Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…
October 30, 2009 7 Comments
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 .
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:
- Better wallpapers, better user access control (UAC) that avoid annoying pop ups,
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.