Upcoming Windows 7 RC Has a LOT of Changes

Granted, Windows 7 will still be Windows 7. So, moving from Windows 7 Beta to Windows 7 RC will not fundamentally change your operating system. Still, the whole point of Beta testing is to identify problems and gather user feedback to incorporate changes into the final product. The Engineering Windows 7 blog posted a detailed look at 36 different changes we will see from Beta to RC once the Release Candidate becomes available.


You can read the post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog to get the complete details. But, here is a short list of some of my favorite updates:


  • the ability to hold down the ‘Shift’ key when doing a drag/drop action to the Taskbar in order to invoke ‘open with’ rather than adding the file or program to the Taskbar or pinning it to the Jumplist of an existing application
  • restricting the number of items automatically added to application Jumplists to 10 to keep the lists from being too long to provide any value
  • changes made to the behavior of UAC to reflect some of the feedback and backlash about potential security risks introduced by the default UAC configuration in the Windows 7 Beta
  • improving performance and speed from Beta to RC (although I have been happy with the Beta performance and speed- but faster is always better)

No word yet on when we might expect to see that RC, but at least we know when it is released it will have a number of compelling changes and updates.

Windows 7 Walkthroughs

The Microsoft Springboard program is leading the way in evangelizing for the Windows 7 operating system and providing the types of resources and information that IT pros and end-users need to understand the new features and capabilities and get the most out of the new OS. Toward that end, they have developed a series of screencast ‘walkthroughs’ providing in-depth looks at various features and functions of Windows 7. Currently the series includes the following instructional videos:



I am sure they will continue to expand the series to include more Windows 7 features, so check back on the Windows 7 Feature Walkthroughs site periodically.

Attend Windows 7 Kickoff Event

On February 28 Stephen Rose and Joey Snow will be presenting an event in Irvine, CA kicking off Windows 7 and providing a comprehensive look at the new features and functions. You can check out the details of the session (titled TechNet and MSDN Unleashed: Windows Vista to Windows 7) below to see the topics that will be covered in this 5 1/2 hour event.


The live event is already maxed out, but  the session will also be broadcast via LiveMeeting. You can register to attend the LiveMeeting event here: https://www.clicktoattend.com/invitation.aspx?code=135966 


 


Event Code: 135966


2/28/2009


8:00 AM – 1:30 PM PST


 



SESSION TOPICS:

Better Together: Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7


Overview of the Better Together story.


 


 


Is Vista Still Relevant? Windows Vista – The Path to 7

With Windows 7 on the horizon, is Vista still relevant? This presentation will cover why Vista is the best path to Windows 7 readiness as well as discuss the key underpinnings in the Windows 7 OS and product evolutions with Server 2008 R2, IPv6 and beyond. Focus will be around top 10 things IT Pros should know about Windows Vista and its evolution in Windows 7.


Welcome to Windows 7


This session will be an overview of the GUI and Feature improvements in Windows 7. This will include
  • Task Bar/System Tray Improvements
  • Aero Features
  • System Improvements
  • Control Panels and Features
  • Desktop Improvements
  • IE 8
  • Under The Hood

Windows 7 Deep Dive

Deep Dive will dig into Windows 7 and the new or redesigned under the hood features in the product.

The topics covered will be:
  • Microsoft’s understanding of the needs of IT Pros when designing Windows 7
  • Hardware Readiness
  • Improved Applications
  • Application Compatibility
  • AIK
  • VHD Images and Imaging
  • DISM
  • Dynamic Driver Provisioning
  • Multicast Multiple Stream Transfer
  • Streamlined Installation and File Migration
  • USMT
  • DHCP Hint
  • Enterprise Application Compatibility
  • Windows Troubleshooting Platform


Windows 7 Beta Test Updates

Don’t get too excited. These updates won’t add any new features or functionality to Windows 7. You’ll have to wait for the Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) for those kinds of changes. However, Windows 7 will be getting updates next week, February 24, but they will just be test updates. It is a drill more or less just to make sure that Windows 7 is communicating properly with Windows Update and able to download and apply the updates. It is important to note though that these will not be automatically applied. You will have to manually visit Windows Update and select the updates.


If you are participating in the Windows 7 Beta, please read the information below and participate in this Windows 7 update drill when the updates become available next week.


 


Background

The updates will be clearly described  as a test update in Windows Update, and they will not install automatically.

—————————————————————————

Rationale

The updates will be offered interactively. This means that users will be notified of available updates, but they won’t install automatically. Users will need to go to the Windows Update control panel, select the updates, and manually start installation.

 

These updates will simply replace system files with the same version of the file currently on the system, and will not deliver new features or fixes.

—————————————————————————

Effective dates

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

—————————————————————————

Location

Worldwide beta testers – all audiences

—————————————————————————

Who is affected

All Windows 7 Beta (build 7000) users

—————————————————————————

Actions Requested

Respond to beta tester inquiries as appropriate in Forums and Newsgroups.

Provide context for updates, this is for test purposes only.  Inform and educate Windows 7 beta testers who are running build 7000.


 

Microsoft Venturing Into Retail Stores

Move over Sony and Apple. Microsoft is coming to a mall near you as they jump into the retail outlet chain market. Last year Microsoft dispatched an army of Microsoft experts to take up stations at stores like Best Buy and provide expert guidance for customers. The Microsoft ‘Gurus’ were more or less a response to the ‘Genius Bar’ found in Apple stores.


Apple has seen a boost in their image and their sales which they attribute to their standalone retail stores. However, with the current economy sales have been slowing. Holiday sales for 2008 were down an average of almost 18% per store from the same period in 2007. Circuit City, an electronics warehouse that also sells computers and computer equipment, is in the process of going out of business. People don’t have the disposable and discretionary income they had a couple years ago.


That said- I think it is a good idea. The timing could be better (I will assume they had this idea and were already in the planning stages before the economy imploded). However, I think that customers will appreciate having a brick and mortar store they can go to for expert guidance on Microsoft products. Just as customers have enjoyed the one-on-one guidance and expert customer service in Apple stores, the Microsoft retail store can help customers make decisions about what software is right for them, help them to install the products, educate them on how to maximize the functionality and productivity of the software and more. This level of interaction and guidance will really help in my opinion- especially as they prepare to roll out Windows 7 later this year or early 2010.


Customers need this. Stores like Walmart that sell some computer hardware and software offer no guidance or support at all. Stores like Circuit City (R.I.P.) and Best Buy ostensibly have personnel with the appropriate knowledge to provide guidance, but I have never witnessed it. Most of the time you are lucky if you can get an employee at one of those stores to acknowledge your existence. When you do, finding one that actually knows something more than which model they are supposed to push this week and how to con customers into buying the in-store extended warranty is little short of a miracle.


Done right, this is a great idea. I look forward to checking out the local Microsoft store if and when comes to my neighborhood.

Attend Windows 7: To the Beta and Beyond

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 12th Microsoft’s Springboard program will be hosting another Virtual Roundtable broadcast. Windows 7: To the Beta and Beyond will start at 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern time.


Join Mark Russinovich and a panel of subject matter experts for a live discussion of what’s in store for IT pros with Windows® 7. Learn about the evolution of features like Group Policy, BitLocker To Go™, DirectAccess, BranchCache™, and AppLocker™ then get tips on troubleshooting, deployment, and application compatibility. Bring your questions—Mark and the panel will answer as many as they can during the hour-long event, then publish the rest in a Q&A after the event.


As part of the “virtual” experience, you may submit your questions about Windows 7 Beta to the panel live during the event—or submit questions in advance to vrtable@microsoft.com. Click here to add the event to your Outlook calendar.

Update on Windows 7 UAC Debate

While Microsoft has maintained that UAC (User Account Control) is not a security control, and that the behavior of UAC in Windows 7 is by design in response to the feedback and negative publicity that UAC has received in Windows Vista, they have now announced that there will be some modifications of UAC behavior between the Windows 7 Beta and Windows 7 Release Candidate versions. A follow-up post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog last week stated:


“With this feedback and a lot more we are going to deliver two changes to the Release Candidate that we’ll all see. First, the UAC control panel will run in a high integrity process, which requires elevation. That was already in the works before this discussion and doing this prevents all the mechanics around SendKeys and the like from working. Second, changing the level of the UAC will also prompt for confirmation.”


Many in the Windows 7 Beta community seem to be upset about the change of direction or consider it some sort of flaw or sign of weakness on the part of Microsoft that they have responded this way. It seems to me like Microsoft is held to an unreasonable standard by certain groups of users. It reminds me of how ‘flip-flopping’ becomes such an issue during election seasons. No company (or politician) is perfect. It is an unrealistic expectation to demand that they get it all right the first time. To take that lack of realism a step farther and also expect that the company (or politician) never alter or modify their position, even in the face of rational, logical evidence that counters the original position is ridiculous. Having conviction and a stubborn determination to stick to an initial decision regardless of evidence to the contrary is a huge character flaw and not a desirable characteristic for a company or a politician.


It creates a no-win situation for the company- their damned if they leave things the way they are, and they’re damned if they modify their course in response to feedback. For the record though, this is BETA software. The whole point is to elicit feedback from the user community and make modifications prior to the RC or final RTM versions of the operating system. If they weren’t going to listen to and respondto user feedback, this would be RTM already.


Personally, I say ‘Thank You’ to Microsoft for listening and responding to the user feedback. I also reiterate my appreciation for the sense of community and the open dialogue being fostered by Microsoft with the Windows 7 Beta and the Engineering Windows 7 blog.

Windows 7 Jump Lists

Do you use the Recent Items menu in Windows Vista? You may not even know what it is if you haven’t poked around some. It is not enabled by default, but if you right-click on the taskbar and select Properties you can configure the way the Start Bar and Start Menu look and feel. One of the options in those settings is to enable the Recent Items menu which provides a quick access menu to the last 15 files you have worked with (whether they are Word docs, PDF files, JPG images, Virtual PC VMC images, etc.). I use it frequently to access the files I am working with rather than trying to use Windows Explorer or some other method to navigate to them. It is a great time saver.


With Windows 7, Microsoft adds a new dimension to this concept with Jump Lists. I mentioned them a little in my earlier post about the Windows 7 Taskbar. Perhaps you have used the Recent Documents from the File menu within programs like Microsoft Word. I rarely ever used this feature because I always use the Recent Items list from the Start Menu. Well, Windows 7 essentially combines the Recent Items from the Start Menu with the Recent Documents from the application to create application specific Jump Lists.



In the Start Menu some applications have an arrow next to them. That arrow is how you access the Jump List for that application. The Jump List is essentially the Recent Items list for that specific application. So- while the Recent Items (which is still available as a Start Menu option in Windows 7) includes the most recent 15 files you have accessed of any type, the Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 Jump List contains only the most recent PowerPoint files you have accessed. The application Jump Lists make it much easier and faster to navigate Windows 2007 and work with files. In addition to the most recent files used for a given application, you can also ‘pin’ important or frequently used files to the Jump List for an application so that they are always quickly accessible.


Having been a fan of the Recent Items already, but sometimes frustrated by the files I want getting cycled off of the top 15 list, I am thoroughly enjoying the convenience and functionality of the Windows 7 Jump Lists.

Windows 7 UAC Debate Explained

That darn UAC function just can’t stand to not be the center of attention. It has been one of the most talked about features of Windows Vista – good, bad, or indifferent as your point of view might be- and now it has more or less dominated the discussion of Windows 7 for the past week.


Windows 7 Beta testers have pointed out that the default setting for UAC in a Windows 7 installation leaves it ‘vulnerable’ to malware altering the UAC protection level or disabling it entirely without the user’s knowledge or consent. They then also pointed out that the way UAC manages Microsoft-signed code by default could be potentially exploited by malware to cause malicious code to run without triggering any UAC warnings.


Microsoft has responded that the functionality of UAC in Windows 7 is by design in response to the mountains of feedback they have gotten on UAC from customers and from the field. They have also countered that while the claims mentioned above are true neither provides a plausible method for how said-malware would get on the system in the first place. Microsoft contends that the default UAC setting will alert or notify the user if such malware tries to run on the system and that only explicit acceptance of that UAC warning would make the other two issues mentioned above viable.


Rather than me blathering on further about UAC in Windows 7, I recommend that you read this post from the Engineering Windows 7 blog. Jon DeVaan does an excellent and eloquent job of explaining the reasons why UAC works the way it does, and the reasons why Microsoft does not feel that these issues are as critical as the blogosphere has made them out to be. DeVaan provides a detailed look at how UAC works, and an explanation of the purpose of UAC. In general, this is an excellent post. It clears up misconceptions. It shows that Microsoft is listening and responsive, even when they don’t ask ‘how high’ and go re-engineer features.


Windows 7 represents a great new direction for the desktop operating system. But, as important, or even moreso, to the success of Windows 7 and Microsoft in general is the shift in Microsoft’s mentality toward its customers and the IT Pro community. The open communications and responsive dialogue will go a long way to strengthening their reputation and their relationships with customers.

Loving the Windows 7 Taskbar

Many users may not be aware of this, but in Windows XP and Windows Vista you can actually stretch the taskbar at the bottom of the screen up to gain more real estate. You can make it double or triple its normal height so you can fit more applications in the QuickLaunch menu if you want, and you can have more programs open simultaneously and still view them all separately rather than dealing with the annoying ‘feature’ where all of the instances of a program are collapsed to one taskbar entry and you have to sort of manually sift through the list that pops up to try and find the one you want. I have leveraged this feature to expand my taskbar for years, making it twice the normal height so I can have more applications in QuickLaunch and more programs opened simultaneously. I don’t need to do that in Windows 7 (although it still possible if you choose).


First of all, instead of the QuickLaunch toolbar, Windows 7 lets you ‘pin’ applications. You can pin them to either the Start Menu or to the Taskbar (or both). Items pinned to the taskbar appear as icons and the applications can be launched by simply clicking on the icon. Similarly, when applications are launched by other methods, they also appear as an icon rather than the wide tabs you are used to seeing in the Windows XP or Windows Vista taskbar. And, only one icon appears per application- similar to that annoying collapsed tab I mentioned above. However, with Windows 7 it is not annoying- its brilliant! Simply hovering over the icon for the application brings up thumbnails of all instances currently running and hovering over the thumbnail instantly displays that instance full screen so you can quickly, easily, and visually find the application or instance you want to use.



The coolness doesn’t end there though. For applications that are pinned to the taskbar you can right-click to bring up a history menu that lets you jump straight to specific instances. For example, I can right-click my Internet Explorer icon and view my web browsing history to find a specific site, or right-click the Microsoft Word icon to view the history and open a specific document. Applications pinned to the Start Menu behave the same way. There is an arrow next to the application that opens a menu of songs played recently in Windows Media Player or spreadsheets recently viewed in Excel. It is sort of like an application-specific edition of the Recent Items menu on the Start Menu (it is an option though and may not be displayed unless you have configured it to do so).


I know that people get comfortable with the way they do things and they are reluctant to change- even if the change in and of itself is good. With any new operating system or application there will be updates and modifications. If there weren’t, why would they bother releasing a new one?? Often these changes have a learning curve before they become second-nature, but this Windows 7 taskbar is a change I find very intuitive and very smooth and I instantly fell in love with it.