Visiting Vista RC2, part two

What we can expect with Vista security, and some new bundled apps

I started a two-part series in my previous column on living in Vista RC2 for a week. I haven't stopped using it yet, so it's actually been two and a half weeks, but who's counting?

This week, I managed to get a clear answer out of Microsoft on what we can expect with Vista security, plus I got to play with some new bundled applications.

First: security. The summary goes like this. The reason we couldn't install anti-virus applications was because we weren't installing Vista-compatible antivirus applications. To find those, you need to do a little digging. The first spade pulls up Vista's Security Center. Then we click on Check This Computer's Security Status, upon which you'll most likely see a screen that says you've got no malware protection. But it will provide a Find A Program button right there, which will link over to Vista's Compatible AV Web site, which lists all the available anti-virus programs that work with Vista.

When I clicked, all there was were trial versions for CA, F-Secure, and Trend Micro. However, my Q&A with Greg Sullivan, lead program manager for Windows reviews, yielded info that Aladdin, McAfee, Symantec, and other vendors would have versions available there, too. What that means to enterprise users is that your corporate anti-virus client will require an update in order to run over Vista. Check with your software vendor for when these will be available.

That's check No. 1. Check No.2 concerns your smartphone. Vista now has all the basic smartphone nuggets embedded. Outlook Express has been renamed Windows Mail (that's e-mail), and Microsoft has added Windows Calendar and Windows Contacts for the full organizer toolkit. Redmond has also added a permanent version of ActiveSync, called Sync Center. According to Sullivan, the idea here is that Windows Mobile smartphone users shouldn't have to run software supplied by their phone vendors anymore. Vista should be able to see, identify, and sync with any Windows-based smartphone out of the box.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has still got some work to do on that. Plugging in my Motorola Q resulted in Vista seeing its SD card but nothing else. Sullivan says that's being worked on now and should be functioning by the time that shrink code gets released. Business IT managers should be careful about promising this functionality to their users until they've successfully tested it themselves.

Driver and software compatibility as a whole are the biggest blips on Microsoft's tweak radar between RC2 and final code. The company is working on several software compatibility issues, including an update to IE7, but the biggest push will also come from third-party device drivers. Most of those guys won't even start driver development until the operating system reaches RTM code in late November, so we can expect a whole slew of new drivers to come our way in January as part of Vista's first few Automatic Updates. Display, networked devices, and add-ons such as smartphones will likely by big in this list.

Fortunately, Vista's core functionality works just fine even in RC2. Calendar, Contacts, and Mail all worked splendidly and have slick interfaces, to boot. Users with disabilities will like the new Accessibility features, especially Narrator. I'm running Speech Recognition now, and it's a mixed bag so far; I'll update my opinion on that in a few days. In the meantime, I've had a good time with Vista these past couple of weeks.

It's a slick new interface, no doubt, and Microsoft's done noticeable work on the networking client. You'll need to retrain some users on moving between connections, but after that initial learning curve has been eaten, Vista's networking is noticeably more informative, easier to manage, and a little faster -- especially the wireless client. Besides that, your users will most likely be impacted far more by Office 2007 and its associated feature set.