Fellow ZDNet blogger Ed Bott has posted 30 screen shots from the new beta version of Windows Vista that Microsoft released yesterday. I've gone through all thirty screen shots and have found a few items worth pointing out.
In his screenshot of the personal firewall that's included with Vista, Bott writes:
Vista’s firewall is capable of blocking outbound connection, but this feature isn’t available for your control. You’ll still need a third-party utility if you want to do more than stop inbound intrusions.
One of the built-in anti-malware products -- Windows Defender -- makes it easier to browse the programs that are installed, how they're installed (are they in the startup folder?), and what they do (do they access the network). Some third party programs are on the pre-approved list of software that gets a hall pass before Windows Defender gets in the way (as a partner to Microsoft, will MTVs intrusive Urge service be one of those?). What's still lacking, and it's something that I often complain about, is sufficient information for approving or disallowing certain applications.
When some software tries to do something on my computer and my anti-malware triggers it (as my Webroot anti-spyware and my Sygate Personal Firewall currently do), the information I get still isn't enough to help me decide whether to allow it or not. Sooner or later, the entire security sector needs to get together to form a centralized XML-enabled database of all known software and what the expected behavior of that software is so that anti-malware can offer better information to users who need to make on-the-spot decisions. For example, when my Adobe Document Reader attempts to connect to Adobe's Web site to see if if there's a new version of the software, I'd like for my anti-malware programs that normally flag that activity to say something like
I just looked this activity up in the Security Consortium's Database and, this software's attempt to connect to XYZ domain is the software's attempt to update itself from the publisher's Web site. It is certifiably the expected behavior for this software. so you should permanently allow it. If, due to changes made by the software's publisher, this software attempts to automatically connect to a new Internet address that you haven't explicitly approved, your anti-malware program will re-check that behavior with the Security Consortium's Database and advise you again on what you should.
The closest thing I've seen to a complete database that gives you information about what software is or isn't supposed to do is a free Website that's run by UniBlue Systems called processlibrary.com. In hopes of getting the sort of information I need to make on-the-spot decisions, I use this site all the time when my anti-malware triggers something that I've never seen before. Recently, the company introduced a freely downloadable plug-in that links up the Windows Task Manager with processlibrary.com. So, let's say you're looking at Windows Task Manager and you see some process that you're not familiar with and you want to know what it does. Instead of having to manually search for the process by name on processlibrary.com, you just click on the the "I" button ("I" for "information") that the plug-in inserts next to the process (pictured above right), and you are taken directly to the relevant page on the processlibrary.com Web site. In previous emails with UniBlue officials, the company has said that it would be interested in ways it might be able to contribute its database to some sort of industry-wide effort to make anti-malware software more usuable. As a side note, some of UniBlue's other software products like WinTasks Pro 5 are are must have for any Windows power user.
In his gallery, Ed correctly identifies Vista's visual Windows optimization tool -- known as "Performance Rating and Tools -- as a very nice and helpful feature. Optimizing Windows has never been for mortals. But mortals are probably the types of Windows users that complain most about the problems they're having with system performance and startup time. This tool stands a chance at give those mortals a way to solve the problems themselves.
As an Outlook user, I'm really looking forward to the way Outlook 2007 will be able to subscribe to RSS feeds without the need for third party software like Newsgator. However, based on what I read today on Jeff Bishop's blog, there appears to be some question as to whether Outlook '07 works off the system wide RSS API that IE7 works with. Either way, having RSS support in Outlook will be great.
Finally, Vista's local print rendering feature where print jobs can be pre-processed before being sent to a network printer is an interesting one. On the one hand, I guess this isn't too different from the way pre-driven print jobs are handled with CUPS (Common Unix Printing System). On my Linux server for example, I have two print queues. One is called HP5550 and the other is called HP5550RAW. The HP5550RAW queue is just a pass through. It assumes the items I'm adding to it are already preprocessed to be printed on my HP5550 printer (and they are by virtue of the HP5550 driver that's loaded onto my Windows systems). On the other, preprocessing print jobs seems to fly a bit in the face of distributed services-oriented computing that I prefer -- the one where workloads are sent off to another machine to be processed, thereby freeing up your local system to do more work (or require fewer resources).