Sunday, 1 April 2007

Features not available in Vista Premium

Part 1a: for IT professionals

  • Control over installation of device drivers
  • Desktop deployment tools for managed networks
  • Encrypting File System
  • Network Access Protection Client Agent
  • Policy-based quality of service for networking
  • System image–based backup and recovery
  • Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) Client

Control over installation of device drivers

Allows administrators to create special rules for which kind of devices can and can't be installed on a PC running Windows Vista. While this is useful for business and public computers, it is hardly of any benefit for the home user.

Desktop deployment tools for managed networks

One big difference between XP and Vista is the way Vista is installed on the computer. Instead of a file-by-file procedure, Vista is copied as an image. It's the same technique that is used when restoring image based backups. Once the OS is installed, applications, drivers, updates and so on can be installed the same way as in XP. The problem with this way of doing things is that when you have to do it for a large number of computers it becomes very time consuming.

For Vista, Microsoft has released an AIK (Automated installation Kit) which contains several tools that allow the installation image, which is a .wim file, to be mounted like a drive in explorer, modified and recaptured in a forma ready to be deployed to any number of computers. The advantages in an enterprise environment are obvious: starting with a standard Vista DVD, one can add all the software installation packages, updates, not included drivers and so on, and have a fully personalized Vista DVD. Using some more specialized software this image can then be deployed via the network, with the technicians never needing to come near the client computer. And this is what this extra feature is all about: the network deployment requires a dedicated server, active directory and a domain. Visa Ultimate and Business (and Enterprise) are able to join a domain. The other editions of Vista aren't.

So: if you need the ability to deploy the OS through a network, and have both a server and active directory up and running, then you'll need at least Vista Business. Otherwise this is another feature that you don't need to pay for.

Encrypting file System

This is not new to Vista, the feature is also available in XP Professional. The security is somewhat better in Vista, because of the way user passwords are saved and protected. This also means that the risk of permanently loosing access to the encrypted files is higher.

Basically, instead of/in addition to encrypting the whole drive by using bitlocker or a third party software, a user can encrypt individual files or folders. For those using shared/public PCs there might be a usefulness outweighing the risks in this feature. Price-wise, there is no shortage of third party applications providing or claiming to provide the same ability, for around 40 USD/license. For once though, if secrecy is truly important to you, the Vista based solution seems to be more robust than most of the other options. Be warned though: if you don't have a backup of the certificate and encryption key and disaster strikes, your files are lost for good.

Network access protection (NAP)

One of the new features for Windows Longhorn (Vista Server) will allow the server to check each machine that wants to connect to the network for specific things, like up-to-date updates, the absence of viruses and so on. For that purpose, on he clients running Vista there is now a service that will collect that information and pass it to the server when/if needed.
For home users, they will never need this. But if you use the home PC to VPN to work, a couple of years from now the network administrator might have implemented this.
The answer here is: maybe.


File encryption is something that might be of enough value for some users to motivate the price difference between Vista Premium and Vista Business or Ultimate. If the feature is needed for a multiuser/public PC where not all users are comfortable using the same language, that's 2 reasons to get Vista Ultimate. Finally, in 2-3 years, you might need one of these 2 editions in order to be able to VPN to work.

If your count is still 0, maybe some of the other features will prove a "must have". I will go through more of them soon.