Since Part One of my little Vista venture last week, I've received a few not-so-nice e-mails from folks telling me to make sure I prove to them that Vista will really be revolutionary rather than evolutionary. For the most part, that's a subjective term. If you're a rabid, anti-Redmond Penguin palooka, nothing will seem revolutionary. But for folks moving from Windows XP to Vista, you're really going to see a difference.
We left off last time with security. Authentication, especially, has taken on a very Unix-like flavor with UAC (User Account Control) -- a definite change for the better. But Redmond didn't stop with UAC. For one thing, you'll notice a very different and highly configurable Windows Firewall. This puppy filters incoming as well as outgoing traffic and now has enough configurability to compete with dedicated desktop firewalls such as ZoneAlarm.
Overall, I think ZoneAlarm will still come out ahead, but for systems administrators with 50, 100, or even 1,000 machines behind an already sophisticated firewall perimeter, being able to activate the Windows Firewall with the Private profile right out of the box is a truly handy feature.
Next to the firewall, Vista will also include Windows Defender, Microsoft's anti-virus/anti-spyware package. This won't differ much under Vista from what we've already seen under Windows XP. And, again, I don't think it's robust enough to stand on its own as yet, but it makes a decent secondary platform in an increasingly dangerous cyberspace.
That's enough on security. Microsoft has also made plenty of user-oriented changes that should make users familiar with XP pretty happy after they're used to them. The shell is a good place to start, including the Windows Start window. This behaves much more like a folder-tree file menu now. It's a little strange to get used to it, but when you do, the old XP method seems maddeningly slow. It's much easier to go straight where you want to go with Vista's Start menu.
Windows' Search feature is also radically different. Microsoft is clearly trying to regain its footing on this feature, and it shows. This is a full-fledged desktop index-based search engine that does a full system index immediately upon first boot. Search is still keyword-based, but if you use the separate Search application rather than the Start menu's shortcut version, you can do more advanced things such as save searches into Search Folders -- very handy for recurring searches.
Microsoft has deliberately nuked any ability to index non-local drives. Right now, that's because booting the first time would require every workstation to scan every attached network file system, and the network would die. It's good reasoning, but I also haven't been able to figure a way to add a specific network drive to my search index. I think that should be a quick upgrade and would make Search far more meaningful to corporate users -- especially if it's also an attribute I can control via Group Policy.