Optical/IP Networks

Microsoft's Wide-Open Vista

The slick new 3D user interface of Microsoft's Vista desktop operating system has been one of the most talked-about features of the forthcoming release. Users interested in some of the ways that Vista and related Redmond code might actually affect some change in business computing, however, are well advised to look under the hood at the wireless features in the OS.

Microsoft has revamped the WiFi connection interface in Vista, which is being released to manufacturers this week, with new security and connectivity features. Some of this is just simple, sensible stuff. For instance, Microsoft has set up the new interface so that machines won't connect to any old WiFi signal on boot-up without user approval.

Some of the updates are simply keeping up with the Joneses. For instance, the new release implements the WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) security specification that has become increasingly commonplace in the world of enterprise WLAN security.

Indeed, Vista represents a WiFi spin on the classic Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) desktop strategy: Identify third-party features that users like and incorporate those features into the OS codebase.

Those features include simple site-survey capabilities and more network access control features. Microsoft has already been working with Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) to integrate its network access protection (in the Vista Beta 2 and "Longhorn" server software) with its WiFi management software, so that network admins can lockdown and check suspicious devices before they potentially infect the WiFi -- or wired -- network.

These kinds of intrusion-detection systems have typically been the purview of WiFi players like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and a host of smaller dedicated 802.11 security players such as AirDefense Inc. and AirTight Networks Inc.

But for how long will that continue to remain the case? Vista's new WiFi features let Microsoft take advantage of the major advantage it has in the 802.11 space -- it controls the client.

I suspect the wisest course for all but the largest players in the enterprise WiFi market is to integrate with Microsoft and build out more features that Vista doesn't yet have. That, or get steamrolled, slowly but surely.

Vista is supposed to be available for purchase at the end of January.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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