NEAL CONAN, host:
Today, Microsoft releases its long-awaited new operating system, Windows Vista. It hit stores more than five years after the launch of Windows XP. You've probably already come across some marketing hype and read some reviews, but five years is an eternity in the computer industry.
Before you decide to spend a couple of hundred dollars, you likely have questions about Vista. How secure is it? What new features can you look forward to? How easy is it to operate? And a big question: Is it worth it to upgrade?
To answer your questions, we're joined now by Ina Fried, a senior writer at CNET News.com. She joins us from our bureau in New York, where she had the luck in New York City to interview Bill Gates as part of Vista launch event.
And thanks very much for coming in.
Ms. INA FRIED (Senior Writer, CNET News.com): Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: And of course if you listeners have questions about Vista, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail: email@example.com.
Ina, you spent the last two days at the Vista launch event there in Manhattan. You've been tinkering with a test version of Vista for the last year or so. What do you think?
Ms. FRIED: Well, this has been an incredibly long time coming, as you mentioned. So there's a lot that's changed in computing since Windows XP was around. The company did work on security a couple of years back with Service Pack 2. But this is really the first chance for them to deal with all the ways in which the computing world is different than it was back in 2001.
CONAN: And have they succeeded?
Ms. FRIED: Well, this is obviously the big question, and it really depends on what you're looking for. There are a lot of new things in Vista. Some of the things - doubtless, people will point to the Mac and say that's been there, which some of those things it's true: better search, a new graphic interface. These are things that we have seen on the Mac side. That said, most people use a Windows PC. So for XP users, it brings a lot of things that they haven't necessarily had.
CONAN: Well, describe for us - there must be new and improved features.
Ms. FRIED: Definitely. I mean when you open up Windows Vista, the thing that strikes you most is the visual and the way it looks much different than XP. You're going to see transparent windows. There's a new sidebar on the right-hand side that has little applications like the weather or traffic. So it's much more visual than Windows XP.
CONAN: Here is an e-mail we have from Robert in Lakewood, Colorado. I downloaded and installed a pre-released trial version of the Vista operating system this past year. I gather millions of others did. My experience left me extremely frustrated by what I perceived to be a new approach to security.
When installing a new program, the operating system would redundantly ask if I wanted to run the program I just had instructed it to run. If this program then spawned another program to run, I was asked if I wanted that program to run without providing me any information on the link between the two. Is this what we can expect in the released version?
Ms. FRIED: Well, you can expect a little bit less than the early testers saw, because Microsoft did hear that feedback loud and clear. But you will still be prompted. It's called the user account control. And the idea is with Windows XP, most of the time you had to run an administrator mode if you wanted to make any changes to the system. That left it vulnerable.
What Microsoft's tried to do this time around is make the system run not in administrator mode most of the time. But that means every time you want to install a new program it's going to say, are you sure you want to do this? And early testers found themselves constantly being asked for permission, as the listener e-mailed in.
So Microsoft has ratcheted that down a little bit. Vista asks you for permission a little bit less. But especially when you're starting up a new system, you can expect to see that a lot.
CONAN: And another change, I guess, is that there are different versions of Vista.
Ms. FRIED: And that is one of the more confusing things. There are six different versions of Windows Vista. Luckily, consumers only need to probably worry about three of those. Two of them are for businesses; one is for emerging markets like India and China. So there is three, basically, that consumers need to be thinking about.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail question from Sandra in Portland, Oregon. We bought a new and expensive computer system just two months ago. It came with Windows XP. After replacing a faulty hard drive, a monitor that didn't work and a few other early problems, the whole thing is finally working beautifully and we couldn't be happier.
We have everything we need and don't need any more bells and whistles. Why should I risk downloading Vista? Is it worth it? The one time I downloaded an upgrade for something else it just caused a headache. We use our system for e-mail, Internet, music and video, writing documents and photograph management. That from Sandra(ph) in Portland.
Ms. FRIED: Well, they've given you kind of one of those scenarios where there's pros and cons. On the one hand, they talked about using things like digital photos, and Windows Vista does have a much better built-in program for handling digital photos. So if they're the type of person that finds themselves always having trouble finding that one photo and wanting to edit it and e-mail it, they might want Windows Vista.
That said, the experience they described of having already had problems and being happy that it just works, those are the kind of people that might be best to wait a little bit, see how other people are using it; wait and see, try out somebody else's machine first. So probably the bad experience they had would lend me to think they might be better off waiting a bit.
CONAN: OK, let's now go to Jim(ph), Jim's on the phone with us from Philadelphia.
JIM (Caller): Hi, guys.
JIM: My question is more related to compatibility. XP came out and was the standard for its time, which was great and everything. But, like, Windows makes Xbox, and there's so much - the prevalence of high-speed Internet and wireless Internet and things like this - does Vista make it easier for those kind of things to talk to the computer and for the computer to talk back?
Ms. FRIED: Somewhat. It's still a challenge. I mean, we have all these digital devices, and getting them to talk to each other is really hard. That said, there are some things in Vista that are designed to make that better. One is the connection between a Vista PC and the Xbox console. So if you have movies, and TV shows, and pictures, and music stored on your PC and you have an Xbox 360, there's actually software built into the Home Premium Edition of Vista -so this is where the different versions come into play - that allows you to access that directly on the Xbox 360. So that user might be better to go ahead with Vista.
JIM: Great. It's just - it seems like when XP came out, you know, there was Internet and then there was dial-up, and there were still some questions about that. But now there is wireless Internet everywhere, and now you have things like the iPhone coming out, and it's just - to me it seems like - did they just upgrade XP, or did they build a new, forward-looking type of operating system. That was my main concern.
Ms. FRIED: They did do a lot under the covers, things that we won't see for a while, and some of them relate to the things you are talking about. Networking, there's IPV6, the next version of the Internet protocol. That's something that you or I are probably never going to notice, but it does make a difference in how we access the Internet.
So things like that are under the hood. The interesting thing about a lot of that is it doesn't get seen right away because developers have to write programs that take advantage of it, and developers don't write Vista-specific programs until most people are using Vista. So it's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg thing. The benefit Microsoft has is that every PC that ships from today onward basically is going to have Vista on it.
CONAN: Jim, thanks very much.
JIM: Thank you very much.
CONAN: OK, bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Chris(ph). Chris is with us from Cape Cod.
CHRIS: Hi, how's it going?
CONAN: Not bad. Go ahead.
CHRIS: I'm calling about digital rights management and the aims that Microsoft has gone to, the extent they've gone to to protect movies by encrypting them in memory and the problems that's caused with performance and stability and the difficulty in writing drivers. And I wondered if your guest could comment on that whole aspect of Vista, which hasn't really seen much discussion, as far as I can tell.
CONAN: Go ahead, Ina Fried.
Ms. FRIED: So this is one of those areas where it's going to take some time to really see how much of an inconvenience, if any, is the digital rights management technology. What the caller's asking about is basically the Hollywood studios, the record companies, they want their music and movies protected from piracy, and so their goal is to have it ironclad.
Well, there's this trade-off between how tightly you secure the music or the movies, or whatever, versus how easy it is to actually use that content, how easy is it to move it onto your TV, to play it through your stereo. So Vista does lock down high-definition content more than some other operating systems.
The downside of that is it makes it harder to get some of that content. The benefit is by putting more protections in place, the studios, the content owners, are more likely to open up their movie libraries and the types of content we want.
So it's definitely an area that we have to see how well it works. Obviously, if it makes it too hard to watch it, it doesn't matter if the movie you want is there if you can't play it.
CHRIS: Well, the implications go much further because some of these mechanisms are extremely jittery and could very easily be - create false positives in terms of identifying pirated content or unauthorized activity. And in my mind, it makes it very unsuitable for Vista to be used in any sort of, say, medical imaging environment or any sort of critical environment where this DRM could interfere with, say, some sort of life-saving technology.
Ms. FRIED: It's hard to say how those things might interplay. I mean, typically, businesses aren't using a lot of sort of Hollywood protected content. So I don't think there's necessarily a conflict there. But there certainly are questions around the digital rights technology and how restrictive some of the things will be.
CONAN: Thank you, Chris.
CHRIS: You're welcome.
CONAN: OK, bye-bye. Speaking of security, earlier today there was an article posted at the News.com Web site titled "Experts, don't buy Vista for the security." How is it on security?
Ms. FRIED: Well, you know, it's one of these things that there's certainly people inside Microsoft that say it's the most secure operating system ever, and it may well be. And that doesn't make it invulnerable. And so one of the things we'll have to see is how much energy is put into cracking it immediately and sort of the types of things that emerge.
CONAN: You mean energy by hackers to try to crack it.
Ms. FRIED: Right. I mean, there are a lot of new security features, things that in theory make the system more secure. But it's an arms race. Hackers are developing new techniques; they'll exploit new holes. There's things that were there that have been closed up. So that's one of those things where you really kind of have to wait and see.
Software has been getting more secure. That doesn't mean that there aren't viruses, that there aren't hackers, that there aren't attacks. But in general, programmers are learning better ways, and Vista reflects, you know, more modern thinking on security, even than what was in Service Pack 2 a couple years ago.
CONAN: Ina Fried is a senior writer at CNET News.com. We're talking about the new Microsoft Vista operating system. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Ed(ph) on the line. Ed's calling from West Windsor in New Jersey.
ED (Caller): Yes, Neal, hi.
ED: How are you?
CONAN: I'm good, thanks.
ED: Listen, I'm a novice in the computer world, so therefore I'm a dinosaur. And I'm slowly, slowly acclimating to XP. And my question is when is - I mean, six different versions of Vista. When is too much going to mean too much? In other words, when I go to the mall, I go to the store, I buy what I want and I leave. I don't browse.
And so yes, there are certain benefits as far as speed, as far as access, but it just seems that constantly you're going to have to update or upgrade your hardware. And really for me it's really upgrading my skills. And so in that sense and considering those individuals, particularly the elderly that are in the same position, slowly acclimating themselves, here we go again. And you can bet that Mac's going to do something next.
CONAN: Is confusion going to be an issue for consumers who are less tech-savvy than perhaps, you know, the people at Microsoft might wish?
Ms. FRIED: I think there's certainly a learning curve, and it's going to be a question mark for folks of - you know, there are some things that are easier. If they're doing digital photos and stuff, it might be easier, but it takes re-learning.
You know, my parents - you know, I'm always helping them. I moved them to XP, you know. I'm certainly debating when is the right time to move them to Vista. One of the features that I kind of like and am a little afraid of is something that would allow me to remotely access their machine. So I live in San Francisco; they're in L.A. I can fix something on their machine. I can basically be as if I was sitting there.
ED: Kind of like GPS?
Ms. FRIED: It's a server technology, basically, that kind of lets me be there, you know, in spirit. The question is - sure, it's great to be able to fix something on their computer, but that essentially puts me in the role of being the help desk, which I'm already forced into a little bit.
ED: Exactly. That's what I was alluding to when I said…
CONAN: Yeah. All right. Ed, good luck with it.
ED: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Another e-mail, this from Tim(ph) in Bolinas, California. Two questions: Other than price, what's the compelling reason, if there are any, for me to buy a Vista-based computer rather than Apple or even Linux? And can I run Vista on the new Apples if needed?
Ms. FRIED: Well, I mean, in terms of price - I mean, PC versus Mac, a lot of it boils down to, you know, what it is that a person - it's almost religious. You know, it's not necessarily one of those things where you can say this is better.
I mean, Macs historically have been better at things like media and movies and pictures. Vista tries to make some catch-up in those areas. What you get with a Windows PC is you get compatibility with most of the world's software. What you also get is a system that is, by its nature, more open, so they have control over less things. It's a little often less polished, more subject to security attacks. So those are some of the trade-offs.
You should be able to run Vista on a Mac. It has worked in the test versions. I'm assuming it will work with the final version. Basically, the new Intel-based Macs use the same guts as a Windows PC, so you can actually load both operating systems on there. To do it legally, you do have to buy a full version of Windows Vista. So it's not a free thing, but it should run both, and you can then switch back and forth between the two.
CONAN: A lot of reviewers have noticed some similarities between some of Vista's features and Apple software. What's the deal? Are they moving towards each other?
Ms. FRIED: They are. I mean, there are certainly things that have shown up in the Mac first that Microsoft looked at and said, yup, that's a good idea. One of the things that Microsoft probably doesn't get enough credit for is they have been or may - well, they have been working on this for a long time.
So they have been working on it for five years. So some of these things they may have been working on before they found their way into a Mac, but Apple's released several versions of Mac OSX in that time, so the features have come out on the Mac.
Some of the things were clearly Apple's idea. Some of the things in Vista are clearly Microsoft's idea. The media center that lets your PC act as a TiVo is something that Microsoft has gone full steam ahead with and Apple said, hmm, I don't think we need to go that route.
But there are things like built-in search, what Microsoft calls gadgets -little applications in the right-hand corner. Apple's had widgets, and they're very similar. So there are a lot of similarities, and both companies certainly feel that the other is borrowing on their ideas.
CONAN: I'm sure they do. Let's see if we can - well, I'm not sure we have time to squeeze in one last call. So we're going to have to thank our callers and maybe pick up the conversation at another time. But at this point - Vista, is this something we're all going to become accustomed to? As you say, this is going to be on, what, 80, 95 percent of the world's computers.
Ms. FRIED: Yeah, it's amazing. It just flips practically overnight. I mean, all the PCs that ship now from Dell and that HP is sending to retailers now, they all will have Vista on them. So like it or not, it's coming.
CONAN: Ina, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Ms. FRIED: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: Ina Fried, senior writer at CNET News.com. She joined us from our bureau in New York City, where the Vista launch event was held over the past couple of days, and she was among those in attendance. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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