Arena 2 at Tech.Ed was surprisingly not a full house as a session was given on the top 10 reasons for deploying Windows 7. Not surprisingly, the number one reason for deploying Windows 7 is its performance, including how the operating system performs when running on notebooks.
Windows 7 has many built-in provisions for prolonging the battery life of notebooks, including the ability to dim the screen after a period of inactivity, and it can also gradually suspend background system components when it recognises that only one component is being used (the example given was that of a hard drive spinning down when the DVD drive was in use). Some delegates at Tech.Ed claimed a battery life of up to 3.5 hours from their HP Mini 2140, but this will depend on how the netbook is being used. The responsive performance of Windows 7 on the netbook was also mentioned, and when the presenter wondered out loud how Vista would perform if installed on the same netbook, a punter in the crowd promptly told him to "Wash his mouth out".
In our tweet just before the session began, we mused that the best reason for deploying Windows 7 is its quicker boot time, but this was not a talking point in the presentation.
Essentially, the second reason to deploy Windows 7 is Internet Explorer 8. The key feature being touted is InPrivate Browsing mode, which allows you to browse the Web without cookies and other personal information (including history) being recorded. Users of Firefox will already be familiar with this feature.
As an example of the feature's usefulness, Microsoft claims that it can be used by admins who want to visit a particular site on a user's machine in order to find out what effect cookies are having on the computer.
The main talking point here was BitLocker To Go, which comes preinstalled in Windows 7 and allows USB keys and external drives to be encrypted at the bit level. Also discussed was user access control, which now has one more level of control. Rather than just 'on' and 'off', as is available in Vista, Windows 7 allows users to be notified when a program tries to make a change to Windows settings (but not when the user makes the change), and this can be managed via Group Policies.
One of the niftiest features of Windows 7 is its ability run virtual machines. We saw examples of BeOS and OS/2 running within a virtualised environment, but perhaps the coolest part is the seamless way Windows 7 will let you run older applications. If you have an application installed on a virtual desktop that you want to run, you can simply select that application from the Start menu and run it.
The biggest improvements here are in the user interface. For example it will take fewer clicks for a user to join a wireless network. The other aspect of Windows 7's networking that's interesting is its built-in support for some 3G cards, which means that admins might not need to install third-party software when deploying the operating system.
There are a slew of built-in diagnostic and power management utilities, and Windows 7 also includes 500 more Group Policy objects than Vista. The most talked about feature is Problem Steps Recorder, which a user can run and then record all the steps they are taking in the lead up to system error. It records a user's steps by taking screen shots and giving captions that include such information as which mouse button is being used to click which on-screen button. Very nifty.
7. The user interface
Usually, most users hate a new user interface, and since most business are still stuck on Windows XP and will need to learn how to use the new operating system, this may not be one of the best reasons to deploy Windows 7.
However, Microsoft is spruiking the benefits of improved searching of local, network and Internet content from within the desktop environment. Additionally, the Aero interface is once again being touted as a time saver, with features such as live previews when you hover over a tab on the Taskbar.
Probably the most useful user interface feature is the ability to automatically size two windows side by side. Called Aero Snap, this feature allows windows to snap into place so that you don't have to drag them by the corners manually.
Branch cache is a feature that is useful in an office environment (using Windows Server 2008 R2). It's a peer-to-peer solution that allows information to be retrieved from remote computers and then shared across the internal network. The aim is to save bandwidth and time.
9. Remote working
Assuming your server infrastructure supports it (Windows Server 2008 R2), Direct Access is a Windows 7 feature that can give users secure access to their files remotely without having to start a VPN session. When users are connected to the office using Direct Access, they are under admin control, so all group policies and firewall settings still apply.
Windows 7 should be deployed because it is easy to deploy. It is hardware agnostic and admins will only ever need one or two Windows 7 images — a 32-bit version and a 64-bit version. Updates to images can also be made very easily.
An install.win image is actually included on the Windows 7 DVD, and this can be used for deployment. There is also a GUI-based tool called Windows System Image manager (as part of Windows Automated Installation Kit, or WAIK), which can be used to create an unattended installation file in XML format.
USB installations have also been improved in Windows 7 when compared to XP. One member of the crowd claimed that installing Windows XP over USB was "like pulling your teeth out through your anus". That, my friends, is the highlight comment of Tech.Ed thus far.