Window Vista: reinventing the wheel

[Last reviewed 12-Feb-2007]

I have read at menéame (Spanish) about a Windows Vista review, and I have decided to comment about it here. The original review (in English) here.

The first thing one notices is the blatant copy of many MacOS (as usual) and FLOSS project (Linux and Firefox) features.

1) The Aero User Interface allows for window transparency. Wow, I'd be hard pressed to name a Linux desktop environment that couldn't do it long ago.

2) You can Alt-Tab (Win-Tab, really) between open windows, having them appear in 3D. This is nice, but similar effects are obtained with 3D-desktop for Linux (only for desktop switching, not window switching), and now with XGL, which I expect to be fully functional much sooner than the Vista release date (mark my words).

3) The desktop supports applets, that, in the long standing Microsoft custom of reinventing the wheel, and then renaming it to pretend it's something new, they call "Gadgets". Such gadgets would be things like calendars, weather forecast indicators, clocks... Such things have been long present in Linux with SuperKaramba, gDesklets, and adesklets.

4) IE7 can now read RSS, and supports tabbed browsing. Again, Firefox supported it long ago.

5) IE7 now supports international URLs, such as www.mü Firefox, of course, already supports them. Moreover, the URL display is not correct in IE7, whereas it is in Firefox (see images below):


Figure 1: Internet Explorer 7


Figure 2: Firefox

6) IE7 is said to come with anti-phising settings. Firefox already had extension for that, namely Google safebrowsing, Personal Anti-Phising Sidebar, FirePhish Anti-Phishing Extension or TrustWatch Search Extension by GeoTrust.

7) IE7 has a "MSN search" box next to the URL box (IE6 has it too?), but now it permits to add other search engines. Firefox has had it for ages:


Figure 3: Internet Explorer 7

Figure 4: Firefox

8 ) IPv6 support, I think was present at XP (through obscure commands), now is properly handled. How long has this been correctly handled under Linux?

9) UAC (User Account Control). A garbage far inferior to the user management in UNIX-like systems (I added the boldface bits):

A new User Account Control (UAC) function enables those whose accounts possess administrator-level privileges (or who log on using the Administrator account) to perform actions unavailable to other types of user accounts [it always was like that for UNIX]. Those who lack such rights will be informed that they lack the privileges necessary to run the program [it always was like that for UNIX], and that they should execute it under a different account instead. This doesn't mean logging out and then logging back in is strictly necessary [it never was in UNIX. su to different user, then exit.], though, because those who have access to privileged account information can always use the "runas" [another MS reinventing and renaming, now for sudo] command to access more privileged credentials.

The guiding idea behind this technique is called the "principle of least privilege" [used in UNIX since the down of times]. Under this doctrine, users who normally work on a Windows machine should log in using ordinary user accounts, so that if they contract a virus or other malware, that unwanted software is a lot less able to do serious damage than if they routinely log in using administrative privileges. But Microsoft hasn't taken this principle entirely to heart, either. The first user defined during installation is automatically granted administrative privileges. Worse yet, the reserved account named Administrator is not required to have a password to log into the machine!

Moreover, unless under Windows, in UNIX-like systems different users have different privileges regarding reading, writing and executing not only root's (again, MS renames to "Administrator") files, but also each other's files. Maybe I can read some or your files, but not write to them, maybe you can let me write to some of your files, maybe I let you see what's inside one of my dirs, and open (but not modify) some files in it, and not even open some others.

10) Windows Updates has been improved, but still I can't see anything that Debian APT, SUSE YaST or RedHat RPM can not do. I can't see, either, some things that APT, YaST and RPM can do. I don't know if Window Updates has those capabilities, the review just doesn't mention them.

11) At startup, it checks whether hard disk defragmentation is necessary. What kind of shitty filesystem needs defragmentation nowadays! Journaled filesystems such as ReiserFS and others certainly don't!.

12) I quote: "Some things never go away: even for Windows Vista, installing some new system components still requires a reboot." This is really garbage. In Linux only a kernel reinstall forces a reboot (you can choose not to reboot, just the new kernel won't be active until you reboot).

13) The review spends 7 of its 40 pages commenting games included with Windows Vista (such as Minesweeper or Solitaire, but also a 3D chess game and some others). While critics for that excess should go to the reviewer, not MS, it is still true that with a long overdue OS, any delay that the polishing of the games could have caused would be criminal.

14) I read in the #218 issue of Computer Hoy (Spanish computer magazine), that the Windows Search utility in Windows Vista has been highly optimized. Basically, so far Search looked up the actual filesystem when looking for some file, whereas now it makes use of periodically renewed indexed lists, that say what is where, so the lookup is much faster. While this is a vast improvement, the Unix/Linux users must be far from impressed. The wheel that Microsoft smartasses reinvented here is the GNU locate, an oooold friend of GNU/Linux users. What the Windows Search did, was similar to the alternative program find.

All in all, I would say that they have spent a few years since Windows XP just polishing the look of Vista, and trying to copy what the FLOSS movement has been innovating. To me, an OS should be completely independent of the look of the desktop, or the games it includes, or how utility applications work. But, well, maybe it's just me.

Read also: 20 things you won't like about Window Vista.