How Vista's Annoying UAC Made Windows 7 a Success

Dennis Faas's picture

Compared to Windows XP and previous Microsoft operating systems of years previous, one of the major differences of Windows Vista and Windows 7 is the User Account Control, or "UAC" for short.

If you've used Windows Vista with UAC enabled (by default), then you know how annoying the feature can be. In fact, many users associate the failure of Windows Vista with the ill-functioning UAC simply because they felt it broke functionality and usefulness of the operating system. (Source:

Recently, however, Microsoft defended its widely-criticized operating system Windows Vista, stating that Vista's UAC paved the way for early adoption of Windows 7, including its renowned security features.

Early User Experience with UAC

The User Account Control is responsible for controlling programs which require administrative rights. Unfortunately, many users felt that UAC was far too bothersome to be of any use because it virtually required you to confirm each and every action you made on your computer twice over.

For example: if you launched Microsoft Word from the Start Menu, UAC would appear and ask if you had in fact wanted to launch Microsoft Word. Now let's say you want to use the Internet for some research while you're compiling a document. You decide to launch Internet Explorer, and UAC is again in your face asking if you in fact want to launch Internet Explorer.

UAC: Too Bothersome to be Practical

The idea behind UAC was to cut down security threats and to stop malicious, sneaky programs from launching without the consent of the user. However, for the most part, the UAC pop-up boxes more closely resembled old-school web advertisements, or even malware.

Thus, the UAC was simply too bothersome to be practical, and users became accustomed to always clicking "Continue," to launch a program regardless of the message.

Microsoft: UAC Made Windows Programs Behave

Commenting on the UAC this week, Microsoft has defended the feature so many people found annoying.

"The purpose of UAC was to move applications away from using administrative privileges. Its job was to spank programs that used administrator that don't need to," said Microsoft's Crispin Cowen, a senior program manager with the company. (Source:

According to Cowan, Vista's UAC function helped reduce "the population of ill-behaved [Windows] programs," helping to make systems more secure. "The number of programs asking for admin rights dropped precipitously."

Lessons Learned Helped Windows 7

Cowan was actually discussing Windows 7's security features when he broached the topic of Vista's UAC. It's his view that Microsoft's new operating system is as secure as rival Linux primarily because of the lessons the company learned from the implementation of the UAC in Vista.

By studying the way Vista handled the UAC, Microsoft was able to streamline software that could be safely granted administrative access. Thus, Windows 7 is able to walk the line between convenience and security with its own UAC functionality. (Source:

"Prompts are not purely evil. Prompts in which the answer is almost always 'yes' are evil," Cowan said.

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