Now UAC it, now you don’t

March 29, 2007

Vista busy cursor Vista has already found quite a number of ways to annoy me, but the much criticised User Account Control system (UAC) is not one of them.

This probably puts me at odds with the majority of Vista’s detractors but I’ve started to look on UAC as my friend. Not that the UAC dialog boxes (as the visible signs that UAC is working) stand out as paragons of cuddliness …

UAC dialog box

It looks like Vista is being officious, but its intentions are good. It’s just that the words aren’t coming out right. Vista is really trying to say:

“Hi there! I’ve just caught something trying to change things deep inside your PC’s systems. Did you know anything about this? Is it something you started off yourself? If so, then that’s cool. Just confirm to me this is happening with your knowledge and blessing, and I’ll let it run to completion.

But if you didn’t know something was poking around with your PC’s settings then maybe you have a virus or some spyware on the loose. You don’t need to worry though. I stopped it before any harm was done.”

Under XP, the default login has full administrator privileges, so if you let a virus into your PC it can piggy-back your account’s full unrestricted rights to mess with your PC to its heart’s content, and Windows would lack the authority either to block it or to alert you.

Under Vista you do not, by default, log in with full administrator rights so any “under the skin” changes would be detected and challenged by UAC.

These changes might be perfectly innocent. You might be installing a program, or changing Vista settings to suit your preferences, but then you would be in the know, and would fully be expecting to see a UAC dialog appear. It is when one pops up unexpectedly that you need to worry.

UAC dialogs do though tend to be slagged off as intolerably invasive. In one extreme case, Natalya Kaspersky, the eponymous head of the IT security company, went so far as to suggest Vista would be less secure than XP because users would get so annoyed by the intrusive dialog boxes that they would turn UAC off.

As if a user with enough nous to work out how to disable UAC is likely to be sufficiently ignorant of virus and other risks to be particularly vulnerable. Also, how could Vista with UAC disabled be less secure than XP?

Nah, I think Kaspersky was lashing out at Microsoft for muscling in on the anti-virus and anti-spyware territory.

In practice, the UAC dialogs are not that much of a nuisance. Maybe more so when your Vista install is new and you’re doing a lot of software installs and fiddling with things. After that, not really something that’s likely to bother you in everyday use.


One comment

  1. But this from a fellow WordPress user changes the picture somewhat.

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