12 February, 2007

Windows Vista Review Part 2a: user account control, the secure desktop, speech recognition, and, the work around (revised)

In part 1 of my review, I discussed some of the reasons I chose to move to Windows Vista. I feel I should say that my philosophy on technology is that good technology; a good upgrade should make it easier to overcome physical limitations. Vista certainly goes a long way in this regard. The belt in speech recognition, automatic defrag, automatic backup, anti spyware and other security features, make Windows Vista a welcome change for me.The migration to the new operating system is not something I take lightly but having been part of the MSDN beta process throughout the development of this operating system, the benefits of making the transition to vista became very clear to me. I hope after reading part 1 of this review, you may have a better grasp on some of the features that may prove beneficial to users with and without disabilities. That doesn't mean that Vistais perfect by any stretch of imagination and that is what brings us here today.

User Account Control:
What is User Account Control? What does it do? Well, I am so glad you asks these questions. :-) It's wonderful to have such an interactive audience :-). User Account Control is something that Mac users will know about. I'm not sure what this feature is called in the Mac OS, but User Account Control as it applies to Windows, is a way for the operating system to keep track of any software installation or other task that could potentially impact the way the core of Windows itself works. This doesn't apply to everything users do, but it does apply to anything that could alter the system fundamentally at the core level. it is really important that Windows itself have a way to notify the user in these cases because this type of notification to help protect against system failure. It's particularly useful in Windows is Vista Ultimate Edition, where in case it turns out that a piece of software is causing the system to behave in an adverse way, the system keep track of these things, Windows backup can automatically create a full system backup to return to if something goes wrong; if for example, you actually install a piece of spyware that Windows doesn't catch. (note: although there is a backup utility in almost all versions of Vista except Windows Vista Home Basic, the "backup entire computer" function is not available in all versions of Vista.) Sounds wonderful right? It is. It's not the feature itself that's flawed. The problem comes when you use User Account Control in conjunction with the Windows Speech Recognition.

To implement User Account Control/Protection, Microsoft developed the Secure Desktop. Although the Secure Desktop is hard to explain in nontechnical terms, it is very easy to spot. You'll notice it the first time you do anything that could potentially impact the way the System works. Your desktop will go black and a dialog box will appear that will either say something like " this program needs permission to continue with this action". The dialog box may alternatively ask if you want to "allow" a particular action. The problem is that Windows Speech Recognition cannot interact with the secure desktop. Meaning that when the desktop goes black and these dialog boxes appear to ask for special permission, Windows Speech Recognition cannot be used to dismiss or confirm these dialog box questions. So what do you do? First, let me say that although User Account Control/protection does take a little getting used to, it's very important. As such, turning it off is not really a viable option if you truly want to be safer from making potentially system altering mistakes. So what do you do if you can't use the mouse to dismiss Secure Desktop dialog boxes? Well children, that's why we have a section I like to call " The Work Around" :-). (note: this work around is to the best of my knowledge, only achievable in Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. So although all versions of this to have speech recognition built in, if you need to use the computer hands free, you'll need Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. This is true as far as I know whether or not you choose to use Windows Speech Recognition or another program. If I find a work around for other Vista editions, I will certainly post it here.)
Step 1: open Control panel (you may need to be logged on as an administrator to do this)
Step 2: go to " Administrative Tools"
Step 3: open " Local Security Policies" (a dialog box will appear asking for permission to continue, do so.) If any other dialog boxes appear after doing this, simply say "OK" before moving on to step 4.
Step 4: double click on "Local Security".
Step 5: double click "security options" and scroll to the bottom. You don't want to change the one on the very bottom. You want the next one up that says " switch to secure desktop when prompting for elevation." Double click this.
Step 6: click "disable" and click "OK". You will notice the next time that Windows needs permission to perform a task that would normally trigger the Secure Desktop that windows speech recognition will be able to interact with the dialog boxes in question. (note: for the dialog boxes with the choices own "allow" or " cancel", make sure that the dialog box is in focus.) To do this, simply say "which to User Account Control." Then say " down arrow". You can then say " click allow" or, " click cancel"
Disabling the Secure Desktop is not as secure as leaving it on of course, but it does make the feature fully accessible to those of us who have to use alternative user input such as speech recognition. Disabling the secure desktop is certainly far more secure than entirely disabling user account protection / control.

The reason that you need Ultimate Edition to do this is that you need to be able to set the security policies. I suspect that this level of control is also available to business users, but im not as of yet tested this on Vista Business.
I hope this is helpful. Next time, I'll be discussing more on windows speech recognition and other alternatives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog is great! I'm not very computer savvy, but I definitely learned a lot from your entries. Of course, I expect you would make an exception and help out your cousin with computer questions....right? ;) Kidding!
~your cousin