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Seven Windows Vista Features That Depend On Longhorn Server

From security to management, there are some notable tricks Vista can't do without the not-yet-available Windows server version.

For companies eager to exploit the full potential of Windows Vista, the wait continues. A few of the operating system's features can't be put to use, at least not effectively, until the still-to-come Longhorn Server arrives later this year.

About 70% of the code in Longhorn Server and Vista is the same. Some features are made easier or only become available when the two operating systems are used together. Following are seven capabilities that depend on both:

1. Enhanced security: Microsoft's access control method--network access protection--is built into Vista and Longhorn. NAP lets administrators define policies that, for example, require that anyone who wants to connect to a network run Vista with the latest patches plus valid anti-spyware and anti-spam applications, or be denied access.

NAP is rooted in a quarantine feature in Windows Server 2003 that forces devices connecting to the network to be scanned, but only for VPN or wireless connections, not an office port. Longhorn's NAP will extend to all connections. Scanning also has had to be done via a script, meaning administrators write code to do a scan. Longhorn brings a graphical interface and preset options to NAP. Also, NAP will get the capability to automatically send the client to a restricted network that pushes out patches or disconnects it entirely and gives instructions to the user on how to get the machine up to snuff. It will be possible to install NAP on Windows XP, but the NAP-on-XP won't interoperate with some popular enforcement mechanisms and won't work without Longhorn.

2. Enhanced monitoring and reporting: The Windows event system--which records errors, inappropriate access attempts, and performance problems--has been completely rewritten for Vista and Longhorn. The previous version was text-based and not easy to search without indexing. In Longhorn and Vista, the event system is written in XML, so administrators will be able to pull down the start menu and search the event log right there, whereas in the past they couldn't use the search function to find something in the event log. Also, searching problems by application was previously difficult.

3. Network control: Microsoft mostly left quality of service--controlling bandwidth priority for certain apps and users--to networking vendors. Now it's making that better with Vista and Longhorn via an upgraded network protocol stack. Longhorn will assign priority and bandwidth limits to applications on a network, but only if there's a Vista client on the other end. Instead of leaving network quality of service up to WAN optimization controllers and load balancers, users can throttle bandwidth and prioritize traffic from within the operating system.

4. Future scalability: IPv6 is an Internet Protocol upgrade that promises to dramatically increase the number of viable addresses, and it's native in Vista and Longhorn. The explosion of devices and other potential IP-addressable objects such as radio frequency identification chips means the Internet will someday run out of IP addresses. The current version supports only about 4.3 billion devices--fewer than the number of people on the planet. IPv6, on the other hand, will support 340 undecillion devices (or 340 with 36 zeros after it). IPv6 should also be more resistant to port scanning attacks prevalent today.

The Vista and Longhorn networking stack was rewritten from scratch, allowing for native support for IPv6. The upgrade to IPv6 networks is happening now and will take several years, so there's going to be a long period of time in which IPv4 and IPv6 networks will run side by side, meaning that Vista and Longhorn can intelligently switch protocols to chat with each other over the network.

5. Easier remote desktop services: Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol allows applications running on a server to be controlled remotely. The versions included in Windows XP and Server 2003 require the user to access an entire remote desktop to use an application hosted remotely, meaning on a company server or another desktop. With the new Remote Desktop Protocol 6.0 client in Windows Vista supported by Longhorn, if an application like Word is hosted elsewhere, users will be able to click the Word icon on the desktop and Vista handles the rest. To the user, it appears as if the application is running locally. The new client can be installed on XP, but it loses functionality such as support for a single sign-on to multiple applications.

6. Faster communications: Vista and Longhorn include upgrades to the Server Message Block protocol that governs file and print sharing within Windows. The new protocol increases the number of possible open files on a server and tries to maximize the data each packet crossing the network carries. Not a sea change, but it could add up to better network performance when Vista and Longhorn are installed together.

7. Easier deployment and reimaging: Vista and Longhorn together should make for faster and more reliable operating system deployments via Windows Deployment Services. Windows Server 2003--as well as Microsoft competitors like Norton Ghost--allowed re-imaging of a whole disk or at least a sector, often forcing administrators to wipe and replace an entire hard drive instead of select files. The new Windows Imaging Format for Longhorn is file-based. It can replace files that are damaged or only files related to the operating system, instead of having to wipe a user's personal files as well.

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Longhorn's imaging technology could conceivably also work with XP, but according to Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry, it would require "more tweaks and additional baby-sitting." The new deployment services are also available through an add-on to Windows Server 2003 SP2, but it's native in Longhorn.

Do these features alone make it worthwhile to leap to Longhorn when it comes out? Doubtful. Some of the synergies are subtle. Many companies are still early in the planning stages, but as IT managers consider whether to install Vista now or wait for Longhorn, it's worth knowing which features depend on having both.

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