Wolfe's Den: Mixed Review For Windows 7 Release Candidate - InformationWeek
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Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Wolfe's Den: Mixed Review For Windows 7 Release Candidate

Our columnist loves the performance -- and impressive enterprise ecosystem -- of the upcoming successor to Vista. But he wonders if Microsoft isn't missing a chance to offer more help to the average PC user.

Enterprise Angle

Now let's move on to the more important issue, insofar as the readers of InformationWeek and TechWeb are concerned. Namely, with Windows XP at end-of-life, if you're an IT manager or small-business owner, you've going to be faced -- forced?; let's say instead that you're being rationally coerced -- to upgrade your OS to Windows 7.

Walking through the Windows 7 RC installation process.
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)

If you're at a big company, the upgrade will probably take the form of pushing out new systems-software to hundreds or even thousands of PCs. If you're that owner/operator, you might end up taking the easier route of simply buying new Win 7-equipped laptops.

The point I'm getting at, and about which I've previously written, is that Microsoft has done a great job architecting Windows 7 as part of an enterprise ecosystem, alongside Windows Server 2008 R2 (which is currently also in release-candidate mode).

True, some users -- mainly folks who haven't upgraded from Windows Server 2003 -- are unhappy at the thought of having to upgrade their back-end infrastructure at the same time they're having to pay for and roll out new client systems.

This is indeed a valid argument, in the current cost-constrained world in which we find ourselves. I do think, though, that there's a bite-the-bullet aspect to this conundrum. Namely, you can't expect every new feature in the world to be back-patched into a previous rev of a major server OS. Nor can a customer reasonably expect technology to remain static, in the sense that they can get away with one and only capital expense for software during the life of their company.

Reluctance to periodically partake in such serial capex spending is one reason, at least on the applications side, that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has emerged. Until there's OSaaS -- if there can be such a thing-- you're stuck. Of course, should you be bold enough, you can opt out of commercial software entirely, running open-source aka Linux on both the back end and the client. Or maybe even keep supporting your old Windows XP clients until they die like so many old Buicks on the streets of Havana.

Regardless of where you come down in this debate, it's a fact that the Win 7/Server 2008 R2 ecosystem offers a powerful set of enterprise-oriented features. There's the aforementioned deployment help, via Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. There's also better branch-office support, in the form of bandwidth (and money) saving local caching of large files.

Mostly, Windows Server 2008 R2 gives sysadmins a much broader set of policy enforcement tools -- the better to keep all the company's PC under control. This is stuff like controlling exactly which apps users can run on their machines and what data they have access to. It's the type of Big Brotherism users have long loathed. (I hate it myself, even as I recognize why it's important.)

In earlier times, corporate users' profile have tended to creep out of compliance, as users have taken to "hiding" from the VPN and applying tactics like loading their laptops up with apps when off the network. The fact that Windows Server 2008 R2 can see and authenticate users whenever they connect up to the Internet (and not just when the VPN in) is the secret sauce which will make your IT department's user audits start to match up with reality. (And could make life miserable for some users, though their lives will be more computationally correct, at least as far as their employers go.)

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