On the Ropes?

The out-of-box experience for Windows Vista will include a two-way (outbound and inbound) firewall, anti-spyware protection, an operating system that asks for permission prior to allowing administrative tasks. It will also sport a redesigned Internet Explorer 7 that works in a protected mode that separates your browsing experience from the operating system. Having all of these features provides you with a very secure out-of-box experience.

After working with the latest Windows Vista community technology preview (CTP) build, I have several predictions and observations that I would like to share.

The two-way firewall included in Vista will not put software firewall companies out of business just yet, but I see the market drying up as we approach the first service pack of Vista. Microsoft still has some catching-up to do.

Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 were full of security flaws and holes. It was also very cumbersome to run as a limited user account (LUA). Almost everyone runs Windows XP with a computer administrator account. This is a security nightmare and helped malware and spyware thrive in the Windows XP era. It wasn’t until XP SP2 that Microsoft finally began securing XP.

All of these flaws and holes in security opened the doors for security companies such as Zone Alarm, Norton, Lavasoft, McCaffee, et. al. to move in and make money on Microsoft’s folly.

This is why I am so excited about Windows Vista: I’m not going to have to buy all those other, third-part security products anymore! All of these third-party products will become obsolete as Microsoft’s security evolves and matures. And this is exactly what security vendors are worried about. They are in no immediate danger but they are scurrying to come up with plan for the future.

Microsoft still has some catching-up to do before the out-of–box experience is up to par with the current security products available. Still Vista has security vendors asking some really hard questions. Perhaps the most perplexing is “What will we be able to offer that the out-of-box experience doesn’t already provide?”

As a senior consultant in the trenches, I hear a lot of mumbling and grumbling that Vista’s two-way firewall is not as good as competing products and that the spyware protection, Windows Defender, does not handle spyware and rootkits very well compared to other vendors.

I absolutely agree with but you have to look at what Windows Vista is going to offer as a whole—the big picture.

Vista has tightened security, two-way firewall, provided the ability to run as a standard user, and built in spyware protection. All of these pieces are going to make it very difficult for viruses and spyware to make it onto your system.

Just look at Linux and Apple. Most people who run those operating systems do not even run antivirus or spyware protection. Microsoft is playing catch-up but they are heading in the right direction.

Let’s look at an example. With Windows Vista, you can successfully close the door on malware by running as a standard user account. This closes the door on spyware and malware automatically. Add the other components such as spyware protection and a firewall on top of this and your system is very secure.

If I was a security vendor, I would look to complimenting Microsoft’s existing infrastructure rather than replacing it with similar products. One such area that Microsoft hasn’t approached is the rootkit arena.

It would be naive of me to think that all of Microsoft’s security woes are going to be fixed with Windows Vista, but this release is heading in the right direction and I am very curious to see how security vendors handle the transition.

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, DatabaseJournal.com and, now, CIO Update. He the author of “The VMware Workstation 5.0 Handbook” and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.