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Tue 1 May 2007 04:00 AM

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Windows Investigates: Vista on the move

If a Vista notebook is on your ‘to buy’ list, read this first as we dig deep to find out which machines are already on sale in the region and, more importantly, whether Vista will work immediately for you...

|~||~||~|Windows Vista has officially been selling in this region since February of this year. Since its release here and abroad there have been scores of articles published; some effectively saying, ‘Buy it now’ and others saying, ‘Wait for a while’. So if you’ve been reading these you might be confused as to whether you should buy a new Vista-packed laptop or just stick with your XP notebook. That’s where we come in. Our aim here is to help you make sense of the Windows Vista debate and recommend the best road to take.
But before we do that, let’s take a look at what Vista notebook's some of region’s leading IT vendors are selling in stores right now…

Toshiba Portege R400
The Portege R400 is a sleek-looking tablet PC and is claimed by the firm to be the world’s first laptop with the ability to automatically synchronise e-mail and calendar events through the integration of Microsoft’s Active Notifications.
The R400 comes packed with Vista Ultimate and boasts a 12.1" LCD screen, a 1.2GHz Core Duo processor and a 80Gbyte disk.

If data security is your top priority you’ll be happy to learn that the R400 includes a finger print reader and supports Vista’s Bit-Locker security feature.

Price: TBA
Warranty: three years
Contact: +9714 881 7789
Release date: Q2, 2007

Sony Vaio SZ48
The Sony VAIO SZ48 is an ultraportable with some impressive specifications. Including a DVD-RW combo drive, a built-in fingerprint reader and running Vista Business, this Vaio is ideal for mobile professionals.

The SZ48 boasts an Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz processor, a 160Gbyte hard drive and 1GB of RAM (expandable up to 2Gbytes). The Vaio also features built-in WiFi. Moreover, if looks are key then the SZ48 will not disappoint; it's finished in carbon black and the distinguished aluminum palm rest is a very nice touch.

Price: US $2450
Warranty: one year
Contact: +9714 881 5488
Website: www.sony-mea.com

Acer Aspire 5572
The Aspire 5572 notebook from Acer is the most wallet-friendly laptop in this Vista round-up. It features Vista Home Premium edition and a 14.1-inch WXGA LCD screen, along with a 0.3-megapixel camera.

Under the hood lies a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor and a large 120Gbyte hard drive for storing your data.

On the connection front, the Aspire 5572 boasts a WiFi 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth connectivity, which means you can hook your printer wirelessly and print to your heart's content.

Price: US $981
Warranty: one year
Contact: +9714 800 2237
Website: www.acer.ae

Asus W5Fe
The first laptop to take advantage of Vista’s much-hyped SideShow feature, the W5fe lets you read e-mail, play music and access photos via a secondary 2.8" display integrated into the outer lid of the laptop. The idea is a good one: SideShow offers a quick window to your data, without requiring you to boot up your laptop-or even open it.

The W5fe comes with Vista Home Premium and throws in some nifty software and utilities. In terms of performance, the W5fe comes packed with a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and a gigantic 160Gbyte hard disk.

Price: US $2137
Warranty: two years
Contact: +9714 283 3728
Website: www.asus.com

LG R400 Express Dual
Touted by the firm as a budget laptop, the 2.35kg R400 comes in three Vista flavours: Home Premium, Business and Home Basic.

Like the rest of the notebooks featured here, the R400 includes a speedy Core 2 Duo processor. Additionally, it boasts a 14-inch WXGA LCD screen, a 80Gbyte hard disk and up to 2Gbytes of RAM, which is more than enough to run applications and games fast.

If you'd like to video chat with far-flung friends and family, LG's notebook also comes with a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera and microphone.

Price: US $1089
Warranty: one year
Contact: +9714 881 2191
Website: www.lge.com

HP Pavilion DV6200
The HP Pavilion DV6200 is a special-edition laptop aimed squarely at fashion conscious women in the region.

Part of HP’s Imprint line, the shiny white entertainment notebook comes with Windows Vista Home Premium edition pre-installed, which means what you see on-screen looks as impressive as its body, and it runs an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a huge 120Gbyte hard disk and a 15.4-inch display.

Ladies who buy this also receive a red laptop bag and a HP ceramic mouse, along with headphones.
Price: US $1634
Warranty: two years
Contact: +9714 800 4910
Website: www.hp.com/me

||**||When should you buy? |~||~||~|Now these Vista laptops are what you can purchase in this region but the key question is when exactly should you buy a Vista notebook? Let’s find out…

If you head over to Microsoft’s official Windows Vista website - at windowsvista.com - you’ll notice that the firm goes through great pains to advise potential punters on whether or not they are ready for Vista.

By rights however it should be the other way around, as the two important questions are: has Microsoft removed enough bugs from Vista to enable it to run properly and securely on the systems that most users have and can the Redmond firm and its partners supply the required device drivers you’ll need.

Let’s talk security first. The first publicised security bug in Vista was found in CSRSS - a message function in Windows Vista - which could enable remote code execution. Researchers at Determina reported the bug to Microsoft last December and on April 10th Microsoft released a patch in its monthly Patch Tuesday security update.

This March reports also surfaced regarding an animated cursor bug in Vista that allegedly snuck through a beta test. According to reports, the vulnerability had been exploited by hackers armed with malicious .ani files since March 28. At the time of writing, Microsoft released a patch for the bug however a number of security researchers are now questioning Vista’s security as the exact same bug was also spotted in XP.

According to a news report on www.webwereld.nl, Amol Sarwate, manager of Qualys - a vulnerability solutions firm stated, “You have to take some points away from Microsoft for not catching this. The number one step before trying to find new vulnerabilities in something like Vista is to test older ones, or exploit variants against older vulnerabilities.”
So what does Microsoft have to say about these security bugs? The firm’s software security guru, Michael Howard, recently said on his blog (available at http://blogs.msdn.com/michael_howard) that counting the number of flaws in Vista is an important way of measuring its security. But, he added, that measurement won’t mean much for at least a couple of years.

“There will probably be a number of security bugs in the following months, I have no clue what that number will be. I am not going to judge Windows Vista security based on the first few months’ bugs. I will, however, look back two years from now and compare Windows Vista to Windows XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003. I do believe there will be a significant drop in both security bug quantity and severity when compared to prior Windows versions,” Howard wrote. “So here’s my prediction. We will see significantly less critical vulnerabilities in the operating system over the next two years, as compared to Windows XP, perhaps by a factor of 50%, and a 30% reduction of important vulnerabilities.
We now know what Microsoft’s take is but what do well-known security firms such as McAfee have to say about Windows Vista security?

In McAfee’s Global Threat Report published last month, it’s security research and communications expert, David Marcus claimed that while Microsoft is doing its part to increase security by introducing a 64-bit version of Vista, the firm’s “PatchGuard mechanism for protecting the heart of the operating system prevents third-party security products from operating with, or affecting the Vista kernel”. He went on to say that, “Microsoft’s desire to handle security on its own puts customers at risk - because when PatchGuard is defeated there will be no third-party guards behind it.”

Let’s examine the controversial PatchGuard technology in more detail. Microsoft has implemented this in its 64-bit version of Vista as a means of preventing access to kernel services that classically have been allowed and available in all previous Windows versions. Microsoft’s argument is that it will keep miscreants at bay and prevent attacks.

In a nutshell, PatchGuard crashes a user’s PC when it detects that specific internal data structures have been ‘changed’ (a common way that malicious software starts doing its damage). However, the positive features of behavioural detection and intrusion protection also work this way claim both McAfee and Symantec.

All this might leave you thinking Patchguard is new to 64-bit Vista, but the technology debuted in the x64 edition of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and Windows XP Professional x64.

So the question is: should this current PatchGuard controversy and the bugs spotted to date stop you from buying Vista right now? Well, it depends.

If you plan on using the 32-bit version of Vista (which almost every kind of software is compatible with nowadays) then the former issue doesn’t come into play as the Patchguard is not available on 32-bit versions. However, if you plan on installing the 64-bit version, the prudent approach would be to wait until Microsoft and the security world find a solution they can agree on.

Vista wait
Apart from security bugs some users have come across a number of system bugs. According to an active thread on Vista support forum, there's a bug that causes users to wait a long time when to moving, copying or deleting files.

“I downloaded a 1.8Gbyte file over the internet to my D drive,” a user identified as BadBlock stated on March 27. “Moving the temporary file from C to D took three times longer than downloading the file on a 6Mbyte connection.”
Since this revelation Microsoft has acknowledged the flaw and fixed it. But because the fix has not be posted publicly, at the time of writing at least, users must call the firm’s support line to obtain the patch. Microsoft typically includes such hot fixes into the next Service Pack for the OS, which in this case would be Service Pack 1 - set to be released in the second half of 2007.

According to Microsoft, as of the end of March this year, 129 applications had been certified or designed for, Windows Vista, and 922 applications worked or were compatible with Windows Vista. Think that’s a lot? Well, it does add up to over 1,000 applications you can run on Windows Vista with few, if any, issues. (Check out the this software compatibility list, go to http://support.microsoft.com/kb/933305.

But, given that there are tens of thousands of apps designed for Windows, this first thousand is just a drop in the ocean. Thus, as you may imagine, there are a number of software issues springing up almost every week. Now let’s take a look at the major issues and what fixes, if any, are available:

Adobe Acrobat 8
Issue reported: When you install Reader 8 on Vista you see the error message, ‘The Temp folder is on a drive that is full or is inaccessible. Free up space on the drive or verify that you have write permission’.

Solution: Enable User Account Control or run the installer in XP Compatible Mode. (Note: According to Adobe, it will release a patch for Vista and Office 2007 by the end of June 2007).

Visual Studio 2005
Issue reported: Visual Studio 2005 does not run in Vista.
Solution: Users need to upgrade to Visual Studio 2005 SP1.

QuarkXPress 7
Issue report: Does not run on Vista
Solution: Firm to release a Vista upgrade, though exact date not known.

These are just some of the many apps that have been reported recently. To be fair though, there are a number of popular apps that appear to run with Vista without any issues. These include Google Desktop, OpenOffice and Acronis True Image Home.

As with any new OS, early adopters are reporting some hardware compatibility issues with Vista over the past few months. These include certain printers, scanners and even certain chipset controllers and video cards. For instance, some users have reported that HP’s Scanjet 3300c scanner doesn’t run properly in Vista. HP later sent out a press release stating, ‘the majority of HP products not supported in Vista are beyond seven-years old’. If your kit is newer than that then you should be okay.

After visiting support sites of various key hardware firms however,: it's fair to say the pace of Vista driver updates has increased considerably since January. Since Vista’s release Microsoft has been adding approximately 1,600 certified Vista drivers per month to its Hardware Compatible List., which can be found at http://winqual.microsoft.com/hcl/.

What we think...
Key software and hardware vendors have made considerable progress in terms of making more of their products compatible with Vista compared to when it launched. In fact, the pace of software and driver updates were so frequent during the time of writing that we had to constantly update this feature. As such, our advice is to upgrade but only if your software and peripherals are supported. If you do decide that it is the right time for you to buy Vista then here are a couple of points to keep in mind. First off, install the 32-bit version of Vista instead of the 64-bit version.

As we mentioned before most software today is 32-bit, plus a solution for the PatchGuard controversy in the 64-bit version has yet to be fixed. Next up, when SP1 is released be sure to install it. Moreover, remember that Vista is not a security solution; it’s an operating system. Therefore, make sure you install third-party security software to protect your Vista notebook.

Last but not least, turn on Automatic Updates in Vista to make sure you’re getting the latest patches and hot fixes.

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