I had a question arrive from a blog reader via email today asking if I could point to a concise summary of the benefits of Vista over Windows XP Tablet Edition on a Tablet PC. I've been blogging about the pros (and cons) of Vista for a while now, but I think that this would be a good time to summarize the key benefits of Vista over Windows XP for Tablet users.
One of the key things to remember is that when all is said and done Tablet PCs are a member of a larger family of computers - Mobile PCs. As such many of the benefits of Vista on a Tablet apply to the broader category of Mobile PCs as well.
Mobile PC Benefits:
There is a lot in Vista for mobile users. In essence these can be grouped into these broad headings.
- Security: This is a big one and is at the top of the list for a reason. The world has changed since XP released. Users are much more mobile, and this can expose organizations to significant risk. The Internet is full of malware, hackers and viruses. It is inherently dirty and untrustworthy... and is an essential business tool.
- Ease of use: To be an effective mobile user with XP you need to be something of a power user. Vista is just makes it easier to be a mobile user.
- Efficiency: Less down time. Has to be a good thing.
Let me expand on these three topics.
Bit locker - As previously mentioned more and more people are taking their computing mobile - both at work and in their personal lives. For businesses this presents a very real risk. Every time a machine leaves the office it is at risk of being lost, stolen or falling into the wrong hands in some other way. With an unencrypted machine it is trivial to retrieve data off it when you have physical access. BitLocker provides whole volume encryption and therefore provides protection for the data on the machine even if a "bad person" has physical access to it. As with all security measures there are some best practices and caveats around this, but on the whole BitLocker is a good thing for Mobile PCs.
Boot file integrity checking - How many of us knew the term "Root Kit" when XP shipped? OK - I probably did, but I am a geek. Root Kits are a very real problem. Put simply the way they work is they either replace or shim a critical system file so that they can alter what that system file returns and therefore what is displayed. For instance, some root kits target the system driver that read the disk and provide info to - for example - Windows Explorer. If you try to browse the directory that the root kit resides in, it will remove itself from the list of files in the directory and thereby become invisible. Boot file integrity checking stores a hash of the key system files and checks each one at start-up. If a core system file has been replaced or modified then the machine won't boot until you restore the correct version of the system file using the recovery tools on the Vista DVD.
Firewall - Bi-directional and configurable by Group Policy. At last!
UAC - The much maligned User Access Control (UAC) addresses a very real problem. Things are not always what they seem. In Vista, by default, even if you are logged on as an admin (not the admin - that is different) every action you perform or program you run will happen in the context of an unprivileged user. If you run something that needs more rights it will ask you if you want to do this. Here's a scenario. You need to convert a file from one type to another. You Google it, find a util and down load it. You try to use it to convert your file and it returns an error message that does not mean much to you, so you download the next one on the list and use that to convert your file. Meanwhile, the first app you tried, between you clicking on the "Convert Now" button and the error message tries to disable the firewall, installs a key logger, starts sending your info to some dodgy site out on the web and writes something to the registry to ensure that the key logger et al will start up every time any user logs onto the machine. In XP if you are local admin that will work and lots of laptop users out there are running as local admin because they had to in order to be able to do simple things like change the timezone. In Vista UAC will see the request to do something that requires admin rights and either prompt for consent or credentials, depending on how it has been configured. If you download a simple utility and it wants admin rights to run - here's a tip. Click Cancel. UAC is intrusive - but it addresses a very real problem and is therefore a necessary evil.
Protected Mode IE - Lots of the bad things to which out machines are exposed come in via the browser. In Vista IE7 runs with less privileges than a standard user. This does not apply to IE7 on XP, because there were some architectural changes required to make it work. Much like the UAC scenario above, this protects users form ActiveX controls and scripts on sites they visit running with elevated privileges and doing bad things to your PC.
There are lots of other security enhancements, but for my money those are the big ones.
Ease of Use
Mobility Center - To be a really effective Mobile User in Windows XP you had to be a bit of a power user. You needed to know to go to Network Connections to configure and join wireless networks, power options to tweak power settings, a tab on the property page of a network file to configure Offline Files, a control panel applet to configure tablet buttons and screen rotation and Display settings to attach a second monitor. In Vista all this and more is pulled into the Mobility Center, which you can access quickly by pressing Windows Key + X. You can also configure one of your tablet's hardware buttons to show or hide the mobility center. Check out my Mobility Centre Drill Down.
Backup - Mobile users who are away from the office for days or weeks on end could potentially lose a lot of data if they have a hardware failure. Using the native tools in XP to back up data was a bit lame and for the most part people would use 3rd party tools (which cost money) or not bother (which could end up costing a lot more!) In Vista the backup tool has been completely rewritten and is very easy to use. With minimal instruction most users could back up their files onto removable media. There is also a very cool Complete PC backup feature that I have blogged about here and posted a video of here.
Offline files - If you tried to use offline files in XP you probably ditched it pretty fast and tried some other method. The main complaints were poor performance when online and the fact that certain file types were skipped. Even when it was working fine it was way too chatty and this would confuse users. In Vista offline files work really, really well. Firstly it is less chatty so you hardly notice it is there. There have been some changes that make it work much better as well. For one thing all reads are serviced from the local cache when you are online. This improves the connected experience considerably. Writes still go to the server copy when online as that is considered the master copy. Also if a file is changed on the client while offline then only the changes (not the whole file) are synced back to the server when you reconnect. This change has made it possible to include all file types as well, as the file types that were excluded (such as Access databases) were excluded because they were large an changed often - hence making them expensive to sync. The cached copy is also encrypted by default, even if you are not using BitLocker - so your local data will have some protection.
Reduced Start time - From a cold boot Vista presents a usable interface to the user faster than XP does... But...
Sleep mode - Who needs to do cold starts? Vista supports a new power state called sleep that is really cool. Unlike XP's standby a computer in Sleep will consume very little power. Also if it does start to run low on power when in sleep it is awake enough to know this and will write everything in memory to disk and hibernate. From a user point of view you get a machine that will resume very quickly without going flat or setting your laptop bag on fire.
Again there is plenty more to love in Vista - I've just hit one some key ones for Mobile users.
Tablet PC Goodness
In addition to the general Mobile PC benefits above there are a few others that are specific to Tablet PCs.
Learning handwriting - the handwriting recognition engine in Vista rocks. It can learn. You can train it. In XP, it trains you. After using a Vista tablet for a few weeks (assuming you use it as a tablet and write on it from time to time) your handwriting recognition will be much higher. If you spend 15 minutes to do the training sessions it will go through the roof. I actually thought the recognition in XP was pretty good, but Vista blows it away.
Pen Flicks - pen flicks allow you to use a quick pen gesture to do simple tasks like:
- Scroll up and down
- Navigate forward and back in the browser history
These are very handy and a great time saver. You can also customize them if you like to make them really work for you.
Snipping tool - This use to be available as an add-on in the experience pack, but it is bundled in with Vista. a great little tool.
Better TIP - The Tablet Input Panel has been reworked. It now docks on the side of the screen (you can choose which side) and hides away nicely. You can also use the stylus eraser in the TIP if your stylus has one.
AutoComplete - Common pain points for people using the pen to enter text in XP were the Browser address bar and the To: field in the mail client. These both support a new autocomplete feature where by as you start to write the recognition result is compared to you history (in the browser) and recent recipients (in Outlook). Possible matches are displayed above the TIP. If you see the one you want you click on it and it will be inserted and navigated to (for the browser anyway). No need to then press enter. Very efficient.
The above tablet points were all covered in a bit more detail in this post I did way back in April last year!