Windows 7 a Big Improvement over Vista

Microsoft shows off Windows 7, a less ambitious offering than Vista but one with more realistic goals. With its new features and improved performance, Windows 7 seems like a better version of Vista rather than a major step forward.

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.

For an early peek at Windows 7's features, click here.

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.