After years of giving Windows users administrative privileges by default, Microsoft introduced the User Account Control scheme with Windows Vista. In theory, the system brings Windows up to snuff with other operating systems and improves security by requiring users to OK system-level changes. In practice, many users find UAC authorization prompts too numerous and annoying.
All those user complaints haven't fallen on deaf ears. According to a post by Microsoft's Ben Fathi on the Engineering Windows 7 blog, the Windows team is working with users to make Windows 7's UAC implementation more effective and less annoying. Fathi says Microsoft has set two key goals to make that happen:
1) Broaden the control you have over the UAC notifications. We will continue to give you control over the changes made to your system, but in Windows 7, we will also provide options such that when you use the system as an administrator you can determine the range of notifications that you receive. 2) Provide additional and more relevant information in the user interface. We will improve the dialog UI so that you can better understand and make more informed choices. We've already run new design concepts based on this principle through our in-house usability testing and we've seen very positive results. 83% of participants could provide specific details about why they were seeing the dialog. Participants preferred the new concepts because they are "simple", "highlight verified publishers," "provide the file origin," and "ask a meaningful question."
The blog post isn't just about promises, though. Fathi also goes into a surprising amount of detail about UAC's impacts on both users and third-party software. Interestingly, he says the number of apps and tasks that require administrative privileges dropped by about 78% between August 2007 and August 2008—a move toward better overall software quality and reduced risks, in Microsoft's view.
As for users, Microsoft's findings confirm the confusion surrounding UAC prompts. "In one lab study we conducted, only 13% of participants could provide specific details about why they were seeing a UAC dialog in Vista," Fathi says. (Thanks to TR regular Dillon for the heads-up.)