by Paul Thurrott of winsupersite.
Q: What is Windows Vista?
A: Windows Vista is the name of the next major version of Windows, and the successor to Windows XP. There will be no more Windows XP versions--that is, major updates to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (see my review) or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 (see my review)--before Windows Vista ships in late 2006.
Q: What's with the name? I figured Windows Vista would be called Windows 2006 or something.
A: You and me both. However, Microsoft has somewhat painted itself into a corner by choosing names like Windows Me and Windows XP for the two prior client releases of Windows. Now, it has to try and outdo itself with each product version's name; otherwise, people would consider it to be a boring release. Certainly, Windows 2006 sounds less exciting than Windows XP.
That said, Microsoft tells me that Windows Vista delivers a "personal vista" for all who use it. "We live in a world of more information, more ways to communicate, and more things to do," Microsoft Group Product Manager Greg Sullivan told me the morning that Microsoft revealed the Windows Vista branding. "You want the PC to adapt to you and help you cut through the clutter to focus on what’s important to you. That's what Windows Vista is all about: bringing clarity to your world, so you can focus on what matters to you."
Microsoft notes that Windows has always empowered people to use technology to do and accomplish what they want. But the world has evolved, and there's a lot more out there. Windows Vista will address those changes.
"I love this name. 'Vista' creates the right imagery for the new product capabilities and inspires the imagination with all the possibilities of what can be done with Windows -- making people’s passions come alive."
--Jim Allchin, group vice president, Platforms Management at Microsoft
Q: Did Microsoft consider other names?
A: Yes. I'm told that the company had a list of a half dozen names that reached the final round of consideration. However, Microsoft refuses to discuss what those choices were. The company considered everything from simple numbers "Windows Seven" or "Windows 07") or letters (like XP) to fanciful, inventive names, including words that don't exist today. In the end, Microsoft wanted to describe the value proposition of Windows Vista with its name.
Microsoft executives tested a number of potential names with focus groups and then finally presented its choice to group senior vice president Jim Allchin, who approved it. In the end, the company believes that the Windows Vista name is a "wonderful intersection of what the product really does, what Windows stands for, and what resonates with customers, and their needs."
Q: What's with all this "connected," "clear," "confident" stuff I'm hearing about?
A: As always, Microsoft needs to summarize any product using three simple points, and with Windows Vista, those three points are "connected," "clear," and "confident". Here's what the company means by this:
Connected. Windows Vista will seamlessly connect you with the people, information and devices you need to interact with, quickly and in a really straightforward way. No computer sits alone anymore, according to the company, and you're connected to the Web, and to devices, you want to contact people and to share things.
Clear. This refers both to the clarity of the user interface, which now sports a glass-like sheen that is, appropriately enough, called Aero Glass, and to the ways in which Windows Vista lets you more clearly access your own information. Instead of making you adapt to the way the computer structures data, Window Vista is far more dynamic, and far more personal. "Windows Vista introduces clear ways to organize and use your information to focus on what matters to you," Sullivan said.
Confidence. Thanks to spyware and other electronic threats, people don't trust their computers anymore. Windows Vista will give people more confidence in their PC and their ability to get more out of it. Microsoft tells me it's going to "take care of things" and make things more discoverable in Windows Vista. "It enables a new level of confidence in the security and reliability of your PC and in your ability to get the most out of it," Sullivan told me.
Q: These are nice sound bites, but how does this market points reflect actual features in the product?
A: As this is written just before the release of Windows Vista Beta 1, there will no doubt be much to add soon, but if we look over the list of previously announced Windows Vista features, we can see the following correlations between features and the marketing points:
Connected. Windows Vista will include pervasive device synchronization features that will let users keep their information synchronized across multiple PCs, network servers, and other devices, including cell phones and PDAs. Windows Vista will also include numerous enhancements for portable computers, including better power management, support for external displays, and better wireless networking functionality.
Clear. Windows Vista will include system-level instant desktop search functionality that will help users find information on their PCs and organize them with virtual folders that work the way they want them to and don't conform to the rigid structure of the underlying file system. Windows Vista will also make it easier to identify documents from their icons: Instead of using static icons like previous Windows versions, Windows Vista features Live Icons that display the first page of the document right in its icon. Finally, Windows Vista will include an advanced printer and document framework called Metro (see below) that makes it easier to use and share documents between a wide variety of devices.
Confidence. Windows Vista will include integrated antimalware defenses that will shield users from spyware, adware, phishing attacks, and other electronic threats. The system will also feature a Secure Startup feature to ensure that the data on PCs stays confidential, even if the machine is lost or stolen. Full volume encryption, using a hardware component to store encryption keys, will keep user data inaccessible to thieves as well. Finally, and perhaps most important, Windows Vista will feature User Account Protection (UAP, formerly called Limited User Account), a reduced privileges mode that will prevent even admins from running in administrative mode normally, giving you better defense against electronic attacks. With UAP enabled--the default--you will need to supply an admin password any time you make a change that could affect the system. This is similar the way Mac OS X and Linux already work.
Q: I heard that Windows Vista was based on Windows Server 2003, not XP. Does that mean that Windows Vista is more stable/less consumer-friendly than XP?
A: Future Windows versions will always be based on the most up-to-date Windows version at the time, and today that version is Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1). When Windows Vista development started two years ago, however, it was originally based on Windows XP. In mid-2004, Microsoft had to restart the core development of Windows Vista because it was too hard to go back and componentized the Windows Vista core code. So when it restarted Windows Vista development, Microsoft naturally used the Windows Server 2003 with SP1 code base instead of that of XP.
Don't be confused by this: Windows Vista will still include all of the great features and compatibility from XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2). As Microsoft writes in its internal documentation, the company is simply taking the best features of both XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Server 2003 with SP1 to create Windows Vista.
Q: Will Windows Vista be more secure than Windows XP?
A: Yes. Windows Vista builds on the security features in Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) and adds some deep-seated security improvements that will finally make the Windows platform competitive with Linux and Mac OS X from a security standpoint. With Windows Vista, the system will inform users about security and privacy choices so they feel more confident that they are as secure as possible, and that their privacy is protected.
Q: I thought Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was such a big deal for security. Why is Longhorn changes security so much?
A: As Microsoft has said, security is an ongoing process. The original architecture of Windows XP and Vista--that is, Windows NT--debuted in 1990, a full 15 years ago. At that time, the Internet wasn't widely available, TCP/IP wasn't the most-frequently-used networking paradigm, and the number of connected PCs and servers worldwide was tiny. Since then, Windows has come of age in a connected world that requires new protection strategies over time. In many ways, the security improvements in Windows Vista are long-overdue, and are very similar to security features available already in Linux and Mac OS X. However, in some cases, the security improvements in Windows Vista are simply evolutions of the technologies Microsoft first debuted in Windows XP and in XP SP2.
Q: Is Windows Vista designed more for consumers or business users?
A: Microsoft tells me that Windows Vista will be a significant release for all 600+ million Windows users, regardless of whether they use Windows at home or at work. While this is no doubt true, and there are excellent security and deployment improvements in Windows Vista that will benefit business users, it's pretty clear to me that Windows Vista's most exciting changes are on the consumer/individual side. That said, we won't see most of these changes in the Beta 1 time frame and will have to wait instead for Beta 2.
Q: So when will Windows Vista Beta 1 ship?
A: Microsoft says it will ship Beta 1 to testers by August 3, 2005. However, in a recent Beta 1 briefing, the company recently acknowledged that the July 27, 2005 date for Beta 1 I had previously published is the correct internal goal.
Q: Can I get Windows Vista Beta 1?
A: Probably not. Beta 1 will only be made available to private testers, MSDN Subscribers, and TechNet subscribers. However, Windows Vista Beta 2--due in late 2005 or early 2006--will be made widely available to the public.
Q: Will there be a server version of Windows Vista?
A: Yes. However, it's likely that this product, currently codenamed Longhorn Server, will be called Windows Server 2007. It will definitely not be called Windows Vista Server. Longhorn Server is being developed concurrently with Windows Vista, but will ship 90-120 days after Windows Vista.
Q: What is WinFS?
A: WinFS is a relational database-based data storage engine that Microsoft is building on top of SQL Server 2005. Originally scheduled for inclusion in Windows Vista, WinFS will now debut in Windows Server 2007 ("Longhorn Server") and will ship separately in 2007 as a free add-on for Windows Vista.
Microsoft considers WinFS to be a "product update" for Windows Vista. As such, it will be considered part of Windows Vista when it ships in 2007 and it's likely that future Windows Vista versions will simply include this technology out of the box, in the same way that today's boxed copies of Windows XP include Service Pack 2.
Q: Why isn't WinFS going to be included in Windows Vista? Doesn't that make this release less exciting to end users?
A: In August 2004, Microsoft announced that it would not include the WinFS data storage engine in Windows Vista, but would instead ship that technology in beta form when Windows Vista debuted in late 2006. Microsoft still has tentative plans to include WinFS with Longhorn Server, and will likely ship WinFS for Windows Vista when Longhorn Server ships in 2007.
Even though Windows Vista will not include WinFS, it will still include virtually all of the end user search features that Microsoft had originally promised. Microsoft describes this feature--which is essentially instant desktop search--as "Find My Stuff." According to the company, the inclusion of WinFS will make Find My Stuff even more powerful. But as I'll demonstrate in my Windows Vista Beta 1 review (available August 3), the instant desktop search functionality in Windows Vista is still quite powerful, and arguably superior to similar features in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" or Windows add-on products such as MSN Toolbar Suite with Windows Desktop Search (see my review).
Q: Will WinFS be ported to prior Windows operating systems?
Q: I heard that Microsoft was shipping some Windows Vista technologies separately for Windows XP. What's up with that?
A: In August 2004, Microsoft announced that it would make the Avalon presentation layer, the Indigo Web services technology, and the WinFX application programming interface (API) available for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (or later). Previously, these technologies had been described as key parts of Longhorn for developers. However, Microsoft realized that developers would be more apt to target Avalon and Indigo if they were available to a wider audience than just Windows Vista.
Q: What are Avalon and Indigo, exactly?
A: Avalon is a graphics subsystem that will help developers build next-generation applications with beautiful user interfaces. Avalon provides two simple programming interfaces: A standard WinFX-based API and an HTML-like markup interface called XAML. Microsoft believes that the introduction of XAML will enable developers to more easily create Windows applications.
Indigo is a Web services architecture for providing secure, reliable, transacted messaging between applications and services, whether they reside on the same PC or on different machines, regardless of their physical location. In a simple sense, Indigo is the future of Web services on the Windows platform.
Q: If Microsoft is making Avalon, Indigo, and WinFX available separately from Windows Vista, doesn't that "water down" Windows Vista and make it less exciting?
A: Absolutely not. These technologies are for developers only, and don't impact the end user experience on Windows Vista at all. Most important, perhaps, Microsoft is making these technologies available to a wider audience now, so we'll see more great Windows Vista-compatible applications earlier rather than later. Developers who are familiar with the .NET Framework managed APIs will be able to move to WinFX very quickly because the two APIs are so similarly structured.
What does make Windows Vista less exciting is the wait. Microsoft has been promising us this OS for years now, and every passing year its once-phenomenal improvements seem less and less impressive. Don't misunderstand: Windows Vista will be a huge Windows release and one that consumers, especially, will be interested in. But the wait has been painfully, very painful.
Q: Will Windows Vista include the .NET Framework and .NET CLR?
A: Yes. Windows Vista will include .NET Framework/CLR 2.0 ("Whidbey"), the version that Microsoft intends to first ship with Visual Studio 2005 in November 2005.
Q: What is Metro?
A: At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2005 in April 2005, Microsoft announced that it would include a new document format and printing architecture called Metro in Windows Vista. Based on XML, Metro is to Windows Vista as Adobe PDF is to Mac OS X: It's a device- and application-independent printing architecture that allows documents to retain their exact formatting in any application, and when printed. Unlike PDF, however, Metro is based on XML and will be released as an open standard. Metro will also incorporate ZIP technology--similar to that used by the next major version of Microsoft Office--to compress and decompress files on the fly. From a technology standpoint, Metro includes an XML-based electronic paper format called Metro Reach, a document viewer for viewing, managing, and printing Metro files, the ability to digitally sign Metro documents, APIs that allow programmers to integrate their applications and services with Metro, a print pipeline, and a new driver model for Metro-compatible printers.
Q: Will Windows Vista be a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system?
A: Windows Vista will ship in both 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) versions. Microsoft expects the computer buying public to switch to x64 during Vista's lifetime. There will not be an Itanium version of Windows Vista.
Q: When should I consider not buying a Windows XP-based PC so I can wait for Windows Vista?
A: If you need a new PC now--in 2005--there is absolutely no reason to wait for Windows Vista. Any mainstream PC today is fully capable of running Windows Vista. Arguably, the only issue will be the display adapter. On desktop PCs, it's generally very simple to upgrade the existing display adapter to a more powerful model that can handle Aero Glass. However, notebook and Tablet PC users will need to be more careful: Because the display adapters in these systems cannot generally be upgraded, you should purchase a machine that can run Windows Vista out of the box, if that's a concern for you.
According to Microsoft, any "PC that meets current designed for Windows XP logo requirements, has a mainstream or performance class CPU, 512MB of RAM, and a discreet graphics subsystem that will support the new Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM) will run Longhorn very well."
Q: I heard that Office 12 (the next version of Microsoft Office) will ship concurrently with Windows Vista. Will Office 12 only run on Windows Vista?
A: No, Office 12 will also run on Windows XP with SP2, Windows XP x64 Edition, and Windows Server 2003 with SP1. However, Office 12 will include Windows Vista-specific features that take advantage of Vista's incredible display and searching functionality.
Q: When will Windows Vista ship to customers?
A: Microsoft is targeting the second half of 2006. At this time, Microsoft will also ship Office 12.
Q: When will Longhorn Server ship to customers?
A: 2007. At this time, Microsoft will also ship WinFS for Windows Vista.