Windows Vista for business review: first look
Windows Vista is finally here, at least for businesses. PC Pro contributing editor, Jon Honeyball, gives his verdict on the the new OS, and its likely benefits – and otherwise. Look out for his full verdict in next month’s issue, out on sale Thursday the 14th of December.
After five years of starting and stopping, Vista is finally being rolled out to businesses. Is there real business value in this new platform, or is it just a Pandora’s Box of configuration nightmares and application compatibility issues?
And what about the vaunted new user interface, is this going to be easy for users to learn or something to provide an endless stream of excuses for late work, lost files and other problems?
Sadly, there’s no one right answer. It all depends on a cloud of factors, from the usage patterns of your users, the installed base of laptops versus desktops, the rate of change of your application pool, and the methods by which you control and manage your desktop machines. Then there’s the issue of how you buy your new hardware, and get your licensing.
The bottom line is that most desktop machines found in the corporate space are really not up to the task of running Vista successfully. In addition to the basic processor and RAM requirements, there’s the issue of the Aero Glass interface with its swish graphics and see-through Windows. While it’s all very cute, it’s hard to come up with a concrete business justification for it that involves spending money. The vast majority of standard business applications are not going to be Aero-enhanced in any meaningful way.
Vista on an old XP machine will install, it will shut down the new bits, but it’s not necessarily a happy combination. As such, I’m afraid I’m going to stick with my view that Vista is best considered in a new machine scenario, especially for laptops.
Looking at all the possible scenarios, there is one which definitely shines out as being worth considering Vista for. Too many users are carrying too much confidential business data on their laptops, hence the new Vista feature of BitLocker. This uses a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip on the motherboard to provide encryption facilities. The whole disk is encrypted, not just the files you have identified as being at risk, which means the registry and system directories are included. It doesn’t depend on individual user accounts, so BitLocker is either on or off for everyone and every file. For many organisations worried about security, BitLocker in the file system will be an immediate win-win for their laptop users. Yes, it will require recent hardware for you to have Bitlocker enabled, but there are many people, especially those working in a regulated environment like drugs companies, NHS, banking and insurance, where such technology should be considered mandatory on any laptop that leaves the building.
Sounds good? It is, and fortunately it’s more flexible than that. You don’t need to have a TPM chip on the hardware to be able to use BitLocker – you can use a USB flash drive instead. This uses the USB drive to store the keys rather than the TPM chip itself. Note, however, that you will need at least two hard disk partitions, and your BIOS needs to be TPM-compatible and support USB devices during booting.
The firewall is also now two-way, which is a significant improvement over the one-way firewall found in XP SP2. It offers far more control through Group Policy too. You get the free Windows Defender anti-spyware tool built in, although you may have preferred alternatives as part of your site policy.