How is National Instruments (NI) preparing for the switch to Vista?
Microsoft’s Vista beta program gave us information we needed to redesign a lot of things we’ve taken for granted in Windows. National Instruments is both a software and hardware vendor, so we’re doing work on a couple of fronts to be ready for Vista. NI application software including LabVIEW, LabWindows/CVI, Measurement Studio and SignalExpress, as well as NI hardware drivers for PCI Express, PCI, PXI and USB devices, will be available for use with Vista shortly after its release. On the hardware side, Microsoft is requiring companies to digitally sign their drivers as known vendors for the 64-bit version of Vista. NI is doing this for both 32-bit and 64-bit drivers so that end users realize that our software is safe to install. That’s one thing we’re doing immediately for Vista. Overall, we’re putting a lot of work into first internally making everyone aware of what’s changing in Vista and then rolling out a company-wide plan for migrating applications to be good Vista citizens.
What makes a "good Vista citizen?"
It’s really important that as Microsoft changes operating systems we’re not changing our software in any noticeable way to the end user. For instance, we have to refactor where LabVIEW looks for information. But if you were to use our software in the future, you would not realize we had changed anything internally. It would work the same way.
What are the obstacles you’ve had to overcome while becoming Vista-ready?
All of our application software has to be changed because of User Account Control. This new security system locks down parts of the operating system, including the file systems that software apps expect to be able to read and write from — C:Program Files and C:Windows directories, for instance. So, legacy software on Vista is going to present a problem. It’s going to be uncommon to run as administrators on our PCs — something most of us do today, because Microsoft made it so difficult to function as a normal user. But if a virus gets on your computer, it has all of the permissions you have. So now, everyone will run as standard users 95 percent of the time, with admin access requiring consent. Microsoft provides some backwards compatibility for this through virtualization. When software tries to access a file located in a restricted location, Windows secretly makes a copy of that file and places it in a user-specific location. Then the software is redirected silently to that new location. With virtualization there could be situations where everyone has their own copy of an important file that was meant to be shared globally. NI views that as a poor solution, so we’re thinking through our long-term policy for Vista compatibility.
What is the most important feature necessary to success with Vista?
When you go to the average Windows users and ask them what they are most concerned about, the answer is mainly security. Users want their PCs to be secure but are also uncertain about a more prohibitive security model. Such a model may deter some users at first — so some companies are hesitant and cautious in their upgrade to Vista. Developers themselves are going to have to spend some time if they want their applications to be good Vista citizens. Today there is almost a complete prohibition in companies on using the Web because as a practice it puts computers at risk. But operating under such a paradigm can cut down on functionality. So this may be one area in which Vista provides great advances — because we all benefit when Windows is more secure.
Slant is a no-holds-barred interview with a Design News reader doing something that can benefit engineers. Have a good idea you'd like to share? Contact us.