publishing features into their products without cost. This means it should
be easy to publish XPS documents from a variety of applications.
- Microsoft is giving PC manufacturers access to the Mobility Center, so
we'll likely see the Mobility Center window customized with features that
are specific to particular notebooks.
- Microsoft has created an API for SideShow, so third-party developers can
create programs and gadgets that you can add to your SideShow menu.
- Microsoft is making I/O cancellation available to developers via an API,
so programs, too, can cancel unresponsive requests and recover on their own.
- Microsoft is providing developers with an API for the RADAR tool, thus
enabling vendors to build resource exhaustion detection into their
applications. When such a program detects that it is using excessive
resources, or if it detects that the system as a whole is low on virtual
memory, the program can free resources to improve overall system stability.
- There is an API for the Windows System Assessment Tool (WinSAT), so
third-party programsparticularly gamescan access the assessments and tune
program features depending on the WinSAT metrics.
- Windows Vista supports DirectX 10, the latest version of the Windows
graphics APIs, which have been completely rewritten to take full advantage
of the powerful graphics hardware that's now available for PCs.
Power users may at first be disappointed with
Windows Vista because, as part
of Microsoft's constant quest to make Windows easier for novices and casual
users, the OS becomes increasingly encrusted with "user-friendly" features that
might get in the way of the power user's goal of efficiency and speed. However,
the Windows programmers and designers are mostly power users themselves, so in
many cases they've slipped in alternative methods to work around the
For example, most power users will probably be driven to the point of
insanity by User Account Control and its endless requests for your permission to
do many things. I can attest that you do get used to it after a week or two.
However, what's truly annoying about UAC is that it simply won't let you do some
tasksit won't even ask for permission.
A good example is editing a file in a protected folder. For instance, I often
modify the lmhosts file to ensure proper networking, but UAP doesn't let me save
my changes. However, I can get around this by right-clicking the Notepad icon
and then clicking Run As Administrator. Power users will get the most out of
Vista to the extent that they discover and use such workarounds.
Digital Media Users
If you're a big digital media user, you should love Windows Vista because so
many of its innovations and improvements were made with digital media in mind.
Got a massive digital music collection? Then it will find a good home in Windows
Media Player 11. The interface lets you view your music in many different ways
(such as grouped or stacked), and the new search engine is lightning quick, even
with the largest music collections.
Microsoft has said that it will ship all the Vista SKUs to each OEM, which
gives computer manufacturers complete freedom to put any version of Vista on any
machine (as long as the hardware supports it). This should mean that Media
Center PCs become more popular because it will no longer be perceived as some
"other" version of the OS. That's good news for people looking to set up a PC as
a home media hub. With its support for all types of media, as well as TV tuners,
radio tuners, and media broadcast hardware, the Vista Media Center should take
pride of place as the center of such as hub.
Generalizing is always a risky proposition, but I think I'm going out on a
pretty sturdy limb when I say that the majority of business users don't care
about their computer's operating system. They're more focused on getting their
job done as quickly and as efficiently as possible; it's the operating system's
job to help when it can, and to get out of the way the rest of the time.
So, will Vista help business users get their jobs done? The new OS does come
with quite a few efficiencies that should make many day-to-day chores faster.
Features like as-you-type searching, faster and more powerful document
searching, the streamlined Start menu, live thumbnails (particularly with Flip
and taskbar thumbnails), the capability to group and stack documents, and
Windows Sidebar are all productivity boosters. On the other hand, in some cases,
Vista requires more involvement from the business user. The most obvious example
here is document metadata, which is a great way to organize data but requires
time to enter the data into each property.
How about getting out of the way of the business user? Most recent versions
of Windows do a pretty good job of this, and Vista is no exception. When you're
performing normal business chores, you'll probably rarely have to interact with
Vista itself. The exception here will be when you try to do anything that runs
afoul of the User Account Control policies, and that dialog box comes up yet
Users will also be getting pestered by Windows Firewall (to block or allow
some programs) and Windows Defender (to block or allow certain actions), so I
can foresee a backlash against all these so-called "nag" dialog boxes. Also,
most existing Windows applications should run well under Vista, but device
driver support might be spotty for a while, and that could slow people down.
In the end, however, business users want an operating system that works.
Nothing sucks up time like an unstable OS that requires constant reboots,
tweaking, and repairing. If Vista's promise of increased stability proves true,
businesses should flock to the new OS in droves.
Unfortunately, however, the real problem for business users, particularly
corporate desktops, will be having enough horsepowerespecially graphics powerto
run Vista well and to take advantage of its new features. Business machines tend
to have only the minimum amount of RAM necessary, and they almost always have a
low-end graphics card. Without upgrades, this will mean that Vista runs quite
slowly and that the nice Aero Glass interface and other effects will be
The legion of mobile users who take their notebooks on the road will find a
lot to like in Vista. The new Mobility Center makes it easy to quickly monitor
and change important settings such as the screen brightness, speaker volume, and
battery. Vista also comes with a new Mobile PC icon in the Control Panel that
gives notebook users easy access to other settings related to notebooks, such as
the display and audio devices.
Users who lug their notebooks with them to give presentations will make good
use of the Vista Presentation Settings. This new feature enables you to specify
several different notebook settings relating to giving a presentation, including
turning off the screen saver, deactivating system alerts (such as incoming email
messages), setting the speaker volume, and choosing a desktop background. When
you're about to give a presentation, you can apply all of these settings with
just a few clicks of the mouse.
In the long run, perhaps the most useful of Vista's new mobility features
will be Windows SideShow, which enables a notebook manufacturer to add a small,
secondary display to the outside of a notebook case, and enables Vista to
display information on that secondary displaysuch as calendar data, email
messages, and Media Player "now playing" data and playback controlseven if the
computer is in sleep mode or turned off.
Small Business Owners
I mentioned earlier that Windows Vista is the closest that a Microsoft OS has
come to being a complete system. If you're a small business owner on a budget,
the addition of Windows Calendar, Windows Defender, and the bidirectional
Windows Firewall should help your bottom line. Of course, you'll still likely
need mainstream business tools such as a spreadsheet, database, and accounting
Most small businesses lack an IT department, so Vista's simple installation,
easy network setups, new monitoring tools such as the Reliability Monitor, and
myriad diagnostic tools should help most businesses reduce third-party IT costs.
One of Microsoft's goals with Vista is to turn the PC into a viable gaming
platform that can compete with or even exceed the capabilities of dedicated
platforms such as the Xbox 360 and forthcoming PlayStation 3. To that end, Vista
introduces a number of gaming features, including the Game Explorer and support
for ESRB ratings that I mentioned earlier.
Vista also supports a number of game-related metadataincluding the last date
you played the game, the game version and release date, and the genre (such as
Shooter or Strategy). Vista also comes with built-in support for peer-to-peer
gaming, enabling you to play along with others on your network.
Microsoft is also making it easier for game developers to write games for the
PC by giving programmers access to WinSAT metrics, implementing the powerful
DirectX 10 API, defining game-definition files that enable the game to appear in
the Game Explorer, and putting developer-friendly touches into the Game
Explorer: links to the developer's community and support web pages, automatic
update of games, and more.
When it comes to kids and computers, most parent want to know two things
about a new operating system:
- Can it help protect my kids from others?
- Can it help protect my kids from themselves?
Windows Defender, Internet Explorer Protected mode, and the bidirectional
Windows Firewall all work to ensure that kids can't download and install
viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, and other malware. Also, Vista's support for
ESRB and other game-rating systems will help you make decisions about which
games your kids can play. Note, too, that it's important to set up younger kids
with their own standard user account to ensure the full effects of User Account
With accounts set up for the kids, you can also take full advantage of the
new set of Parental Controls in Vista. This will enable you to restrict website
content and games, block specific programs, and set time limits on computer