Here’s what to be excited about:
1. Security, security, security: Windows XP Service Pack 2 patched a lot of holes, but Vista takes security to the next level. There are literally too many changes to list here, from the bidirectional software firewall that monitors inbound and outbound traffic to Windows Services Hardening, which prevents obscure background processes from being hijacked and changing your system. There’s also full-disk encryption, which prevents thieves from accessing your data, even if they steal the PC out from under your nose.
Perhaps most crucial (and least sexy) is the long-overdue User Account Protection, which invokes administrator privileges as needed, such as during driver updates or software installations. UAP makes it much more convenient for users to operate Vista with limited rights (meaning the system won’t let them do certain things, like load software, without clearance from an administrator). This in turn limits the ability of malware to hose your system.
2. Internet Explorer 7: IE gets a much-needed, Firefox-inspired makeover, complete with tabbed pages and better privacy management. There’s also the color-coded Address Bar that lets you know if a page is secured by a digital key, or, thanks to new antiphishing features, if it’s a phony Web site just looking to steal information about you.
These features will all be available for Windows XP users who download IE7. But Vista users get an important extra level of protection: IE7 on Vista will run in what Microsoft calls "protected mode"–a limited-rights mode that prevents third-party code from reaching your system. It’s about darn time.
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