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Windows 7 UAC - How it differs from the Vista UAC?

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 2/24/2009

The User Account Control (UAC) feature introduced with Windows Vista was very controversial. So, does Windows 7 addresses the issues with the Vista UAC and solves them?

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    Windows 7 has been the subject of many discussions ever since its first preview was released. From its interface to usability and security, everything has been discussed over and again. Along with the much discussed Windows 7 taskbar, another aspect of Windows 7 that has been talked about a lot is the improvement in the UAC (User Account Control) system that Microsoft introduced with Windows Vista. In Windows Vista the UAC generated a lot of negative reviews and was one of the main deterrents to a better user experience. Many users even choose to disable it and be vulnerable to security risks rather than being constantly annoyed by it. So, with the beta release of Windows 7, the question arises about whether Microsoft has listened to all the hue and cry about the Vista UAC and done anything to make it better and more user friendly (or more precisely, less annoying).

    First of all let's see what UAC is and why is it important. Simply put, UAC is all about informing the user before any system level change is made and about enabling you to take charge of whether or not to allow that particular system change. This prevents rouge software and viruses from making changes to your system which can be damaging. For example, like a virus trying to turn off your firewall. UAC also comes into the picture when any user with a limited privilege tries to perform any action which requires a higher level of privilege. Thus it ensures no person can harm your computer either intentionally or unintentionally.

    Learning from the negative feedback about UAC in Vista, Windows 7 tries to revamp the UAC by reducing unnecessary and duplicate prompts and making the prompts that are displayed more informative so that the user can make a wise decision. It also tries to provide better control over the entire UAC mechanism. With Windows 7, Microsoft tries to provide a better user experience with the UAC while still providing the user with control of what's happening on their system.

    The biggest change in UAC in Windows 7 is that now you can configure how much the UAC can annoy you. Well, to put it in a gentler manner, you can configure the UAC control settings to define how vocal it should be while displaying those UAC notifications.

    There are four levels of UAC notification settings, and you can choose whichever you are comfortable with. They are -

    1. Never Notify me when:

    • Programs try to install software or make changes to my computer.
    • I make changes to Windows settings.

    Enabling this setting renders your system most vulnerable and is not at all recommended unless you are very sure of what you’re doing.

    2. Notify me only when

    • Programs try to make changes to my computer (do not dim my desktop)
    • Don't notify me when I make changes to Windows Settings.

    Selecting this setting is okay only if you are an expert user and are very much familiar with the programs you use and visit familiar websites.

    3. Default - Notify me only when

    • Programs try to make changes to my computer.
    • Don’t notify me when I make changes to Windows Settings.

    Again, recommended only if you are an advanced user.

    4. Always notify me when:

    • Programs try to install software or make changes to my computer.
    • I make changes to Windows settings.

    This is the recommended setting if you are not an expert user and also try out new software everyday or visit unfamiliar websites regularly!

    As you can see, the first setting is like disabling UAC completely and the last one is the most annoying (if you look at it that way). However, it’s up to you to choose your level of comfort with the Windows 7 UAC and still let it do its job (that is ensuring security of your system). The good thing is that Windows 7 provides you with the option to choose that comfort level.

    Another reason for the outcry against the Vista UAC was that most software was not designed to handle it and hence they wouldn't run on Vista. However, today most of the new applications are being built keeping UAC in mind, and hence compatibility shouldn’t be an issue with the Windows 7 UAC.

    However, Microsoft has also reportedly committed a blunder trying to make the UAC more user friendly (which makes your system vulnerable to security issues, but Microsoft denies it's a flaw), and this has been talked about a lot lately. Overall, however, it looks like Microsoft has been attentive about listening to the user complaints about the Vista UAC and has tried its bit to solve those problems with Windows 7. However it remains to be seen how the actual UAC will be implemented when the final version of Windows 7 comes out.