Introduction to Windows 7
It’s two months since I got the first introduction to Windows 7 (code named Vienna) at Microsoft Tech-Ed 2008 in Barcelona, and this week Microsoft released a public beta of their next client operating system. I have installed it on my MacBook Pro, and plan to install it on an office machine in AD and on my home machine.
I have been using Windows Vista for about 3 years now, through some of the betas and later with the released product. At the department where I am the sysadmin, more of then half of our computers are running Windows Vista (three of them x64) and Office 2007. All in all, I can say that we are very satisfied. This is not the situation many other places, as I often hear of companies that have decided to continue with Windows XP and not implement Vista in their organization. At our department we have only ran in to a few problems, most of them have been software not following Microsoft’s coding guidelines.
Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer presented Windows 7 during his keynote on CES, and told that the public beta first would be available only for Technet Plus-subscribers and then two days later for the public in general.
I have a Technet subscription and downloaded Windows 7 on the first day it was available, and had to resume the download several times. According to the Windows Team Blog others had the same problems:
Due to very heavy traffic we’re seeing as a result of interest in the Windows 7 Beta, we are adding some additional infrastructure support to the Microsoft.com properties before we post the public beta. We want to ensure customers have the best possible experience when downloading the beta, and I’ll be posting here again soon once the beta goes live. Stay tuned! We are excited that you are excited!
Microsoft had originally limited the testing to 2.5 million activation keys. But cause of the popular demand the beta program got lifted, so now the beta is freely available until January 24. These keys enable Windows 7 beta to run for more than 30 days. Be also aware of the license, you are not allowed to install the beta on your work machine and that the beta will expire August 1st! Two downloads are available of the build: x86 and x64. I have only downloaded and tested the x86 build. The build can also be said to be equalent to Vista Ultimate, but according to Steven Sinofsky, Senior Vice President of the Windows and Windows Live engineering group, that doesn’t mean there will the same number of different versions of Windows 7 as there are with Vista.
What does Beta mean?
Windows 7 is a developer release. I find it to be pretty stable, but I have after 4 days ran in to two blue screens (BSOD). The first I ended up with a crashed machine was when I tried to configure Windows Media Center with DVB-T and the second time was when I installed Cisco VPN. And just so that it is said, you should read Larry Osterman’s blog post over on Engineering 7.
Under the hood
The changes that you don’t see, are both many and important.
Many people have predicted that Windows 7 will have a complete new kernel, MinWin. That is not the case. The last thing Microsoft wants to do in Windows 7 is make radical changes at the kernel level, that would require, among other things, that all the drivers had to be rewritten. It is safe to say that the Windows 7 kernel mostly contains changes from the one found in Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP1.
The driver model
One of Vista’s problem during its release was that some devices didn’t work due to the lack of driver support from OEMs/vendors. Getting third-party hardware to work is the most crucial factor in making Windows 7 a success, and that is perhaps the reason why Microsoft has decided to use the same driver model as in Vista. So if your computer works with Windows Vista, it will most likely also work with Windows 7. This also seems to be the case on the machines I have installed Windows 7 on, all their hardware are fully supported.
But almost more important, is that Microsoft manages to get more 64-bit drivers released. Both end users and enterprises will often choose to buy 4 GB or more in the future. My department never buys computers with less then 4 GB.
Windows 7 can installed on hardware or in your virtualisation software. If you choose to install it on hardware, remember to take backup of all the data you already have on your machine. By choosing the wrong options you risk deleting all excisting files. You are hereby warned!
The beta can be clean installed or upgraded from Vista Service Pack 1, and you need about 16GB of storage to install it. The installation on hardware takes about 30 minutes, and the installation process looks nearly identical to the one of Windows Vista.
Installing it on Macs
I didn’t run in to any major problems when installing Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro. Some of the needed drivers come preinstalled with Windows 7, the ethernet and graphic card driver can be installed from Windows Update, and the rest of the drivers are available on the DVD you installed MacOS X 10.5 from. The drivers on the DVD must be installed one-by-one, and the only driver that I found not to work with Windows 7 was the ATI graphic driver.
Installing it on a “Netbook”
I have a Lenovo X61, so I guess I will not get one of the popular Netbooks available on the market today. Windows 7 is said to be running really well on these stripped down laptops. Windows 7 only need a CPU running at 1 GHz and 1 GB RAM, and that is far less then Windows Vista.
Paul Thurrott posted a video showing how you can install Win7 on netbooks, which do not normally come with a DVD Drive (same goes with my X61, but I have one in my docking station). The video shows you how to prepare a USB drive with the installation bits and install off it.
Graphical User Interface (GUI)
The changes to the new Windows 7 user interface are subtle.
The first thing you notice when boot Windows is the new taskbar. It is a result of Microsoft trying to counter the percetion that PCs are difficult to use. The magazine PCPlus shows that in a brilliant way (Jan 2009), with the example of six ways to open an email client in Vista, including icons on the desktop, in the taskbar, system tray and the Start menu. Windows 7 replaces the majority of these with one icon in the taskbar. The same goes for Windows Live Messenger.
The Jump List is a new addition to the user interface, that shows recent documents. If the application supports Jump List, it will provide shortcuts to documents you use often, your most frequently used tasks (as composing mails) and for Windows Media Player the last track played.
If you ask me, this is a 1:1 copy of how Apple implemented the same functionality in MacOS X’s Dock.
Vista Gadgets are not only available in Windows 7, but are also integrated in the context menu. The change is that you won’t see the sidebar anymore, and the widgets can be placed where ever you like on the desktop.
It just took me two, three minutes to realize that Windows 7 was designed for touch screens, and I more or less got that confirmed when reading that Microsoft was investing big in in Israeli startup N-trig. N-trig already provides a range of touchscreen technology to companies like Dell and HP, but the key component — and what Microsoft is most interested in — is multi-touch. Oh, oh, the year has just started and what a fun year it is to be!
This is a fancy mouse gesture, but I guess it is even better with Windows 7′s new touch features. The Aero Shake function will let users clear the desktop of windows while they concentrate on a single application’s window. Doing the same gesture again, brings all the windows back again.
Microsoft has trimmed the fat from Windows 7 by cutting out extra bundled programs such as Windows Messenger and Windows Mail, which users can download in a Windows Live package if they wish. One of the first things I did after having installed Windows 7, was to just that and I chose to install the Messenger, Photo Gallery and Writer. Windows Mail was not installed as I use Outlook with Xobni.
The inbuilt burning software
Windows 7 finally introduces a feature that MacOS X and Linux distros have had for years – the ability to burn ISO images to CDs or DVDs. Just double-click the ISO image, choose the drive with the blank disc, click Burn and a disc gets created.
The Libraries provide a view of the filesystem that is tailored to specific content types.
By default, Libraries are created for communications, contacts, documents, downloads, music, pictures, and video. Each Library presents its content in a style that’s most appropriate; the downloads Library lists the URL that each downloaded files came from, the contacts Library shows e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and so on.
These special folders (and their special views) will already be familiar to users of Vista. Where Libraries differ is that they’re not individual folders. Rather, each Library is an aggregate of many different folders. When you connect your home fileserver and/or a removable harddisk, all their content will be automatically sorted in the available Libraries. This is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Spotlight, and works over Microsoft’s HomeGroup network technology (see below).
Since OpenSearch is based on open standards, and it is said to be very simple to create custom ‘search connectors’ for your own remote repositories. A few search cool connectors are only available for download:
Please let me know in a comment if you find any other cool connector that I can play with!
Update: I have later written the article Windows 7 – Federated Search and Search Connector.
WMP12 makes it easier to play back audio or video on remote devices, a feature dubbed “Play To”, and mediaplayer can also stream to other computers in your HomeGroup.
An annoyance with most media players, Windows Media Player (WMP) included, is that they don’t have the right codec included. WMP12 will reduce this problem considerable, as it includes support for H.264 video, AAC audio, and both Xvid and DivX video, in addition to all the formats supported in WMP11 (MPEG2, WMA, WMV, MP3, etc.). With these new codecs, WMP should support the majority of video found on the Internet out of the box. The AAC support is limited, as Apple won’t license its FairPlay DRM to third parties.
At first look, Media Center (WMC) looks more or less the same as the version shipped in Vista, but there are few things worth noticing.
First thing, WMC comes with an on-screen keyboard and bigger video thumbnails. Again, this could be a result of Windows being completely rewritten for supporting touch screens.
Photo enthusiasts have much to enjoy, the usability of the Photo module has gone up a notch or two. There is a new Ambient Slideshow which will launch as a screen saver as well as when you invoke the new Play Favorites on the Start Menu. This pulls from your pictures rated 3 stars or higher. This slideshow features some nice zoom out and zoom in animations as well as slideshows within slideshows.
Turbo Scroll for those with large libraries. Holding down left or right remote buttons will begin to scroll through libraries at faster speeds, presenting content in alphabetical chunks. Turbo Scroll is also said to be working when browsing the TV listing menu.
A new module called Extras has replaced Online Media.
Charlie Owen has a great blog about Media Center, really worth subscribing to.
H.264 and RiksTV
On July 16th, 2008, Microsoft released an update to the version of Windows Media Center included with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate to our OEM partners.The Update was primarily targeted at adding support for additional international broadcast standards including:
- Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting – Terrestrial (ISDB-T) Digital television standard for Japan
- Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite (DVB-S) free-to-air satellite standards in Europe
- Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial (DVB-T) digital television with improved user experience in Europe
- ClearQAM (Unencrypted Digital Cable)in the United States
- Interactive television with integrated Broadcast Markup Language (BML) in Japan and Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group (MHEG) (MHEG5) in Europe
The update did not include native support for subscription-based satellite tuners or the H.264 video standard (which we use here in Norway, H.264). That support was first added with Windows 7.
Another very exciting enhancement of the Media Center is the support of IPTV , with well integrated TV guides, standard and hi-def content. This is sadly something I have not been able to try out. I don’t know of any IPTV provider that can give me access to some of their channels for testing. In Norway there is currently two ISPs, Altibox and Nextgentel, providing IPTV, with Telenor coming with a solution some time this year (in Norwegian).
With all these new functionality Windows 7 and it’s Media Center, Windows should be the obivious choice for the computer in your livingroom. But for now, I don’t mange to get any video or sound in WMC. Other then that very important part, everything work as is should. The channel scan comes up with all the TV channels RiksTV has, both the ones that are open and then ones scrambled. So what did I use? A small USB stick from Pinnacle, PCTV nanoStick. In the Norwegian AVForum only people with Fire DTV are reporting that WMC is working after having installed the latest beta drivers.
Even the EPG is working out of the box (seen people in U.K and Australia complaining), and Windows 7 also lets you use the computer as a PVR. It lets you record an episode or the whole series, just by a few mouse clicks.
Update: I have later written the article Windows 7 and RiksTV (the digital TV provider in Norway).
The changes are many, simplified WiFi connections, built-in mobile broadband stack, better Bluetooth pairing. The best article that I have found summing up the wireless changes got published on techradar.com: In short the biggest wireless changes are:
- When you click the network icon in the taskbar, you don’t get the unhelpful Vista message that there are wireless networks available, but instead a list over available networks.
- For hotspots and hotel connections that make you go to a web page and accept terms and conditions (and most importantly credit card details) Windows 7 pops up a notification to let you know you’re not connected; click it and it opens the log-in page.
- When you resume from standby, the OS reduces the time it takes to reconnect (from about 40 seconds to less than 8 seconds)!
- Wake on LAN now also works over wireless (as long as your Wi-Fi chipset supports it). Great for business laptops!
- More important for me is the improvements in wireless security:
802.11x authentification has been improved. There was especially one small thing that I noticed, that these dialog boxes now didn’t pop up on the middle of the screen, but rather down in the right corner. I find this more intuitive, as you now know that these windows are connected to the wifi icon down in the notification area.
Windows 7 has built-in support for mobile broadband (3G and HSDPA). If you have hardware that uses the new API and driver model, the 3G network will show up in the same list as Wi-Fi access points. Hm (dear boss, if you are reading this, I need a new laptop), I would have loved to test this, but will leave it for now. I have 3-4 professors that have laptops with inbuilt SIM cards, so I guess I will get the chance to test this when Windows 7 is released.
With HomeGroup, you can share files in the home, stream music to your XBOX 360 or other devices, and print to the home printer without worrying about technical setup or even understanding how it all works. This is sadly only reinventing the wheel, Bonjour anyone? So my question with this new technology is: What do users in homes with a mixed computer environment do?
For more information, please read my blog entry: Windows 7 – At Home with HomeGroup.
It’s still there! Well, I have never had any problems accepting UAC, I come from the UNIX world and took the functionality for granted.
Microsoft has tweaked UAC on many fronts. You can now choose on a slider, how much UAC will interrupt you. There are now 4 options, which are as follows:
- Never notify me
- Only notify me when programs try to make changes
- Always notify
- Notify and wait for my approval
I noticed that you cannot turn it off, but I guess that the option Never notify me is more or less the same.
DirectAccess (VPN without the VPN)
IPc6 is coming closer and the days of Cisco VPN clients are finally coming to an end. Yay, I can’t wait!
Direct Connect is like Outlook Anywhere where you connect to the internal Exchange Server from outside the corporate network without a VPN connection, but through RPC over HTTPs. Direct connect uses IPv6 and IPSec to build a tunnel from outside the coprporate network to any resource that needs to access internal network (file shares, LOB applications).
BitLocker To Go
BitLocker was first introduced with Vista, and Microsoft has extended the technology in Windows 7. BitLocker is a whole-disk encryption tool designed to protect your data, and it reaches its full potential on computers with Trusted Protection Module (TPM). The TPM chipset transparently decrypts the drive once you’ve authenticated yourself with a password or smart card. A laptop thief can’t break into the locked drive, even after booting to a different OS or moving the drive to another computer.
With Windows 7 Microsoft extends this protection to cover removable drives. Turning it on for a drive is as simple as choosing BitLocker from the right-click menu. You supply a passphrase or (if you’re totally l33t) a smart card for encryption. You stash away a special 40-digit recovery key in case the passphrase slips your mind or the smart card slips out of your pocket. After a few minutes, the drive is encrypted.
IT-administrators can use Group Policy to enforce passphrase length and ban writing to any removable drive that isn’t BitLocker-protected.
One Windows management problem that has plagued companies for years, is having users that install and run non-standard application. Even standard users can install some types of software, and they can also run applications from USB sticks. With Windows 7, Microsoft hopes that AppLocker, an improvement on software restriction policies, will make this problem a thing of the past.
Unauthorized software issues present a number of problems. It may conflict with an existing application or it may deprive the PC of disk, CPU or memory resources. The corporate network can also be introduced to malware, the users productivity can be reduced and the unauthorized software can increase helpdesk calls. Another issue is the fact that an organization is responsible for having a license for every application installed on each computer in its network. If a user installs an unauthorized application, it is the organization that is ultimately responsible for licensing that application.
AppLocker is built up around a simple rule structure: Allow (white list), Exception and Deny (black list), that can be applied to Publisher Rules: Product Publisher, Name, Filename & Version. Publisher – Path – Hash are different ways of blocking/allowing applications. You can set version number, but also allow higher version number. Then you don’t have to maintain the white list every time there is a patch. You can also allow applications from a Publisher, for instance Microsoft, and you allow one specific application or a suite of applications. You can also allow a specific user or a group of users to use an application that is banned for the rest of the organization.
The “Device Stage” automatically fetches support and set-up information for mobile phones, mp3 players, digital cameras or other gadgets plugged into the computer. It really changes the way you interact with devices and hardware you attach to your system. Sadly, currently I have no supported hardware.
For a full overview, please visit Neowin – Windows 7: Device Stage.
What a horrible term! I feel that in most cases it’s nothing else then outsourcing a service, like for instance e-mails. But Microsoft is different here, it combines the best from both worlds, desktop and web applications (have you tried Live Mesh?). And with Windows 7 they have included a new networking API with support for building SOAP based web services in native code.