TechEd EMEA IT: Day 2 – Windows 7 Feature Preview

So, the first session of the day was an extremely well-attended overview of Windows 7 features. When they talk about evolution rather than revolution with regard to Windows 7, I think that’s accurate. It was very much about developing and extending the foundations of Vista.

A few things stuck out, however. An almost throwaway comment about DirectConnect requiring IPSEC and IPv6 means that I must dig deeper, and that the technology, whilst cool, is almost totally useless to me, stuck behind two layers of NAT in a managed building. BranchCache was again mentioned with, again, no indication of how it works – more digging required.

Most pertinent to me, however, was the development of Bitlocker. I am typing this as I sit in the room waiting for the deep dive session on Bitlocker enhancements to start. The key new feature in Windows 7 is the ability to encrypt removable drives using Bitlocker. Interestingly, admins can also use policies to enforce encryption, at which point unencrypted drives become read only. Backwards compatibility ensures that ‘Windows XP and Vista’ can ‘read’ data from the drives. I’m guessing they can’t write, and I’m also guessing (as it wasn’t mentioned) that non-windows systems need not apply.

That lack of cross platform (and now I’m talking about OSX and Linux) support may anger some, but for our company needs  it’s irrelevant. We already ensure no customer or sensitive data is copied on removable storage, but being able to encrypt, and force the encryption of all removable media attached to systems I own will help be be able to guarantee that any data copied from our systems is stored securely.

NOTE: Having now been to the deeper dive on Bitlocker, the current build of Windows 7 has no downlevel support. I’m really hoping this will change prior to launch (the presenter was carefully non-comittal, and probably rightly so at this stage). If it doesn’t the technology is a dead duck for us, as I can’t guarantee being able to get all our machines up to Windows 7 in a reasonable timeframe.

Also of interest to me were the developments in deployment technologies. I will try to attend the appropriate sessions on these too – the ability to add new drivers to wim and vhd files offline (and post-sysprep) could be a big benefit to use in extending the life of our system images, particularly as we look towards more automated provisioning of virtual machines from vhd and wim files onto varied hardware (especially when I get my hands on hyper-v in Windows 7!).

Overall it was a very interesting session, albeit shallow. Windows 7 is exciting – not because it is new and cool, but almost precisely because it isn’t. It is to Vista what Windows 2000 was to NT4 and XP beyond – evolved, more stable, more trustworthy.

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