Bill Gates preps Vista security strategy

SEATTLE – Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, announced the beta 2 versions of the Windows Vista operating system, Windows server Longhorn and 2007 Office system at this year’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC).

Gates said it is the first time the test versions of all three of the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s flagship products have been simultaneously released.

“Today’s a milestone for us in terms of the huge investment” being made in Windows-affiliated products in 2006, he said.

Gates said Windows Vista, Longhorn and 2007 Office will work together to cut IT costs and improve security, help protect and manage information, simplify the way people collaborate and enable people across organizations to have faster, easier access to critical information.

During his keynote address on Tuesday, Gates also released details about Windows server virtualization technology, which eventually will be available with Longhorn. A beta release of Windows server virtualization is scheduled to be released at the end of this year. It will enter the market within 100 days of Longhorn’s debut.

The adoption of Windows server virtualization, he said, will help company IT departments to “free up money…to spend on newer applications” entering the market.

Most of the spotlight, however, has been on Windows Vista, which is scheduled to be released to the enterprise in November. It is being described as targeting different audiences, such as consumers, IT professionals and developers.

“The No. 1 reason I believe Windows Vista will have a large impact on society is because of safety and security,” said Jim Allchin, co-president of the platforms and services division.

Vista is being driven by several factors on the security side, including government regulation that has forced a heightened focus on compliance issues, explained Austin Wilson, director of Windows Client at Microsoft.

Additionally, more than 600,000 laptops were lost last year in the U.S., Austin said. Companies spend an average of between US$170 to US$350 on operational security for each employee.

Unlike Windows 2000, which supported only passwords and smart cards, Vista offers credential providers, Wilson said.

Now, users may add credential providers like biometrics or one-time passwords but need not replace existing methods, he said.

The new platform also attempts to stem information leaks, which is “something we hear from customers every day,” Wilson said.

Microsoft has a three-pronged approach to contend with this challenge: rights-managed services giving users control at the document level (for example, users decide whether an e-mail may be forwarded), an encryption file system allowing customers to work on machines used by several people, and a feature enabling full volume data protection called Bit Locker.

Improving desktop tools is also another objective of Vista.

Stella Chernyak, group product manager of Windows Client, said Vista will slash the cost of project rollouts and the related difficulties.

“We know that large deployment projects can take 18 months to 24 months,” Chernyak said. “It can take $200 up to over $1,000 per PC for companies.”

Because compatibility is often cited as the largest problem in system deployments, Microsoft can now implement fixes early in the development process of a company’s deployment, she explained.

Moreover, after users find solutions to their project application problems, she said, they may publish their findings in a community forum for the benefit of other Vista customers.

“I believe businesses will take some time to test,” said Microsoft’s Allchin. But “I believe all the computer manufacturers will move to Vista in bulk.”

Because Microsoft has invested significantly in a “self-healing approach” in which Vista resolves many problems on its own, “It’s going to save (manufacturers) money in support costs,” Allchin said.

From an IT management perspective, including industry advancements in mobility and security, Windows Vista, the culmination of several features Microsoft has introduced over the years, is a compelling proposition, analysts said.

“But there’s a lot of investment that has to take place,” Joel Martin, vice-president of enterprise applications at IDC Canada in Toronto, said.

“You just can’t buy Vista CDs…Often there has to be a lot of focus on what we need to have to support this.”

Unlike a company that has not refreshed hardware in a few years, one that has done so over the last 12 months will not find it expensive to buy the new system, Martin said.

Other WinHEC news included Microsoft’s plans to make personal computing more accessible by offering customers in emerging markets a pay-as-you-go program called Microsoft FlexGo.

It also aims to release the beta 2 version of WinFX and the corresponding Go-Live license, both available to developers on MSDN.

WinFX is a core part of the Vista operating system that permits developers to rapidly build modern applications.

The Go-Live license enables customers to deploy applications for Vista using key WinFX technologies.

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