Vista reaches its last milestone

Vista went to manufacturing today with the desktop OS expected to be available to business customers Nov. 30. Microsoft has pinned its hopes on the new software's security features.

As IT managers gear up for a slew of releases from Microsoft, Vista RTM hit today and will be available to volume licensing customers on Nov. 30.

For IT managers, Vista promises enhanced security, particularly with features aimed at locking down systems.

Jim Allchin, Microsoft's co-president of the platform products and services group at Microsoft, touted the far reaching advances to security in a conference call on Wednesday when he discussed the release of the long-awaited desktop operating system.

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Vista has been developed from the bottom up. Microsoft has made many improvements to its core code and has added defense in depth. "It's much harder, if not impossible, to get to a vulnerability," Allchin said.

When asked to rate Windows XP Service Pack 2 against the new security features of Vista, Allchin said XP SP2 did "an amazing job."

"But understand we learned a lot doing XP SP2 and there were things we just couldn't put in that product," he said.

One of his favorite Vista security features is Address Space Layout Randomization, which loads system code into different locations in memory. This helps to prevent system attacks because it places entry points in unpredictable locations.

"Each Vista machine is slightly different from another," said Allchin. "Even if there is an exploit, the ability for it to succeed is small."

Allchin said he wanted to put this feature in XP SP2 but Microsoft engineers couldn't figure out how to do it. "This is why I feel Vista is a step up," he said. "XP SP2 is good, don't misunderstand. But this is an escalating situation. Hackers get smarter. There is more at stake."

Vista's BitLocker Drive Encryption is another feature often mentioned that is designed to protect data in lost or stolen machines by encrypting data on the hard drive, for example, while an expanded Windows Rights Management Service gives administrators more granular control over who can access or change data, according to Microsoft.

As many IT shops have said, Chris Shannon, systems engineer with First Merchants Corp., Muncie, Ind., said it will take anywhere from a year to two years before his company adopts Vista. Shannon said security features will be a big reason behind the move.

"It solves a lot of problems we have," Shannon said. "Vista has adopted more Linux capabilities and advanced features to change systems settings ... anything like spyware or antivirus. It warns you behind the scenes and, like Linux, it forces you to log in as a registered user with the right permissions to access systems."

In addition, the operating system User Account control gives users some administrative control while still protecting the system from malware, unauthorized software and unapproved system changes.

Office 2007 was released to manufacturing earlier this week. Microsoft will release Exchange Server 2007 in December.

Margie Semilof contributed to this article.

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