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Microsoft Readies Windows 7 Service Pack, Cloud Management

Windows Intune, a cloud-based client management service, and Windows 7 SP1 have moved to public beta phase.
Microsoft is moving closer to the release of the first Windows 7 Service Pack as well as a cloud-based client management service, the company announced Monday at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference.

Image Gallery: Windows 7 Revealed
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Image Gallery: Windows 7 Revealed

The service, Windows Intune, will move from a limited private beta for 1,500 accounts to a broader beta, available to the first 10,000 to sign up, and is expected to be released in early 2011, according to Microsoft.

Windows Intune will allow companies to manage and secure corporate PCs from anywhere. Specifically, it them up to keep PCs up-to-date with the latest security patches and bug fixes, set firewall and anti-malware settings, track software installed on PCs, manage Windows licenses and remotely diagnose PC problems. The new beta also includes a new tool that allows IT administrators to manage multiple sets of PCs simultaneously.

The service will cost $11 per seat per month, and each seat of Windows Intune also comes with a license for Windows 7 Enterprise. For an additional $1, Microsoft will throw in the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, a collection of on premises tools.

Initially, Microsoft is targeting Windows Intune at companies with between 25 and 500 PCs, especially those that don't have existing management software in place and those with a majority Windows XP installed base.

However, the company is testing the product with a smaller number of larger customers. Since Windows Intune can run concurrently with other existing management software, the company sees an opportunity for larger businesses to use it in remote or new offices that aren’t yet connected to corporate instances of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager or other client management software, according to Schuster.

In fact, the product grows at least partly out of an ongoing, multi-year Microsoft cloud computing pilot project with Energizer, which saw its first fruits in the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack's Asset Inventory Service, an optional add-on that allows businesses that buy Windows to track their software and software licenses.

Over time, Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster, general manager of Microsoft's Windows product marketing group, said in an interview, Windows Intune will be able to deliver and manage features that today require the use of Windows Server, potentially including things like BitLocker encryption, BranchCache application acceleration, and application and desktop virtualization.

On Monday, Microsoft also announced a public test release of Windows 7 Service Pack 1. The new service pack will likely have a much lower profile than service packs for earlier versions of Windows have commanded, as the beta has no new features, instead consisting entirely of previously released hot fixes and bug fixes. "If a customer is keeping up with Windows Update, there's nothing really new in the client," Schuster says.

In the past, Windows service packs were seen by many corporate customers as a milestone marking the point at which it was acceptable to begin upgrading to the new version of Windows, a point at which bugs had time to get themselves worked out. That may not be as true this time around. About triple the percentage of businesses as had began moving to Windows Vista at this point in the Vista release cycle have begun moving to Windows 7 at the same point, according to Microsoft. About 14% of business customers all told are running Windows 7 today, with a new IDC report finding that 64% of businesses will begin the move within the next six months.

While the client service pack brings no new features, the service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2, a beta for which was also released Monday, will improve Windows Server's ability to support virtual clients. Changes in the virtual desktop infrastructure enable Remote FX, which improves graphics processing from the server to the client, and Dynamic Memory Management, which makes use of physical memory more efficient in order to enable greater virtual machine density.