Windows 7 has been tweaked and tuned a bit since the launch of the operating system’s initial public beta in January, as is evident in the new release candidate (RC) Microsoft unveiled Thursday.
The RC is now available to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet subscribers, and it will be released to the general public May 5.
Microsoft will also soon release to beta the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, which will check users’ systems for their ability to run the new operating system.
However, the software giant did not disclose when the upgrade advisor will be offered in beta or when Windows 7 will reach the market. The company declined to comment.
Teensy Weensy Changes
Although the Windows 7 RC contains some new features and has incorporated changes suggested by beta users, the improvements are, on the whole, relatively minor.
“If you make too many changes this late in the process, you’re likely to destabilize the operating system,” Michael Cherry, a senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.
“So many of the new features they’re announcing, such as virtualization, have been ongoing work, and they’re just synchronizing them with the operating system,” he said.
New Features in Windows 7 RC
One of the key changes to the RC is the inclusion of the Windows XP Mode feature that lets users shift to Microsoft’s older operating system.
Another is improved security.
Windows XP Mode
XP Mode will be available for Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise.
It lets businesses run multiple Windows environments on one desktop, using Microsoft’s Virtual PC technology. However, businesses may have a few reasons to think twice before deciding to set Windows XP Mode as their default OS.
For one, they will have to manage multiple instances of Windows, Gartner analyst Michael Silver told TechNewsWorld.
Also, sticking with Windows XP, even if it’s virtualized, could lead to trouble down the road.
“Organizations that decide to run XP Mode instead of fixing their applications will run into problems when Microsoft ends support for XP,” Silver said.
Microsoft will end extended support for Windows XP in May 2014.
Improvements to Security
While removable storage media has often proven very useful in the enterprise, it also poses a major potential security threat to a business.
Users can not only illicitly download corporate information onto these drives, but also provide open doors for several types of viruses and worms that target USB drives and other removable media. They include the SillyFD/AA worm that emerged in 2007 and the infamous Conficker worm, which recently hit millions of PCs.
The Windows 7 RC disables AutoRun on non-optical removable storage devices such as USB drives. AutoRun will still work for CDs and DVDs, however.
The RC also includes improvements to AppLocker, a mechanism that lets IT professionals control access to applications. One such improvement is an audit-only enforcement mode, which lets IT professionals test rules before deploying them to govern access to applications.
Remote media streaming is a brand-new feature in Windows 7 RC. It lets users access their home-based digital media files over the Internet from other PCs running Windows 7.
Is It All Worthwhile?
Users who want to upgrade to Windows 7 when a final version is released may have to buy new computers.
“A lot of laptops probably can’t run Windows 7,” said Directions on Microsoft’s Cherry. “They need the Intel or AMD chips that have built-in virtualization.”
Those are the Intel VT chips and the AMD-V chips.
New computers will include these chips, Cherry said. “Now that an application warrants using these chips, more manufacturers will begin using them.”