A new view of security in Vista

Companies beta testing Vista have been quick to praise new security features in the operating system which is due out by year's end.

Vista will include a number of new features, especially in its graphical user interface (GUI), that are not yet completely realized in competing operating systems such as Apple Computer's Mac OS X or the open-source Linux OS.

Those features include 3-D views of windows, built-in handwriting recognition, easy real-time wireless collaboration and online file sharing, automatic alerts about phishing and other fraudulent Web sites, and even support for a "sideshow" feature that allows notebook PCs to display regularly-accessed information on a 2in screen mounted on the outside of the closed notebook case.

Microsoft plans to release a Community Technical Preview (CTP) of Vista by the end of March to companies participating in its Technology Adoption Program (TAP).

One security change will make it harder for malware or hackers to gain administrator level access -- even if they can crash Vista systems. This is a feature that already exists in Unix and Linux. Another is the ability to run Internet Explorer 7.0, which will come bundled with Vista or can be separately downloaded, in a "protected mode" that prevents trojans or hackers from surreptitiously installing spyware or other malicious programs automatically.

Vista will also have added antiphishing capabilities. For instance, suspicious Web sites -- such as those whose addresses begin with a string of numbers -- will trigger a "suspicious Web site" message. While other sites that have been reported by Vista users as definite phishing sites will trigger a red warning and attempt to prevent users from visiting that site. Users can also allow Vista to automatically send information about trojans and spyware infecting their system in a way that does not violate user privacy.

Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platform products and services division, said Vista includes smart handwriting recognition that learns not only a user's handwriting style but also the types of words commonly written. Allchin said its pickiest beta user is Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

For enterprise IT managers, it will be much easier and faster to create "images" of Vista that can be installed quickly on corporate computers. Another upgrade aimed at IT staffers is the automatic background fixing of Vista registry errors.

Microsoft will not have individual Media Center and Tablet versions of Vista, as it does with XP. It will continue to release separate flavours of the Vista OS, Allchin said, but he declined to offer details on what kinds of versions would be available.

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