Windows Vista is a line of operating systems developed by Microsoft for use on personal computers, including home and business desktops, laptops, Tablet PCs, and media center PCs. Prior to its announcement on July 22, 2005, Windows Vista was known by its codename Longhorn. Development was completed on November 8, 2006; over the following three months it was released in stages to computer hardware and software manufacturers, business customers, and retail channels. On January 30, 2007, it was released worldwide, and was made available for purchase and download from Microsoft's website. The release of Windows Vista came more than five years after the introduction of its predecessor, Windows XP, the longest time span between successive releases of Microsoft Windows.
Windows Vista contains many changes and new features, including an updated graphical user interface and visual style dubbed Windows Aero, improved searching features, new multimedia creation tools such as Windows DVD Maker, and redesigned networking, audio, print, and display sub-systems. Vista also aims to increase the level of communication between machines on a home network, using peer-to-peer technology to simplify sharing files and digital media between computers and devices. Windows Vista includes version 3.0 of the .NET Framework, which aims to make it significantly easier for software developers to write applications than with the traditional Windows API.
Microsoft's primary stated objective with Windows Vista, however, has been to improve the state of security in the Windows operating system. One common criticism of Windows XP and its predecessors has been their commonly exploited security vulnerabilities and overall susceptibility to malware, viruses and buffer overflows. In light of this, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced in early 2002 a company-wide "Trustworthy Computing initiative" which aims to incorporate security work into every aspect of software development at the company. Microsoft stated that it prioritized improving the security of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 above finishing Windows Vista, thus delaying its completion.
While these new features and security improvements have garnered positive reviews, Vista has also been the target of much criticism and negative press. Criticism of Windows Vista has targeted high system requirements, its more restrictive licensing terms, the inclusion of a number of new digital rights management technologies aimed at restricting the copying of protected digital media, lack of compatibility with certain pre-Vista hardware and software, and the number of authorization prompts for User Account Control. As a result of these and other issues, Windows Vista has seen adoption and satisfaction rates lower than Windows XP.
Microsoft began work on Windows Vista, known at the time by its codename Longhorn in May 2001, five months before the release of Windows XP. It was originally expected to ship sometime late in 2003 as a minor step between Windows XP and Blackcomb, which was planned to be the company's next major operating system release. Gradually, "Longhorn" assimilated many of the important new features and technologies slated for Blackcomb, resulting in the release date being pushed back several times. Many of Microsoft's developers were also re-tasked to build updates to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to strengthen security. Faced with ongoing delays and concerns about feature creep, Microsoft announced on August 27, 2004 that it had revised its plans. The original Longhorn, based on the Windows XP source code, was scrapped, and Longhorn's development started anew, building on the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 codebase, and re-incorporating only the features that would be intended for an actual operating system release. Some previously announced features such as WinFS were dropped or postponed, and a new software development methodology called the Security Development Lifecycle was incorporated in an effort to address concerns with the security of the Windows codebase.
After Longhorn was named Windows Vista in July 2005, an unprecedented beta-test program was started, involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers and companies. In September of that year, Microsoft started releasing regular Community Technology Previews (CTP) to beta testers. The first of these was distributed at the 2005 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, and was subsequently released to beta testers and Microsoft Developer Network subscribers. The builds that followed incorporated most of the planned features for the final product, as well as a number of changes to the user interface, based largely on feedback from beta testers. Windows Vista was deemed feature-complete with the release of the "February CTP", released on February 22, 2006, and much of the remainder of work between that build and the final release of the product focused on stability, performance, application and driver compatibility, and documentation. Beta 2, released in late May, was the first build to be made available to the general public through Microsoft's Customer Preview Program. It was downloaded by over five million people. Two release candidates followed in September and October, both of which were made available to a large number of users.
While Microsoft had originally hoped to have the consumer versions of the operating system available worldwide in time for Christmas 2006, it was announced in March 2006 that the release date would be pushed back to January 2007, in order to give the company – and the hardware and software companies which Microsoft depends on for providing device drivers – additional time to prepare. Through much of 2006, analysts and bloggers had speculated that Windows Vista would be delayed further, owing to anti-trust concerns raised by the European Commission and South Korea, and due to a perceived lack of progress with the beta releases. However, with the November 8, 2006 announcement of the completion of Windows Vista, Microsoft's lengthiest operating system development project came to an end.
Microsoft had claimed that Windows Vista had cost 6 billion dollars to develop.
Vista includes technologies such as ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive which employ fast flash memory (located on USB drives and hybrid hard disk drives) to improve system performance by caching commonly used programs and data. This manifests itself in improved battery life on notebook computers as well, since a hybrid drive can be spun down when not in use. Another new technology called SuperFetch utilizes machine learning techniques to analyze usage patterns to allow Windows Vista to make intelligent decisions about what content should be present in system memory at any given time. It uses almost all the extra RAM as disk cache. In conjunction with SuperFetch, an automatic built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter makes sure that those applications are strategically positioned on the hard disk where they can be loaded into memory very quickly with the least amount of physical movement of the hard disk’s read-write heads.
As part of the redesign of the networking architecture, IPv6 has been fully incorporated into the operating system and a number of performance improvements have been introduced, such as TCP window scaling. Earlier versions of Windows typically needed third-party wireless networking software to work properly, but this is not the case with Vista, which includes more comprehensive wireless networking support.
For graphics, Vista introduces a new Windows Display Driver Model and a major revision to Direct3D. The new driver model facilitates the new Desktop Window Manager, which provides the tearing-free desktop and special effects that are the cornerstones of Windows Aero. Direct3D 10, developed in conjunction with major display driver manufacturers, is a new architecture with more advanced shader support, and allows the graphics processing unit to render more complex scenes without assistance from the CPU. It features improved load balancing between CPU and GPU and also optimizes data transfer between them.
At the core of the operating system, many improvements have been made to the memory manager, process scheduler and I/O scheduler. The Heap Manager implements additional features such as integrity checking in order to improve robustness and defend against buffer overflow security exploits, although this comes at the price of breaking backward compatibility with some legacy applications. A Kernel Transaction Manager has been implemented that enables applications to work with the file system and Registry using atomic transaction operations.
Improved security was a primary design goal for Vista. Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, which aims to improve public trust in its products, has had a direct effect on its development. This effort has resulted in a number of new security and safety features.
User Account Control is perhaps the most significant and visible of these changes. User Account Control is a security technology that makes it possible for users to use their computer with fewer privileges by default, with a view to stopping malware from making unauthorized changes to the system. This was often difficult in previous versions of Windows, as the previous "limited" user accounts proved too restrictive and incompatible with a large proportion of application software, and even prevented some basic operations such as looking at the calendar from the notification tray. In Windows Vista, when an action requiring administrative rights—such as installing/uninstalling software or making system-wide configuration changes—is performed, the user is first prompted for an administrator name and password; in cases where the user is already an administrator, the user is still prompted to confirm the pending privileged action. Regular use of the computer such as running programs, printing, or surfing the Internet does not trigger UAC prompts. User Account Control asks for credentials in a Secure Desktop mode, in which the entire screen is blacked out, temporarily disabled, and only the authorization window is active and highlighted. The intent is to stop a malicious program misleading the user by interfering with the authorization window, and to hint to the user the importance of the prompt.
Internet Explorer 7's new security and safety features include a phishing filter, IDN with anti-spoofing capabilities, and integration with system-wide parental controls. For added security, ActiveX controls are disabled by default. Also, Internet Explorer operates in a protected mode, which operates with lower permissions than the user and runs in isolation from other applications in the operating system, preventing it from accessing or modifying anything besides the Temporary Internet Files directory. Microsoft's anti-spyware product, Windows Defender, has been incorporated into Windows, providing protection against malware and other threats. Changes to various system configuration settings (such as new auto-starting applications) are blocked unless the user gives consent.
Whereas prior releases of Windows supported per-file encryption using Encrypting File System, the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista include BitLocker Drive Encryption which can protect entire volumes, notably the operating system volume. However, BitLocker requires approximately a 1.5-gigabyte partition to be permanently unencrypted and to contain system files in order for Windows to boot. This is a potential security issue, because third party applications (or even the operating system) may intentionally or unintentionally write sensitive data to the partition and the data will not be encrypted. BitLocker can work in conjunction with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) cryptoprocessor (version 1.2) embedded in a computer's motherboard, or with a USB key. However, as with other full disk encryption technologies, BitLocker is vulnerable to a cold boot attack, especially where TPM is used as a key protector without a boot PIN being required too.
A variety of other privilege-restriction techniques are also built into Vista. An example is the concept of "integrity levels" in user processes, whereby a process with a lower integrity level cannot interact with processes of a higher integrity level and cannot perform DLL–injection to a processes of a higher integrity level. The security restrictions of Windows services are more fine-grained, so that services (especially those listening on the network) have no ability to interact with parts of the operating system they do not need to. Obfuscation techniques such as address space layout randomization are used to increase the amount of effort required of malware before successful infiltration of a system. Code Integrity verifies that system binaries haven’t been tampered with by malicious code.
As part of the redesign of the network stack, Windows Firewall has been upgraded, with new support for filtering both incoming and outgoing traffic. Advanced packet filter rules can be created which can grant or deny communications to specific services.
The 64-bit versions of Vista require that all device drivers be digitally signed, so that the creator of the driver can be identified.
Windows Vista includes a large number of new application programming interfaces. Chief among them is the inclusion of version 3.0 of the .NET Framework, which consists of a class library and Common Language Runtime. Version 3.0 includes four new major components:
These technologies are also available for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to facilitate their introduction to and usage by developers and end users.
There are also significant new development APIs in the core of the operating system, notably the completely re-architected audio, networking, print, and video interfaces, major changes to the security infrastructure, improvements to the deployment and installation of applications ("ClickOnce" and Windows Installer 4.0) , new device driver development model ("Windows Driver Foundation") , Transactional NTFS, mobile computing API advancements (power management, Tablet PC Ink support, SideShow) and major updates to (or complete replacements of) many core subsystems such as Winlogon and CAPI.
There are some issues for software developers using some of the graphics APIs in Vista. Games or programs which are built solely on the Windows Vista-exclusive version of DirectX, version 10, cannot work on prior versions of Windows, as DirectX 10 is not available for previous Windows versions. Also, games which require the features of D3D9Ex, the updated implementation of DirectX 9 in Windows Vista are also incompatible with previous Windows versions. According to a Microsoft blog, there are three choices for OpenGL implementation on Vista. An application can use the default implementation, which translates OpenGL calls into the Direct3D API and is frozen at OpenGL version 1.4, or an application can use an Installable Client Driver (ICD) , which comes in two flavors: legacy and Vista-compatible. A legacy ICD disables the Desktop Window Manager, a Vista-compatible ICD takes advantage of a new API, and is fully compatible with the Desktop Window Manager. At least two primary vendors, ATI and NVIDIA provided full Vista-compatible ICDs. However, hardware overlay is not supported, because it is considered as an obsolete feature in Vista. ATI and NVIDIA strongly recommend using compositing desktop/Framebuffer Objects for same functionality.
In the European Union, Home Basic N and Business N versions are also available. These come without Windows Media Player, due to EU sanctions brought against Microsoft for violating anti-trust laws. Similar sanctions exist in South Korea.
Dell and Microsoft partnered up to support (PRODUCT) RED. Microsoft released the Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT) RED that exclusively will come together with Dell (PRODUCT) RED Computers.
Windows Vista's Basic and Classic interfaces work with virtually any graphics hardware that supports Windows XP or 2000; accordingly, most discussion around Vista's graphics requirements centers on those for the Windows Aero interface. As of Windows Vista Beta 2, the NVIDIA GeForce 6 series and later, the ATI Radeon 9500 and later, Intel's GMA 950 and later integrated graphics, and a handful of VIA chipsets and S3 Graphics discrete chips are supported. Although originally supported, the GeForce FX 5 series has been dropped from newer drivers from NVIDIA. The last driver from NVIDIA to support the GeForce FX series on Vista was 96.85. Microsoft offers a tool called the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor to assist Windows XP and Vista users in determining what versions of Windows their machine is capable of running. Although the installation media included in retail packages is a 32-bit DVD, customers needing a CD-ROM or customers who wish for a 64-bit install media are able to acquire this media through the Windows Vista Alternate Media program. The Ultimate edition includes both 32-bit and 64-bit media. The digitally downloaded version of Ultimate includes only one version, either 32-bit or 64-bit, from Windows Marketplace.
|"Vista Capable"||"Vista Premium Ready"|
|Processor||800 MHz||1 GHz|
|Memory||512 MB RAM||1 GB RAM|
|Graphics card||DirectX 9.0 capable||DirectX 9.0 capable and WDDM 1.0 driver support|
|Graphics memory||32 MB RAM||128 MB RAM supports up to 2,756,000 total pixels (e.g. 1920 × 1200) or 512 MB+ for greater resolutions such as 2560x1600|
|HDD capacity||20 GB||40 GB|
|HDD free space||15 GB||15 GB|
|Audio||Audio output||Audio output|
A whitepaper published by Microsoft near the end of August 2007 outlined the scope and intent of the service pack, identifying three major areas of improvement: reliability and performance, administration experience, and support for newer hardware and standards.
Service Pack 1 introduces support for some new hardware and software standards, notably the exFAT file system, 802.11n wireless networking, IPv6 over VPN connections, and the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. Booting a system using Extensible Firmware Interface on x64 systems is also being introduced; this feature had originally been slated for the initial release of Vista but was delayed due to a lack of compatible hardware at the time.
Two areas have seen changes in SP1 that have come as the result of concerns from software vendors. One of these is desktop search; users will be able to change the default desktop search program to one provided by a third party instead of the Microsoft desktop search program that comes with Windows Vista, and desktop search programs will be able to seamlessly tie in their services into the operating system. These changes come in part due to complaints from Google, whose Google Desktop Search application was hindered by the presence of Vista's built-in desktop search. In June 2007, Google claimed that the changes being introduced for SP1 "are a step in the right direction, but they should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers". The other area of note is a set of new security APIs being introduced for the benefit of antivirus software that currently relies on the unsupported practice of patching the kernel (see Kernel Patch Protection).
An update to DirectX 10, named DirectX 10.1, makes mandatory several features which were previously optional in Direct3D 10 hardware. Graphics cards will be required to support DirectX 10.1. SP1 includes a kernel (6001) that matches the version shipped with Windows Server 2008.
The Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) is being replaced by the Group Policy Object Editor. An updated downloadable version of the Group Policy Management Console was released soon after the service pack.
SP1 enables support for hotpatching, a reboot-reduction servicing technology designed to maximize uptime. It works by allowing Windows components to be updated (or "patched") while they are still in use by a running process. Hotpatch-enabled update packages are installed via the same methods as traditional update packages, and will not trigger a system reboot.
The adoption of Vista has been generally low, due to largely poor reviews and harsh criticism. PC World rated it as the biggest tech disappointment of 2007, and it was rated by InfoWorld as #2 of Tech's all-time 25 flops. The market share for Windows Vista, taking the latest statistic, was 17.85% as of September 2008. This figure combined with World Internet Users and Population Stats yields a user base of roughly 260 million.
Within its first month, 20 million copies of Vista were sold, double the amount of Windows XP sales within its first month in October 2001, five years earlier. In China, only 244 genuine copies were sold within the first two weeks, leading authorities to believe that software piracy left many copies unaccounted for. However, PC World reports that adoption of Windows Vista is going at a much slower rate compared to the adoption of Windows XP. Within the first year of its release, the percentage of Windows XP users visiting PC World's website reached 36%; in the same time frame, however, Windows Vista adoption reached only 14%, with 71% of users still running XP. Due to Vista's relatively low adoption rates and continued demand for Windows XP, Microsoft continued to sell Windows XP until June 30, 2008 instead of the previously planned date of January 31, 2008. There have been reports of Vista users downgrading their operating systems, as well as reports of businesses planning to skip Vista, though some recommend that small businesses should indeed migrate to Vista as a stepping-stone in transforming computers and technologies. A study conducted by ChangeWave in March 2008 shows that the percentage of corporate users who are "very satisfied" with Vista is dramatically lower than other operating systems, with Vista at 8%, compared to the 40% who say they are "very satisfied" with Windows XP.
Although business adoption of Vista has been far higher than Apple or Linux platforms, it has been slower than expected; while businesses do tend to delay upgrading their operating systems, there have been reports of businesses who were considering upgrading to Vista prior to its release now intending to skip Vista entirely due to upgrade costs and the estimated release of Windows 7 in late 2009 (as of May 27, 2008). According to InformationWeek, in December 2006, 6% of business enterprises were expected to employ Vista within the first year, yet as of October 2007, only about 1% of enterprise PCs were actually using Vista. ChangeWave also reported that 53% of new business computers bought in the next quarter will be equipped with Windows XP as opposed to 20% of businesses buying computers equipped with Vista. Furthermore, while a large number of businesses have already bought licenses to run Windows Vista, many of these companies are delaying deployment. There have been a number of organizations who have denounced Vista due to its problems. For example, in October 2007, The Dutch Consumers' Association called for a boycott of Windows Vista after Microsoft refused to offer free copies of Windows XP to users who had problems with Vista.
Amid the negative reviews and reception, there has also been significant positive review of Vista, most notable from among PC gamers and the advantages brought about with DirectX 10, which allows for better gaming performance and more realistic graphics, as well as support for many new capabilities brought about in new video cards and GPUs.
On February 29, 2008, Microsoft announced that it will lower the price of the Vista operating system sold at retail outlets in order to aid in its adoption. These price cuts only apply to the retail versions sold in shops, which account for less than 10% of total Vista sales. Vista Ultimate, for example, will see a 20% drop in its price, from to $319.
On July 17, 2008, Microsoft announced that it had sold 180 million licenses, which would amount to between 36 and 57 billion dollars in gross retail sale price using February 29, 2008 price tags of the various versions. Initial development of the software was claimed to be 6 billion dollars.
On July 30, 2008, Microsoft indicated that Vista is appearing to be causing a shift in the PC industry to move from 32-bit to 64-bit PCs. The installed base of 64-bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the U.S. in the previous three months, while worldwide adoption had more than doubled during the same period. Another view showed that 20% of new Windows Vista PCs in the U.S. connecting to Windows Update in June were 64-bit PCs, up from just 3% in March. Put more simply, usage of 64-bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32-bit. Based on current trends, this growth will accelerate as the retail channel shifts to supplying a rapidly increasing assortment of 64-bit desktops and laptops. It is believed that the falling price of RAM and increased use of multitasking are reaping benefits from Windows SuperFetch, which accelerates performance with the installation of more RAM allowed by a 64-bit PC.