Windows 7 security: A better kind of anarchy

Was Vista always the slow elevator to something better?

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There is no getting away from it. Windows 7 was never intended to be launched this week, and would in more normal circumstances have appeared at some point next year or ever later.

What went wrong, why was normality disrupted, and why the world has been invited to experience the launch of something as technically opaque as an operating system, is now a matter of widely-held orthodoxy: Vista, the trumpeted successor to XP, didn’t measure up.

Launched to business customers throughout late 2006, the scale of Vista’s market failure still looks bad, no matter that it has ended up maturing into a perfectly stable piece of software. According to a survey by Forrester this week, XP is still the main OS used on an astonishing 79 percent of PCs in the key US and European SMB sector, with Vista used by 9 percent, not much ahead of the aged Windows 2000.

The grip XP has maintained on businesses at all levels is still a shock if you ponder one of the main reasons it was supposed to deserve being kicked out– woeful security.

There was a time when security would have been seen as an afterthought and that was probably how XP’s planners saw it as they churned through code in mid-2001, close to launch. That turned out to be historic complacency and so the whole OS had to be retrofitted with a security-oriented service pack in late 2004 just to turn it into something almost mediocre. XP has struggled security-wise ever since.

Vista’s various failings have been well documented but - the incessant pestering of its User Account Control (UAC) aside - had little to do with security, which just goes to show that security is not the bit that most people notice, most of the time. Businesses wanted better security, but decided to wait for a better all-round product.

By now, desperation has probably set in, and businesses will flock to buy Windows 7 as their upgrade cycles allow. Forrester reports that 66 percent have plans to do so in the fullness of time, a not very surprising finding given that not doing so would mean sticking with an eight year old OS. Forrester also found that 28 percent of companies planned to deploy in one hit.

In essence, the security case for Windows 7 over XP is unanswerable, starting with some basic reforms (such as a proper distinction between user and admin accounts) that make you wonder how firms have coped all this time. Given that Windows 7 shares its security architecture with Vista, the case for an upgrade here is far less clear cut and would depend on the desirability of other features.

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