Windows 7's Overlooked Enterprise Features
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With Windows 7 in the hands of millions of individuals around the world, the consumer push has been the focus of attention. But Windows is as important to businesses and organizations as it is to the home gamer.
A lot of corporations have aging Windows XP machines that will need to be retired soon, perhaps not by choice as the systems age and fall out of support. Those firms need to know what Microsoft has in store as well as consumers.
For that reason, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has begun discussing the business side of Windows 7 in detail. The software is rapidly approaching Release Candidate stage, the last step of development, although Microsoft still officially insists the software will be released in the first quarter of 2010.
The firm introduced three new basic principles for the development of Windows 7, said Stella Chernyak, director of Windows client product management at Microsoft. They are Planning, Predictability, and Early Ecosystem Engagement.
As far as planning goes, Microsoft spent six months planning Windows 7 before work began, talking to customers, discussing needs, and working on end-to-end business scenarios, not just the features of the client.
The predictability comes from a time frame and schedule that the company has stuck with, a hallmark of Steven Sinofsky's management style. Sinofsky, the senior vice president of the Windows and Windows Live engineering groups, was previously the head of development for Office, which was known for shipping on time.
Finally, Microsoft got partners involved in the development early. One of the big problems with Vista was the company didn't do enough to engage third-party hardware developers, so when Vista shipped, drivers either weren't ready or were in a pretty sorry state.
Microsoft did an in-depth research survey, interviewing almost 4,000 IT professionals to find out their concerns. One of the largest findings was that 61 percent of those surveyed expressed a deep concern that only authorized applications are used on company computers.
This resulted in AppLocker, a "white list" technology that basically says only the approved applications on the white list may be installed on the computer. In addition, applications can be black listed and barred from being installed on the user computer. They can even specify apps by version number, so a company can, for example, bar users from installing Firefox 2.x on their computers instead of 3.x.
In that survey, 49 percent of enterprise professionals told Microsoft it needed to improve remote access, both technologically and security-wise. The response was DirectAccess, a feature that requires Windows Server 2008 R2, which will not ship until next year.
DirectAccess lets mobile workers connect securely to their corporate network without requiring the headache of a virtual private network (VPN). Users only need an Internet connection and they are connected to their corporate network. Simply firing up your laptop in an airport with a Wi-Fi network will connect you to the home system, and all types of system management, like patches and updates, can be pushed down to the user.
"As a user you see no difference between being in the office and being on the road," Chernyak told InternetNews.com. "You just connect from the Internet and see all your internal services. From the IT perspective, this is a blessing because your machine will be serviced any time you have a basic Internet connection."
Another finding for Microsoft was that 56 percent of IT professionals surveyed said they needed help protecting corporate data on laptops such as keeping people from writing sensitive data to a USB thumb drive. As such, Microsoft decided to include BitLocker in Windows 7 Enterprise and to extend its capabilities to USB drives, so no more data walks out the door in someone's pocket.
Another Windows 7 feature for the enterprise that has already been disclosed is BranchCache, another feature that requires Windows Server 2008 R2. This feature is designed to improve data sharing between remote offices and corporate headquarters.
As its name implies, files are downloaded from the headquarters and stored on the local remote server. That way, people in that office download the file from their remote server instead of from the headquarters. Windows Server then handles version control between the main server and remote server.
Lastly, Windows 7 will sport improved enterprise search functionality from the desktop by adding support for SharePoint portal search and Internet search. Windows 7 will now perform one search and cover the individual computer, SharePoint sites and the Internet.