There’s been a lot of fuss about the User Account Control (UAC) feature in Windows Vista. A recent story even made headlines when a Microsoft manager was quoted as saying Microsoft deliberately deigned UAC to "annoy users". I’ve heard all the arguments for and against it. However, I think UAC is one of the BEST features in Vista. For all the arguments against it, the arguments ‘for’ it by far outweigh the disadvantages from my point of view.
"First time usage" of Vista is what generates some of the biggest UAC complaints. Most of the people writing reviews or sharing their comments about UAC are usually doing so right after using Vista for the first time. For those of you who haven’t used Vista yet, when you use it for the first time, you will see a LOT of UAC prompts. There’s a reason for that.
That’s because the first time you use Vista, you’re probably getting the machine set up the way you want to use it. You’re likely installing a lot of software over the first day or two. New software installs almost always trigger UAC prompts. Their supposed to. That’s UAC doing it’s job! Of course, besides software installs, you’re also likely making configuration changes or customizations in the OS too. Some of these might result in UAC prompts coming up also.
By the end of your first day or two on Vista, you’re probably all UAC’ed out and ready to curse the new feature. Of course, this is also the point in time most Vista reviewers decide it’s time to write an opinion piece on the OS, sharing their UAC experience, and listing it as a major problem with the OS. One argument against UAC says, "users will just learn to ignore the dialog and click ‘accept’ anyway". For any user that has just gone through this "first time usage" experience, that sounds valid at this point. But that’s not the normal UAC ‘appearance pattern’ with daily usage.
I wish some of these folks would write follow up blog posts or articles a month or two later about their experience with UAC prompts. They’ll probably encounter a LOT less of them. In my daily usage of Vista, if I see one a day, that’s unusual. More likely, I’ll see one or two a week. At that frequency, it is something ‘unusual’ which I’m bound to notice and think about when I see it instead of blindly clicking "accept". I feel much safer having the UAC prompt there to protect me then not having it there when I’m on an XP machine.
Most ‘consumer’ users are not tweaking OS features that would results in a UAC prompt on a daily basis. For tech folks, we might hit UAC prompts more often just based on the nature of how we interact with our machines. But even that is not too frequently (at least in my experience). That being said, there has long been one pet-peeve I’ve had in Vista with respect to UAC.
At the slightest sign of a performance slow down on my machine, my first reaction is to open the Task Manager to see what’s causing the problem. When you open the Task Manager in Vista, it only shows processes for the current user (you). But I always want to see all the processes running for all users (including the system).
What used to be a checkbox in previous versions of Windows is now a button that requires a UAC prompt to enable. This is the one OS-related UAC prompt that I hit over and over again. While I generally LIKE UAC, this is the one pet peeve that’ll get me cursing my computer.
To make matters worse, raising a UAC prompt can be a resource intensive operation due to the screen fading to black as it opens a Secure Desktop session. Well, when I’m opening the Task Manager, it’s usually because my system is already overwhelmed due to something pinning the CPU. So triggering a UAC prompt only adds to the problem as it can put the system into further distress.
Ed takes people through some steps they can follow to make their UAC encounters less frequent and less painful. I feel I don’t experience enough UAC pain to justify taking most of the actions that Ed recommends. However, on the fourth page of his article, he has a trick to solve my Task Manager UAC pet-peeve! It essentially involves setting up a Scheduled Task that opens Task Manager in admin mode, and then creating a shortcut for that task on your desktop or start menu. The shortcut then bypasses the UAC prompt. Sweet!