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1/6/2011
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What Windows 7 Is Still Missing

Microsoft's latest operating system has been well received, but a lot of important features, including system restore and automatic updating of third-party software and drivers, didn't make the cut.

Top Features Absent From Windows 7
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Slideshow: Top Features Absent From Windows 7

There's little question Windows 7 has been received with open arms by users and admins. It fixed many of the problems that plagued earlier versions of Windows, made good on the promises that seemed only half-fulfilled with Vista, and introduced a slew of new functions -- big and small -- that were also warmly received.

But there's still a great deal missing from the operating system (OS). Some things from previous editions of Windows were dropped entirely. Other things, which people have asked for time and again, still haven't shown up. Here's a review of a few major features that Microsoft could have introduced in Windows 7, or even earlier -- but that, for whatever reason, have not materialized.

SteadyState

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft made a major blunder by not updating a free offering that had been previously available for Windows XP and Vista: SteadyState.

Windows does not have, by default, a single all-encompassing mechanism for returning the entire system -- user settings, data on disk, etc. -- to a given state. There are plenty of scenarios where this is useful, from rent-by-the-hour PCs to computers in institutional environments like schools or libraries. But for a long time the only way to accomplish something like that was through a not-very-elegant combination of native Windows features and third-party products.

Microsoft eventually introduced SteadyState, a free add-on for Windows XP and Windows Vista. This was designed to corral together all the disparate ways Windows' state could be preserved and make them centrally manageable. After installing the SteadyState package, an admin could set up a user account and assign a great many management behaviors to that account, including what persistent changes the user could make to any aspect of the system. Admins loved it: it drastically cut down the amount of time needed to set up a system in one of the above-mentioned environments.

When Windows 7 came out, admins were dismayed to learn SteadyState didn't work reliably with it, and begged to have SteadyState updated for the new OS. Instead, Microsoft announced that support for SteadyState was being discontinued. The download for the program would continue to be available through the end of 2010, with support continuing until the end of 2011 -- but no Windows 7 update was in the pipeline.

Instead, Microsoft released a white paper in which they described how admins could use many of the native technologies in Windows 7 to emulate the behaviors of SteadyState. It isn't hard to guess the reaction: people booed Microsoft roundly for ignoring a much-requested feature from its customers.

To be honest, many individual SteadyState features are native to Windows 7. It's just that they require the admin to dig about under the hood to enable them; they're not exposed in a single, central place. SteadyState provided an integrated, administrative-console way to edit all those features at once.

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