Microsoft details features for IT after OS beta release

Although Microsoft has released the first beta of its Windows Vista client operating system -- as well as a test version of its next server operating system -- only corporate users who are members of Microsoft's MSDN development program, TechNet or Windows Vista Technical Beta Program can download the software

One newly detailed client feature expected to appeal to corporate IT shops in Windows Vista is User Account Protection, which will enable administrators to give end users only the system privileges they need to do their work.

One IT manager, who asked not to be named, said his company has been forced to assign administrator privileges to many users because of application requirements and logistics. The company's limited IT staff doesn't have time to make changes to all remote laptops, so users are allowed to make simple changes on their own. But that isn't the desired approach. "We're trying to get more and more off the admin (setting)," the IT manager said.

Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, estimated that he received 100 calls last year from clients who wanted to lock down end users' systems. He said even some mainstream software applications require users to run in administrator mode.

Microsoft's research indicates that 85 percent of corporate users and 97 percent of consumers are running their machines as administrators, according to Neil Charney, a director of product management at the software vendor. Charney said the company is hoping those percentages will decline as a result of the User Account Protection feature.

Another IT pain point Microsoft hopes to address through Windows Vista is the installation of software images on systems. A new feature will provide IT managers with a single file that contains complete installation images.

Charney said IT shops now have to create separate images for users who speak different languages or for PCs with differing application allotments. Windows Vista includes a tool called xImage for building images, and IT staffers will be able to store one image with multiple deployment configurations, he said.

But Silver said many companies already have turned to third-party products to address their imaging needs.

For example, at Atco, no more than 200 of the 3,500 desktops have the same operating systems configuration, so the company's IT arm, Atco I-Tek, had to devise a solution to the imaging problem. The IT shop creates an image of the core operating system, customizes it and then distributes it using IBM's Tivoli software, said Bruce Schmidt, workstation architecture and configuration team lead.

Schmidt said Atco will have to be "extremely compelled" to move from Windows XP to Windows Vista, particularly since its volume-licensing deal has expired. He said the company is currently "going through the pain" of installing XP Service Pack 2. "Do we want to go through another operating system upgrade? I don't know. We'd have to take a look at it," he said.

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