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Microsoft Promises To Improve UAC in Windows 7

Microsoft has been talking about future changes to Windows Vista's most maligned feature, User Account Control (UAC). This security feature, which alerts users via popup boxes, may get modified with Microsoft's next-generation Windows OS, according to the "Engineering Windows 7" blog.

A post on Oct. 8 by Ben Fathi readily admits that "User Account Control (UAC) is, arguably, one of the most controversial features in Windows Vista."

UAC uses dialog boxes to inform a user about "system level" changes that often occur when downloading software. Vista users have complained from the beginning about the frequent popups. Apple even did a TV commercial making fun of them.

The premise behind UAC is to inform the users when the system may be threatened, even when a perceived threat is initiated by the user. It's sort of a built-in IT admin that questions user motivations on numerous levels.

Despite the promise of changes, reader feedback shared in the blog contained several negative comments about UAC.

"I do not like to be continuously asked if I want to do what I just told the computer to do…I feel like I am asked by Vista to approve every little thing I do on my PC and I find it very aggravating," said one reader.

The Microsoft team acknowledged the frustration with UAC. However, they say that the feature's potential benefit is that it forces "malware or poorly written software to show itself" and get the user's permission before it can harm the system.

Windows components account for approximately 40 percent of UAC prompts, but that number has been reduced with the release of Service Pack 1 for Vista.

Data from Microsoft's customer experience improvement program show that applications and tasks that generate UAC prompts have plummeted from 775,312 when Vista was introduced to 168,149 in August of this year.

"Windows has more of an opportunity to make deeper architectural changes in Windows 7, so you can expect fewer prompts from Windows components," said Fathi in the blog. "Reducing prompts in the software ecosystem and in Windows is a win-win proposition."

Fathi noted that the engineering team for Windows 7 has "taken a hard look at UAC" and that several key issues will be addressed, including reducing unnecessary or duplicated prompts, making critical prompts more identifiable, and making the prompts more informative so users can make "confident choices."

One of the goals for UAC was to give IT administrators and parents greater control by allowing them to lock down the system for certain users. Windows 7 will continue to build on the benefits of UAC in making systems more secure, Fathi said.

"As we evolve UAC for Windows 7 we will address the customer feedback and satisfaction issues with the prompts themselves," stated Fathi. "We've heard loud and clear that you are frustrated."

Windows 7, by most reports, is due to be ready in late 2009 or early 2010.

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