Vista “User Account Control”

28 December 2007, 16:37 CDT

As a follow up to the previous post, I had my first direct experience with UAC in Vista yesterday. While I own a Macbook, I’m not a huge Apple fan boy. However, the Apple ad doesn’t even come close. What a royal PITA. It is obviously turned on by default and I seriously cannot see any point except to do two things: shift the blame for the OS’s insecurity to the user (ie “the user clicked “Ok” so they must really understand what they’re doing and anything afterwards is on them!”) and just to be annoying.

Unfortunately, UAC doesn’t stop at being merely annoying. It actively gets in the way. I accidentally unzipped a driver package from dell onto the desktop. I couldn’t delete most of the files until I turned off UAC. I created the files, and they’re in a directory owned by me. And I’m a system Administrator. But still after clicking through 3 or 4 prompts, I get “Permission denied”. The UAC setting is not in the screen that tells you UAC is turned on and “protecting” you, another problem. I guess they don’t want you to find it. Once you turn it off, you get a nagging little bubble every few minutes that tells you your computer is insecure. Well, no frickin’ duh.

The biggest problem I see with UAC is the one that most techs I’ve read and heard say – it asks too many questions. Instead of asking about only the really important things, it asks more than once about mundane things. I’m a tech and I don’t feel like reading every stupid dialog that comes up and determining the correct answer. How is the average user supposed to cope with this?

I think part of the problem is that because Windows is slow and bloated, too many things run in kernel space. Meaning that the process gets an artificial speed increase in exchange for the security normally provided by running in userspace. So Vista tries to compensate by asking inane questions about if you really really want to do something. It reminds me of the priv separation nightmare that I experienced with Windows 2000. Non-priv users could not burn CDs. Even using the special “Run As…” wasn’t enough – you could get a little bit further but for some reason of the forked processes wasn’t inheriting the elevated privileges, so no CD for you. Unless you log out and log back in as an administrative-level user.

Several companies, including Dell, have felt the Vista backlash from customers and are allowing them in some cases to upgrade from to XP. However, my personal recommendation for anyone buying new systems, especially laptops, is to go Mac, especially if your preferred system vendor refuses to give you the option of XP or wants to charge some extra fee for it. If you’re savvy enough, at least you have the option to dump Vista and run Linux on a PC. But for most folks, save yourself the trouble and hassle of Vista. In general, OS X just works. I’m planning to upgrade this macbook to Leopard sometime within the next two weeks, so we’ll see how that goes.

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