LOS ANGELES-Microsoft is giving the public its first glimpse of Windows 7, the successor to the company’s unevenly accepted Vista client operating system.
The unveiling of Windows 7 at the Professional Developers Conference here Oct. 28 calls to mind the early debut of “Longhorn,” the OS that would become Vista, at the 2003 iteration of Microsoft’s developer gathering. However, the similarities between the two product introductions don’t extend much beyond venue.
Where Longhorn was arguably overambitious (a contention borne out by Vista’s scheduling setbacks, feature scalebacks and eventual market push-back), the feature additions and enhancements in Windows 7 are modest and achievable.
In the day and a half I’ve spent using Windows 7 on a Microsoft-provided Dell XPS M1330 machine preinstalled with Build 6801 of the OS, I’ve found its polish and performance a world away from the first Longhorn build I tried out at PDC 2003. At this point, Windows 7 feels more like a second beta or an early release candidate than a developer conference sneak peek.
Rather than constitute some major leap from Vista, Windows 7 feels like a tighter, faster version of Vista, with an assortment of worthwhile feature enhancements, including various improved and new features for enterprise users.
One of the more promising new features-but one I have not had the opportunity to test-is DirectAccess, a capability that enables remote users to access resources behind their organization’s firewall without using a VPN. DirectAccess requires Windows Server 2008 Release 2, which has not yet become available-hence the lack of testing opportunities.
Also falling into the category of waiting for R2 is BranchCache, a feature in which Windows 7 clients cache content from remote file and Web servers to speed access to data for users in branch offices. BranchCache works with HTTP(S) and SMB, and limits access to SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and IPSec-protected content to authorized clients.
Search, Drive Encryption Changes
Also of note in Windows 7 is Search Federation, a feature that enables IT departments to add search engines, document repositories (such as SharePoint sites), Web applications and proprietary data stores to the list of search providers in Windows 7. IT administrators can push down new search locations through Group Policy.
I was pleased to see the enhancements that Microsoft has brought to the BitLocker drive encryption functionality introduced in Vista. In Windows 7, BitLocker sports some UI improvements, including the option to right-click on a drive to enable BitLocker protection, support for automatic creation of the hidden boot partition required for enabling BitLocker on an already-installed system, and support for encrypting multiple machines with the same key (a big manageability improvement).
Also, BitLocker in Windows 7 can now protect removable devices as well, and administrators can mandate encryption for removable devices, making them read-only unless encryption is enabled. If a user inserts an unencrypted drive, Windows will step the user through the drive encryption process.
Windows 7 sports a new DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) tool that offers IT administrators more flexibility in building their Windows images and helps administrators limit the number of different images they maintain. DISM enables IT administrators to update their operating system images with software updates, to add optional components and third-party device drivers.
Compared with Windows Vista, Microsoft is promising more speed; more battery life; shorter startup, shutdown and suspend times; and compatibility with all the applications and drivers built to work with Vista. In addition, Microsoft is indicating that Windows 7 performance is enough improved over Vista to enable the new OS to run on low-powered netbook-class machines.
In Windows 7, System Restore now provides a list of programs that will be removed or added as a result of a system restore rollback operation, which can help determine which restore point to choose, and make clear the effects of the rollback.
eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.