Today we have hit a significant milestone on the road to Windows 7! The release candidate is now available for download in TechNet and MSDN. So if your a subscriber make sure you head over to one of the sites to grab the download. As you would expect the download sites are getting hit pretty hard right now as there has been such high anticipation for this update. Personally I’ve been running it for a few days now and have even taken the plunge on one of my Media Centre PC’s at home. More on that in a second. So what’s different in the RC. Here’s a short list and some screen shots of what you can expect.
Jump Lists – In the Windows 7 you had no control over the number of recent items that would show in the jump list and the list would just grow and grow. We received a lot of feedback on this and have now changed the UI to allow you to modify how many recent items you want to show in the jump list. The default is 10 which is shown below along with where you go to change it.
Direct Access – I’ve been on this pilot for some time now and I love it. Not having to VPN into the corporate network has been great for my productivity when out of the office. The only change we have made to this is removing the Corporate Connectivity Notification to simplify the user experience. Now instead of saying Corporate and Internet Access it just says Internet access.
User Account Control (UAC) – This has always been a huge topic of discussion and one that received rigorous feedback during the beta. In the Windows 7 beta a user could change the notification level in the UAC control panel without receiving a prompt for administrative credentials. We received a lot of feedback that this could potentially be a problem with malware so now UAC runs in a high integrity process. Now when a user changes the UAC level they will be prompted for confirmation if they are running as a local administrator and prompted for administrative credentials if they are logged on as a standard user.
So you see in the picture above that the default is the same as it was in the beta but when I change the slider at all I get prompted to continue. This prompting is only for UAC whereas we prompt a lot less than in Windows Vista for operating specific activities. For example in Windows Vista if you right clicked on Computer from the start menu and clicked on manage you would get prompted for administrative credentials. With Windows 7 you don’t get prompted for this action as this is a part of the OS that is signed by a certificate so there is no need to prompt for elevation. This is part of the reduction of prompts in Windows 7.
Applocker – Applocker is great for controlling what software that runs in your environment and gives control back to IT Administrators. we’ve made some minor changes in the Applocker UI since the beta to include a new group policy template which can be configured to display a customised URL when Applocker blocks an application. This can help users understand what’s going on and point them to an internal intranet site for more information.
System Partition Size – In Windows 7 the system partition is used for Bitlocker Drive Encryption and the Windows Recovery Environment. In the Windows 7 Beta this was a 200MB partition. This partition has been reduced to 100MB in the Windows 7 Release Candidate.
Windows Media Centre – It tried media centre in the Windows 7 beta on one of my home machines that has an XBOX 360 connected to it as an extender. Well that experience was very bad. It seems Media Centre was not ready in the beta and TV worked very bad if at all over my network. Well as soon as I got my hands on the RC I upgraded my Windows Vista machine to Windows 7. Well I have to say wow this is so cool. The interface is very nice with some changes to the fonts and generally looking much nicer. And it works great in the extender format. I just connected my XBOX 360 and it downloaded the updated bits for Windows 7 Media Centre and all was very well. The only issue I had was when I did a scan for TV channels it didn’t recognize that I had a digital tuner in the machine. This could be an upgrade issue but all I did was remove the driver from Device Manager and then add it back and everything was sweet. But the best way to show Media Centre is through a video. Check out Ben Reed’s demo of the changes in Media Centre in Windows 7.
And now for my most favourite cool feature and one I know everyone has been waiting for and to be honest snuck in a bit under the radar.
Windows Virtual PC – This has been called Windows XP Mode in the last few days and we did a PressPass about this that explains what the deal is. But essentially this is what it’s all about.
- Windows Virtual PC is a type II hypervisor in Windows 7 that allows you to manage and run multiple instances of Windows on a single machine.
- Windows XP Mode takes advantage of Windows Virtual PC and is a pre-configured Windows XP VHD image to create the Windows XP environment. It comes pre-configured with a Windows XP SP3 image ready to run your applications that are not yet compatible with Windows Vista and Windows 7.
- Windows XP Mode will be available as part of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate.
- Windows Virtual PC includes support for USB devices and is based on a new core that includes multi-threading support.
- Windows XP Mode will be available from OEM’s and as a separate download. This is now available on TechNet and MSDN in the subscribers downloads section. However it’s a bit tricky to find. I assumed it would be under the OS > Windows 7 section but it’s under Applications > Windows Virtual PC.
- Windows Virtual PC comes in both x86 and x64 modes and only supports 32-bit guests at this time. Bummer, I was hoping for x64 guest support!
Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) – Some of you may be using this now and may have some questions about how it’s different to Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode. In a nutshell MED-V is the management layer for IT Professionals that sits on top of Virtual PC. Windows XP Mode does not replace MED-V and is targeted and small to medium business whereas MED-V is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) and is designed for IT Professionals in the enterprise. Some other facts you need to know.
- MED-V enables Virtual PC deployment in larger organisations.
- MED-V provides centralised management, policy based provisioning and virtual image delivery to reduce the cost of Virtual PC deployment.
- MED-V v1 is available now and builds on Virtual PC 2007.
- MED-V v2 will add support for Windows 7 and Windows Virtual PC and the beta will be available 90 days after the GA release of Windows 7.
So I bet your dying to see what it looks like? If you haven’t got a chance to download it yet here are some screenshots.
Figure 1: This is a screenshot of the Windows XP Mode download. The file with KB in it’s name is Windows Virtual PC that you install first and the 452MB VirtualWindowsXP file is the pre-configured VHD file. Install both of these and you’ll be good to go.
So once you do that what do you get?
Figure 2: So once you go through the wizard to setup the XP virtual machine you will get a Virtual Windows XP in your profile in a folder called Virtual Machines. You can move these to an external drive if you don’t want to run the VM on the system drive. You can also see that I have a copy of Windows Vista and Windows 7. These were created by simply using the Create Virtual Machine Wizard then booting off the appropriate ISO file to build the OS.
So back to the Windows XP Mode part of this.
Figure 3: So this is the default XP that gets installed as part of this. Windows Virtual PC allocates 256MB of memory this VM which is fine for XP running in a virtual machine. I’ve done all the Windows Updates and installed virus software and I’m good to go. You’ll notice that I have installed Microsoft Money to show the tight integration with the Windows 7 UI. I’ll show that in the next screenshot.
Figure 4: You will notice in the picture to the right that any application installed inside the virtual machine is surfaced as and application that you can invoke directly from the Windows 7 desktop. To the user it looks like he applications is installed natively on Windows 7 but in fact it’s running inside the VM. So what happens when you try to load the application from the icon created. Well it fires up the VM and loads the application seamlessly. So it doesn’t load the VM then open the application inside the VM. The application looks like its running on Windows 7 when in fact it’s running as a virtual application. Pretty cool eh?
Figure 5: Screenshot of Money running as a seamless application. The icon I’m pointing to is a Windows Virtual PC icon indicating this is a virtual application.
Other features that I haven’t mentioned here that are important.
- USB Support – Users are able to access USB devices attached to the Windows 7 host machine from Windows Virtual PC. This includes printers, scanners, flash memory stick and external hard disks.
Figure 6: Windows XP VM showing the ability to use USB devices attached to the host.
- Folder Integration – Users will get access to known Windows 7 folders such as My Documents, Pictures, Desktop, Music and Video from within the virtual windows environment.
- Clipboard Sharing – users will be able to cut, copy and paste between the Windows 7 host and Windows Virtual PC.
- Printer Redirection – Print directly to your attached printer either in application mode or complete desktop mode.
So that’s Windows Virtual PC. I plan on doing a screencast to go through in a bit of detail so watch out for that.
So in wrapping up I’m really liking the release candidate. It’s faster and more stable than the beta and has some really cool additions that I think you will like. But there are some things you need to be aware of. After all this is still a beta even though many of us run it in production.
Expiration dates – Make sure you plan ahead when it comes to expiration dates. For the RC you will need to rebuild your test machine with a genuine copy of the RC before the beta expires. Dates below:
- Windows 7 Beta – Expires August 1, 2009. Your machine will begin shutting down every 2 hours from July 1, 2009.
- Windows 7 RC – Expires June 1, 2010. Your machine will begin shutting down every 2 hours from March 1, 20010.
- We also don’t support build to build upgrades. If you are running the Windows 7 beta I would recommend a clean install of the RC. This will be the same when we get to RTM. Upgrades from Windows Vista are supported. I’ve done this on one of my machines at home and it worked fine.
So I know I might not have touched on everything but I think I covered a lot. When I began this post I didn’t expect it to be this long!
For those of you not on TechNet or MSDN the Windows 7 RC will be available from May 5th 2009 on the Windows 7 main page. http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/default.aspx