Windows Vista screenshots from beta 1
Wednesday, July 27, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: Windows Vista
The first beta of Windows Vista has arrived. Windows Vista is the next generation of Microsoft Windows. And Microsoft has, in many respects, gone back to the drawing board. It's often forgotten that Windows XP came very soon after Windows 2000. After the Windows ME debacle, Microsoft quickly concluded that they needed a consumer version of Windows that was based on the "NT Kernel". The result was Windows 2000 with a few enhancements called Windows XP.
Much has happened since October 2001 when Windows XP came out. Worms, Spyware, Malware, and the like have become household names. People yell at Microsoft for the lack of security in Windows without realizing that the insecurity of Windows wasn't born out of technical insufficiency but rather an excessively optimistic view of human beings.
Back when Windows NT was originally developed (early 90s), there was a sense that we were all one big happy family. NT's main competitor, OS/2, was even less secure in many respects. IBM's vision at the time included users sharing parts of programs together seamlessly via OpenDoc. OS/2 included a powerful batch language called REXX that could have been used to create things that would make today's Worms look like child's play. Back then, developers imagined users working together in harmony. Kumbaya should have been the code-name of Windows NT.
Few people back then could have predicted the impact that over-wedgified 17 year olds spreading their angst across the net in the form of Spyware, Worms, DDOS attacks, and so forth. But that was the world Windows XP found itself in. And Windows XP was based on that Kumbaya NT kernel. Fixing these security issues is non-trivial in most cases. There's compatibility to take into account for one thing. And so over the past 4 years Microsoft has gone back and rethought how software should be written and how networking could be done more securely.
At some points, it looked like Microsoft might go overboard. "Managed Code" became a rallying cry at some parts of Microsoft. Managed Code is a nice way of describing taking away the developer's ability to actually create things for the OS that the OS vendor didn't already think of. Luckily, managed code didn't become the order of the day. Windows Vista, from our initial glances, looks to be a good balance between the need for security for users and the need for flexibility for software developers. WinFX, the managed-code API is there, but it isn't required (at least not yet, and hopefully MS will always allow developers to bypass managed code to get to the lower level APIs).
The main highlights of Windows Vista can be summarized with:
- Better Security. This comes in the form of hardened services. Essentially, the kinds of things that hackers took advantage of (buffer overruns and the such) should be a thing of the past. The ability for malicious programs to patch system files and the such is being curtailed. Moreover, Microsoft is trying to migrate users away from setting users up as administrators. Instead, users set up with normal access can be prompted to enter the admin password when they need to do something that can affect system integrity. Hence, even if something does get through Vista's security, it won't be able to go crazy if the user isn't logged on as an admin.
- Better User Experience. The code-name for the new user experience is Aero. It's designed to be fast, efficient, responsive, and intuitive. In that, I think they've succeeded. I do suspect that the glass effect will need more tweaking before the final release. Perhaps coloring the glass for active and inactive windows might help as well as decreasing transparency of the active window. More strategically located shadows might also provide more clarity without compromising that improved aesthetics. One correction, the user experience is not based on Avalon. It is its own thing.
- The New Development Platform. Microsoft has also created a new development platform called code-named Avalon (but has now given it a long boring official name). Using .NET based languages (such as C#) along with a new mark-up language called XAML, developers can now much more easily (read more quickly) develop applications that have their own unique look and feel. XAML has been designed to let developers design their UI in much the same way that a web developer makes a web page. For developers, think of XAML as being similar to a .RC file. You still have the .cpp file (or whatever language you're using) but .xaml is what defines the UI (one wonders whether Yahoo was aware of Avalon before their recent buying spree but I digress).
- Information Organization. WinFS (the database layer for the Windows file system) won't be in Vista. But Microsoft is working to make fuller use of NTFS's capabilities to make it much easier to find your things and organize your data than what was previously possible. Simply put, searching for yourself will be much easier and faster. The virtual folders feature looks to be very promising. For those people who have been using short-cuts in painful ways, virtual folders may be just what you're looking for.
- Windows Communications Foundation (WCF). Code-named Indigo, Windows Vista is designed to make it far far easier for developers to create programs that can talk to each other over the Internet securely and easily. Developers (particularly game developers) can tell you the pain it is to write things that can easily talk to each other over the net through routers, fire-walls, etc. Opening ports and such is not an ideal solution. Indigo, amongst other things, aims to solve these kinds of problems. Over the past few years, a gazillion different protocols have come up that developers have had to juggle. WCF lets developers focus on writing good software instead of trying to figure out how to talk to other computers.
From what little I've played with Windows Vista so far, it's quite snappy. After I've had a chance to play with it more, I'll post some more observations. The real meat, according to Microsoft, won't show up until BETA 2..