Microsoft released Windows Vista Beta 2 Tuesday, offering the next iteration of its upcoming operating system for public scrutiny. Beta 2 addresses two of the more controversial issues that have emerged recently concerning Vista: outbound filtering and user access controls.
Back in April, news reports stated that Microsoft planned to turn off half the firewall in Vista, disabling the outbound filtering capabilities by default -- making its defense identical to that of Windows XP SP2. However, according to Austin Wilson, director, Windows client for Microsoft, the Windows firewall will actually allow bidirectional filtering in Vista. Although outbound traffic will be allowed by default, there will be important exceptions, such as core Windows services. Applications, however, will not be blocked.
Another security feature that created a stir was User Account Control, Microsoft's attempt to convince users to operate with standard rather than administrative rights. In Vista, a newly enhanced standard mode was supposed to allow users to perform more functions, thus avoiding the necessity for them to use admin privileges, and offering the increased protection from malware that standard mode offers. This was described as the "elevation model" -- every time a standard user tried to perform a function that demanded administrative rights, Vista would ask for consent (and a password), thus avoiding the necessity of change to administrative mode.
However, there were complaints about the number of times standard users were asked for consent. As a result, Microsoft has increased the number of functions that can be performed by a user in standard mode, including power management, adding a WEP or WPA key, opening the Task Manager and killing an application, or adding a printer driver.
A third source of contention was Microsoft's intended distribution of its Aero feature, which provides a transparent "glass" effect for open windows, and, according to the company, also offers a more stable graphic environment. Previously, Aero was available on Vista's Ultimate, Enterprise, Business, and Home Premium editions, but not on the Home Basic edition, which many PCs are expected to ship with. While Aero will still not ship with the Home Basic version of Vista, a new iteration called Windows Standard will offer the increased stability of Aero without its more visible aspects.
Other touted features of Vista Beta 2 include a number of mobility enhancement features; increased search capabilities; and Gadgets, applets that that can be written on an open platform and that can be used with the Windows Live online platform, Vista's new desktop Sidebar, and on mobile devices such as MP3 players and phones using Windows SideShow.
Despite a lawsuit from Symantec seeking to prevent the distribution of Vista, Microsoft representatives say the release of the OS is still on schedule, with the business SKUs due in November 2006, and the consumer versions due in January 2007.