Hands On: A Hard Look at Windows Vista

Now that it's gold, here's an inside look at the best and the worst of Windows Vista

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What, No Antivirus Tool?

As with past versions of Windows, Windows Vista doesn't include any antivirus software. Why? One reason might be antitrust concerns, particularly in Europe. Including antivirus in the operating system could certainly be construed as anticompetitive, and could embroil Microsoft in lawsuits for years to come. In fact, Microsoft has been wrangling with security vendors who want access Security Center so that they can more easily integrate into it. We won't go into all the gory details, but the food fight will be with us for some time.

Another potential reason is that Microsoft just happens to sell an antivirus product of its own bundled into Windows Live OneCare. If antivirus was included in Windows Vista, there'd be little reason for anyone to buy OneCare.

What to do about antivirus software? You'll have to buy or download a third-party program. Not all antivirus software works with Vista yet, and it's not clear which will work and which won't, so this may be problematic for anyone upgrading to Windows Vista. Also not clear is whether the license you've bought for a Windows XP version will be able to be used for the Windows Vista version.

But some antivirus software does work. If you're looking for a very good free program for personal use, Avast! is a good choice -- it's lightweight and uses very few system resources.

Avast! antivirus is one of the few that works with Vista.
 
Avast! is one of the few anti-virus programs that works with Vista. (Click image to see larger view)

Parental controls

If you're a parent, are worried about how your children use the computer and the Internet and believe that a software tool for blocking access is part of the answer to your worries, you'll be pleased with the new Parental Controls feature built into Windows Vista.

Microsoft has managed to give you exceedingly fine-grained control over all aspects of how the computer is used, from Internet access and games to the exact times and days the computer is being used. And it's managed to do that in a simple-to-use interface.

There are four sets of controls: for filtering Web use, controlling when a child can use the PC, controlling games based on a rating system, and allowing and blocking specific programs. Each control is relatively simple and intuitive; parents need not worry that they'll need their children to teach them to use the controls, which would certainly defeat the purpose of Parental Controls in the first place.

Parental Controls gives you fine-tuned control over other users.
 
Parental Controls gives you fine-tuned control over other users on your system.

(Click image to see larger view)

For parents who want to keep a virtual eye on their children, activity reports can be automatically generated and viewed. The reports include the top 10 Web sites visited, the top 10 Web sites blocked, applications used, games used, when each child logged on to the PC and more.

UAC and file permissions

Perhaps the most controversial security feature in Windows Vista is User Account Control (UAC), which seeks your confirmation before it will allow various programs or dialog boxes to open.

The purpose of UAC is to make Windows users -- as the last line of defense -- aware of potentially dangerous activities that are about to carried out on their computers. The potential threat is that a malware program (or possibly a determined hacker) could be carrying out a scripted set of steps that will lead to a negative event on your computer, such as the loss of data or damage to your Windows installation.

In a nutshell, the question UAC asks is: Did you initiate the process that's attempting to run? When the answer is yes, you click OK or Allow to permit the action. When the answer is no, your prudence in letting UAC block that action could save you from a very bad experience.

UAC asks,
 
UAC asks, "Did you initiate this action?"
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