Microsoft: Windows 7 built on user feedback

With the release to manufacturing date for Windows 7 just weeks away, Microsoft has hit the promotion trail claiming it has returned to the fundamentals.

“Over the years from XP and Vista we have been gathering millions of elements of feedback,” Sarah Vaughan, Windows 7 Commercial Group Lead at Microsoft Australia told CIO.

“Windows 7 has been developed based on that feedback to get the fundamentals right around performance, reliability and compatibility.”

According to Vaughan, much of the feedback has been related increasingly to the compatibility of Windows with the multitude of hardware and different types of applications, both hosted on the client and delivered via the cloud, available on the market.

“A big difference with Windows 7 is in the planning stages,” she said. “We worked with about 10,000 software and hardware partners in our early adoption programs.”

Microsoft was has also been working to identify third party applications and hardware providers unique to the Australian market with the goal of boosting compatibility.

“We have been looking at their roadmaps and our roadmaps,” she said. “It’s a key tenant of our development process now that we address compatibility prior to going to market.”

Better Security

With the range and footprint of security threats growing dramatically since the release of Vista, security has also been a key area of feedback, Vaughan said. In particular, around its notorious user account control (UAC) feature.

“We had feedback that it was too chatty so people were turning it off, leaving themselves vulnerable,” she said. “[In Windows 7] we have already seen about a 29 percent reduction in the number of prompts.”

By way of example, Vaughan said that whereas Vista required four prompts to create or amend a folder, under Windows 7 there was now only one.

BitLocker, the Vista feature to encrypt data on PCs and notebooks has also been extended to encrypt removable storage, such as USB thumb drives, with BitLocker to Go.

Using AppLocker, IT administrators can also lock down the number of applications that are allowed to run on a standard environments. If an application is downloaded onto a PC or laptop, and it is not on an approved application list, then it cannot run, Vaughan said.

Feedback on the performance side has lead to increased boot up and shutdown times, Vaughan said, through no longer loading all Windows services at the same time, thus letting users access their desktop as soon as the OS has booted.

“Windows 7 can also performance tune based on user behaviour -- it learns based on the first 10 instances of booting what applications are most commonly used, and what services are needed in the background to run those applications,” she says. “It will start pre-running those applications on boot-up knowing that is your preferred behaviour.”

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Enterprise features

According to Vaughan, feedback from CIOs and enterprises had largely been around two themes -- reducing costs, and supporting tele/flexible work arrangements to reduce overheads and promote work-life balance.

To address these needs Windows 7 includes a direct access feature, which allows remote access to files and applications behind the organisational firewall without having to log in and out of remote VPNs.

Using this feature the IT department can also connect to the remote Windows 7 device and check it for policy and security compliance, creating greater efficiency for user access and IT maintenance, Vaughan said.

Windows 7 also makes use of the Open Search standard to incorporate federated search. With the addition of an XML connector, the IT department can use Internet Explorer to search the desktop, internal repositories and the Internet.

“Today if you go to external search sites you have one search experience, if you search within the organisation you get another with a SharePoint or records management system and on the desktop it is different again,” Vaughan said.

“Federated search gives a unified way for the user to search regardless of the endpoint where they are searching. It takes away the need for the user to learn different search approaches and they gain efficiencies from a single, unified experience.”

Migration

CIOs will find that upgrade path for XP to Vista is similar to that of XP to Windows 7, Vaughan said, in that they will still have to be mindful of application compatibility. On the hardware side, so long as a machine is compatible with Vista it should be able to move from XP straight to Windows 7.

“To date, we have been working to ensure that if the hardware you were using ran Vista, then it would work equally as well on 7,” Vaughan said.

She said that Microsoft was conscious that its release timeframe from Windows 7 wasn’t necessarily complementary for many enterprise customers.

“Enterprises will take from 12-18 months to look at their desktop upgrade, so the point is that if organisations have begun testing with Vista then that won’t be time wasted, as our design tenant is to make sure that Windows 7 will run just as well on the same hardware.”

Vaughan said there were a number of options for customers to be licensed for Windows 7. XP mode, allows for organisations to move to windows 7 but still run XP-only applications via a virtual XP mode within Windows 7 desktop. Volume licensing customers can maintain their systems but have rights to Windows 7.

Downgrade rights from Windows 7 to XP will be available for 18 months from general availability or Windows 7 Service Pack 1, Vaughan said.

Minimum specifications of 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage for Windows 7 was consistent from Starter through to the Ultimate versions, she said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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