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Opinion: 10 best features in Windows 7 for IT professionals

DirectAccess promises VPN connectivity without the cost or trouble

By Jonathan Hassell
October 28, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Today, Microsoft unveiled its work on Windows 7, the successor to Vista, to a crowd at its Professional Developers Conference that was salivating for information on what's new in the updated operating system. A lot of sites will take you through the whiz-bang consumer-friendly features, but you might be wondering as an IT professional what Windows 7 has to offer you.

I'll give you a tour through what I think are potentially the 10 most popular professional-oriented features in Windows 7. (One caveat: some of these features are present in builds later than the M3-based release given to attendees at Microsoft's PDC conference today, so if you have your hands on a build, you may not be able to try all of these just yet.)

Federated search and enterprise search scopes

One of the big themes in Windows 7 for the corporate user is allowing easier access to information no matter where it's located. The big push here is for a unified interface for any given search, with results brought in from a variety of locations into one convenient window. Out of the box, Windows 7 allows users to search beyond their own computers.

Some of the nice features here include one-click auto preview, the ability to search within specific "libraries" of information (libraries being a defined set of resources or locations to narrow the scope of a search) and integrated results presentation from SharePoint sites and beyond.

DirectAccess

In my humble opinion, this is one of the coolest features of Windows 7 with Windows Server 2008 R2 (also known as "Windows 7 Server" in some circles). Imagine the virtues of being connected to a VPN: access to your corporate network, file shares, intranet, seamless authentication with company resources and so on. Now imagine not having to create that expensive, giant tunnel through which these resources are accessed. That's DirectAccess.

It requires deploying IPv6 and IPsec -- no small tasks by any means, though they should be on your radar already. The advantages? With DirectAccess, you can have essentially an "always managed" infrastructure, so you as the administrator can ensure that updates are distributed, that Group Policy is applied and that your known machines are trusted, anywhere, all the time. That's powerful.

BranchCache

BranchCache extends some of the improvements made in Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows Server 2008 by caching downloaded information from the Web and intranet sites within a branch office the first time it is requested. Since branch offices often operate on lower-speed Internet links, user productivity is improved as the day goes on because more and more files are present within the cache. In a demo, a document was downloaded over a 512Kbit/sec. connection, taking about 30 to 45 seconds. After the cache, when another user in the same site requested that information, the transfer was nearly instantaneous. BranchCache works not only with a branch office server but also on a peer-to-peer basis among Windows 7 clients in the same location.



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