Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

I was sat quietly rocking away the other day and started to think whether it would be a good idea to do a review on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (As benefits to organisations cannot be realised without a Windows Server 2008 backend infrastructure). As is always the case, any version of Windows attracts pundit reviews galore, so I am doing a different kind of review. A review that touches on the key features of Windows 7 and provides some links to Server 2008, for in depth coverage. As ever, Microsoft has never been good at reviewing its own products, as is evident from their website, top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7! Windows 7 is also the first operating system to offer native support for Multi Touch .

Home Users:

First things first. Home users will be happy to learn that the Windows versions have been simplified.  There are three versions for home users, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. For most home users, the premium version should suffice. For home users who need multiple installations, there will be a family pack that can be installed on upto three machines. To decide which version to go for, click here

Windows Vista came with quite a few applications; Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, Windows Media Center, and Windows Movie Maker. Windows 7 has scrapped bundling Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker and moved them into an add-on pack called Windows Live Essentials . The two major applications that arrive with Windows 7 out of the box are Windows Media Player, now at version 12, and Windows Media Center. To download Windows Live Essentials, click here. Paint, WordPad and calculator have new versions in Windows 7 but nothing that I consider worth roaring about.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for home users (arguably for organisational users as well) are:

  1. Better wallpapers, better user access control (UAC) that avoid annoying pop ups,
  2. Libraries are a welcome addition and allow one library to show the contents of several folders. For example, store your music in the Public Music folder, and those tunes automatically appear in every user account’s Music library.
  3. Device stage is a concept whereby all connected devices, such as Bluetooth, USB etc all appear within the devices and printers control panel. This removes the confusion experienced by earlier version of Windows where different devices appeared in different places within the control panel.
  4. HomeGroup, enables easier networking within the home and automatically finds other PCs/laptops on the same network. It was much needed as users with little IT experience always found hard to network their home PC’s together and as a result couldn’t share files and printers etc.
  5. Shortcut keys in Windows 7 are quite creative and are a sign that the Windows 7 team had opportunity to look at the minor details as well as the major overhaul and is quite welcome and useful. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse manoeuvring in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left arrow on the second window, and you’ve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.
  6. The new taskbar melds the old Quick Launch toolbar with the traditional taskbar, providing a single place to both launch applications and switch between them. Replacing the mix of small Quick Launch icons and large textual buttons, we have simply a row of large icons. Left clicking an icon either starts or switches to the app. If the application has a single window, clicking the icon switches directly; if it has multiple windows, clicking the icon presents a thumbnail view of each window, requiring a second click to switch to a specific window.
  7. Jump lists are special context menus shown on the taskbar and Start Menu icons that allow quick access to application-specific functionality.

Organisational Users (Mostly excerpted from Computing 21/10/09):

I have taken the following from Computing’s article as their version was quite succinct and easy to follow. For large organisations, Windows 7 Enterprise Edition adds several potentially significant new technologies, including AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache, federated search and Bitlocker To Go. However, pretty much all of these features require a server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 before they can be enabled. Windows Server 2008 also supports virtualisation.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for organisational users are:

  1. DirectAccess (One of my readers, Han Coumans, has explained DirectAccess very well – Click here) is a new way of accessing a corporate network, DirectAccess, avoids VPNs entirely DirectAccess uses globally routable IPv6 addresses and IPSec to provide direct, secure end-to-end connections between client and server. Unlike other VPNs, which require a kind of “dial-in”, DirectAccess connects automatically and transparently; in fact, even prior to logging in, DirectAccess authenticates the machine with the remote network, allowing system policies and software updates to be rolled out. It is disappointing though that Windows Mobiles cannot be controlled and continue to be managed by Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (MSCMDM 2008). Future DirectAccess technologies may incorporate MSCMDM as well. That would be welcomed by organisations as that would make a truly complete offering.
  2. AppLocker gives administrators the ability to apply a white list of applications that are allowed to run on client systems using Group Policy settings, while DirectAccess provides laptop users with the means to connect securely to the corporate network without needing a virtual private network, using an IPv6-over-IPsec encrypted connection.
  3. BranchCache is a new feature designed to offer better access to information for workers in a remote branch office. As the name suggests, it caches data transferred over the network, with cached data either held on a server or distributed among the client PCs at the site.
  4. Federated search (see sample screen above) extends the search capabilities seen in Vista to allow users to search not only their own computer, but to send out the search request to data repositories such as SharePoint and have the results merged with those from their own computer.
  5. Bitlocker To Go extends the Bitlocker encryption technology introduced in Windows Vista to support removable media such as USB Flash drives. Administrators can also set a policy that requires users to encrypt such media before they can be used.
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About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

7 Responses to Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

  1. Godfrey Room says:

    At last a common-sense, no-nonsense heads-up on the key things of interest to “real” users – thank you, Mubbisher! I find this a particularly helpful overview of information usually drowning in marketing-hype.
    Godfrey

  2. mubbisherahmed says:

    Thank you, Godfrey. I am glad that you enjoyed the article. Its all so confusing, thought I’d write a simpler version!!

  3. mubbisherahmed says:

    Stuart Brown CRM Business Analyst , a fellow member of a group, said the following on a social media site:

    A good post Mubbisher – there are so many reviews out there about Windows 7, but the focus seems to be on the home consumer rather than business. I’ve been using 7 for a few weeks now (and prior to that the RC) and have to say it really is a fantastic OS. Took awhile to get used to, but going back to Vista is awful!

    I replied:

    Thanks, Stuart for appreciating the posting. That’s good, a recommendation from you means that I can finally take the Windows 7 plunge!

  4. Godfrey Room says:

    Stuart, how straightforward did you find migrating to the new OS? Did it give you problems with your “old” software, printer drivers etc?

    • mubbisherahmed says:

      Godfrey, I asked Stuart the following question on the group he is also a member of:

      Thanks, Stuart, how straightforward did you find migrating to the new OS, i.e. did you do a clean install? I take it that you did. How about an upgrade installation? Do you know of anyone who has managed to do a successful upgrade from Vista, XP, Win2K etc? Did it give you problems with your “old” software, printer drivers etc?

      He replied with the following:

      Yes, I did a clean install in both instances (the RC and final release versions).

      It is possible to upgrade from the RC to the final release version, as well as from XP or Vista. A really great site (Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows) has a fantastic guide to performing all the different upgrades: http://www.winsupersite.com/win7/win7_upgrade.asp

      With regard to drivers – if it works under Vista, it will work under Win 7. It is possible that if you are running an old printer or scanner in XP or Win2K that you may have trouble in Win 7. I would check for drivers for such peripherals before performing an upgrade.

      He further added:

      My mistake – you can only perform an upgrade on Vista. If you are running XP or Win2K, you can migrate using the Windows Easy Transfer tool. It seems that this is actually a better option than an in place upgrade.

      and once again, Stuart returned and said:

      I have just learnt today that if you are purchasing a copy of Windows 7, make sure you buy an upgrade version as it is a lot cheaper (£65 for a single copy). The upgrade version can actually be installed without needing a previous copy of Windows to be installed.

      There is also a family pack of three Win 7 licenses which you can get for £150, allowing you to upgrade three PCs. Finally, if you are a student, you can pick up a single copy for only £30 – so quite a few options for saving some money.

      And, of course, if you are looking for something completely free, you can always give the latest version of Ubuntu (9.10) a whirl!

      I hope that helps you.

  5. Han_Coumans says:

    Dear reader,

    Commenting on W7 I can’t, because I’m not a user.
    Commenting on some technologies I can and I believe is importenant to do.

    It is concerning the DirectAccess software.
    One can use above a VPN is not needed, because IPv6 is used and the user (client) has a global routable address.
    A note to start with: because all users connecting to a IPv6 get a global routable address if they need Internet access and not a private range behind a NAT device we are currently used to in the IP(v4) world, it is nescessary to use a firewall. I must admit the chance some cracker will find you with this vast abount of address space IPv6 is providing is slim, but prevention is always better (and W7 is still Windows…).

    Everything that breath IPSec can be called a VPN, but currently we have in the IP(v4) world many other technologies like L2TP, PTPP,L2TF you can call VPN.
    In the IP(v4) world using private range IP numbers and NAT give issues, they are overcome but it was not an elegant solution. IPv6 don’t has this issue because of the IPv6 global address users get to access the Internet.
    For IPv6 the IETF recommends IPSec as the preferred encrypted tunnelling protocol a.k.a. VPN.

    So in fact DirectAccess is a VPN client using IPv6 and IPSec.
    What I hope for is that this VPN client software is compatible with standard IPSec solutions, but something tells me there is a twist somewhere….. (MS and embracing standards and extending them)

    Happy computing

    • mubbisherahmed says:

      Well, Han, thanks very much for the detailed insight into how Direct Access works. I am grateful to you as I was wandering how it all worked and you have explained it very well in an easy way, so that those who do not know the difference between IPv4 & 6 should be able to follow your thought and insight.

      I will update the article now as well and point people to this comment if they want to know how Direct Access works!

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