Windows 7

Seventh Heaven?

Today is Thursday 22nd October 2009, the offical launch date of Windows 7 and probably the biggest day on the technology calendar this year.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on Windows 7 back in July and I am sure that Microsoft are going to be having a very happy board meeting next Monday. Record pre-orders on Amazon, millions of people blogging about it, hardware available that runs nicely (unlike the launch of poor old Vista) and a generally heightened level of excitement.

Well done Microsoft, I hope you are all having a wonderful day.

My Windows 7 Experience

Windows 2008 R2 is almost here

It is just 2 days until the release of Windows 2008 R2. While a lot of people are hanging out for the Windows 7 (released on the same day), it is the new server operating system that is going to make waves in server rooms everywhere.

Significant improvements have been made to Hyper-V in the form of Live Migration (think VMotion but without the price) and support for more memory and more virtual CPU’s.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Microsoft have already changed the game by making Virtualisation affordable to the masses and that now they are beginning to add Enterprise Features. Hands up who thinks VMware ESXi would exist if Hyper-V didn’t?

Windows 2008 R2 is also the enabler for many of the enterprise features of Windows 7. The server component of the DirectAccess “VPN-less VPN” feature requires Windows 2008 R2. DirectAccess does have some fairly specific requirements that make it more suited to medium to larger sites. Businesses with highly mobile work forces should also consider it as a way to simplify end-user remote access experience and as a way to better manage laptops that spend a lot of time out of the office.

The server can also be used in conjunction with BranchCache to reduce pressure on WAN links and accelerate access to services that use SMB, HTTP or BITS for remote users. Think of this as WAN acceleration but without dedicated hardware. Nice one Microsoft!
One of my personal favourites is the Active Directory undo feature. I would never admit to doing this myself, but I am sure a few accidents have happened over the years where this feature would have saved a lot of pain and agony!

The ability to park CPU cores is an interesting feature which allows the server to actually turn-off cores within a CPU when they are not required. This has the potential to save significant amounts of power and lower the operating costs of servers. Power consumption as the focus of governments globally and it my opinion is going to be an area where technology innovation is focused.

Don’t forget that this release builds on the many features of previous Windows versions. Remote Desktop Services, Network Access Protection, Distributed File System, Active Directory, Read-only Domain Controllers, IPv6, Windows Deployment Services etcetera. It builds on the same reliable, understandable and efficient foundation we already have with Windows 2008.

One more small note, this is a 64bit only operating system, time to consign those old 32bit only items to the giant recycling bin in the sky (some may of course not meet the criteria to get into software heaven and spend the rest of eternity being prodded with a blunt fork somewhere very hot). Software vendors should be supporting modern technologies by now. If they aren’t it is definitely time to put the pressure on. Isn’t that why we pay annual maintenance fees?

Microsoft will release Windows 2008 R2 on October 22nd 2009. No news on when or if we are likely to see R2 releases of Small Business Server 2008 and Essential Business Server 2008 has been announced yet.

Windows 7 and Office 2010 day 3

This article is a little slow coming, as today is actually day 4. If you missed my earlier posts you may wish to start reading my Windows 7 and Office 2010 day 1 post first. I’ve decided that this will be the last post in the series for two reasons. Firstly I am not going to roll back to Vista, I’m a forward looking guy. Secondly, I am off on holiday to a country with limited power and almost no internet, so will be offline for a couple of weeks very soon.

Day 3 started of at the Airport in the small hours of the morning. Cleared customs and found my way to the airport lounge, pulled out my laptop and hit the power button. Windows 7 started in a the blink of an eye, found the lounges wireless network and connected seamlessly. This is how it should be but never was when the same laptop was running Vista and constantly battled to connect to this particular network. Remember it was 5am and I hadn’t had a coffee yet…

After a quick look at Twitter, I fired up Outlook 2010. Wow, RPC over HTTPS is fast! 20 or so emails recieved overnight appeared in an instant and the experience was like sitting at my desk with a 1Gbit network link, except this was over the internet. Now for a real test, connecting to our Citrix Access Gateway, opened IE8 entered the URL and my credentials, installed the Citrix ActiveX control (this was the first time I had connected) and I was able to access network shares and our Service Desk application. In the past this had been a struggle at times.

Boarding time and after take off I fired up the laptop again. Reading a report and editing a document in Word 2010. So far so good, until I tried cutting and pasting a table from one document to another. Word crashed (instantly, not the slow painful death), I chose the option to restart Word and was able to recovery my document.  Time to update some cost models in Excel and update the Word document with new figures. All worked perfectly.  I spent a good 2 hours working with the laptop on top of the 30 minutes or so at the airport and still had 31% battery. This is impressive, the same laptop was lucky to get 2.5 hours doing similar work when running Vista. Some good work has been done with power management in Windows 7.

I spent the rest of the day working happily with Office 2010 and Visio. Lots of cutting and pasting, reformatting, automatic table of contents, modifying document styles and using Outlook via RPC over HTTPS. With the exception of a small Excel issue, where it crashed due to a cut and paste that created an unintentional circular reference, everything was great. Don’t forget that Office 2010 is the technical preview and isn’t the finished product yet, making it all the more impressive.

It is now day 4 and as I said at the beginning, no turning back now!

Windows 7 and Office 2010 day 2…

Thanks to a huge response to my previous post Windows 7 and Office 2010 day 1… I decided I should keep up the momentum. I’m off to work at a client site a long way from my office tomorrow, so today was about ensuring everything I need to do my job remotely works. A quick description in four words could be either “no need to panic” or “great it just works” or  “why did I wait?”. Needless to say, I am still loving the new tools of the trade.

First thing I needed to do was install a few applications. I thought I might have a few issues as my Windows 7 is  the 64bit edition. Visio, Acrobat Reader, UltraVNC and Citrix Client all installed as expected with absolutely no problems. Connecting to printers hosted on a Windows 2008 File and Print server, painless.

Next step was to try out Word 2010. I opened a 76 page document with created in Word 2007 with large graphics, complicated formatting, table of contents, multiple sections and Excel objects. Initially I was not happy as the paragraph spacing had changed, then I realised that our custom font wasn’t installed. Installing the font resolved all the issues. I printed the document and compared with the same document printed from Word 2007, absolutely identical. Word 2010 is more responsive than Word 2007 in every area I tried. Printing options are a good improvement making common functions like printing multiple pages per page simple.

Excel 2010 is one application that really benefits from being 64bit. Excel has been my favourite application since the Windows 3.1 days. This version is awesome. The sales guff says it will handle enormous amounts of data, so I thought I’d test it out. I created an ODBC data source to our SQL 2005 server and set about importing data. The performance is just incredible, 1850 rows imported in the blink of an eye. Lets go for something larger, 38,000 rows of data, awesome! Right time for a pivot table and some graphs. Again speed was blazingly fast. Checking the memory used by Excel was a pleasant surprise, no massive RAM blow out. Excel is a class product and this version will give rocket scientists and accounts a good reason to jump for joy (if accountants do that kind of thing).

Windows 7 was solid as a rock and so fast I was able to leave work an hour early (well I would have if I wasn’t struggling with a Reporting Services issue). So at the end of day two, it’s two thumbs up. Tomorrow I will test Windows 7 and Office 2010 on an international flight, should be a good test of the power management and wireless in the airport lounge. Details in the next post…Windows 7 and Office 2010 day 3

Windows 7 + Office 2010 day one…

Yesterday I decided to free myself from Windows Vista, formatting my laptops hard disk and installing Windows 7 and the Technical Preview of Office 2010. The experience has been absolutely brilliant, fast boot time, slick user interface, network settings accessible in 1 mouse click and Office is pretty cool for all kinds of reasons.

Installation from USB flash drive takes around 20 minutes and is very simple. I decided to format my hard disk for a fresh install rather than upgrading from Vista. I saw this as a chance for a fresh start and didn’t want to migrate my old issues to the new OS.

One of the biggest gripes I had with Vista was the clunky and inaccessible network settings. As an IT Pro I use these settings several times a day and it was something that constantly annoyed me. Windows 7 fixes these issues and quick access to the large number of PPTP VPN’s I have is an instant time saver. Other network settings are also improved too.

The new task bar is less cluttered and the popup previews of open windows are very handy and quick to learn. Shaking the mouse to hide and restore Windows is a great idea. I’m sure Microsoft have included many other features that I will find over the next few days.

My life is in Outlook and it is probably the application I use the most. Installing Office 2010 is simple and Outlook auto-configured using my domain user account settings. RPC over HTTPS performance seems quicker than Outlook 2007. Lots of nice improvements including appointment requests, email grouping and print options are great.

I will be getting to know Excel and Word over the next few days, but my initial experiences have been good. One issue I have struck is with Macros not running. Further investigation required here. I was using the 64bit edition so this may be a compatibility issue. Remember that this is the Technical Preview, not a final product so some issues are to be expected.

Overall I would say the combination of Windows 7 and Office 2010 is excellent and I can’t see myself rolling back ever! Well done Microsoft.

Read about day two here…

Windows 7 DirectAccess overview

Windows 7 clients can gain remote access to network resources using a feature called DirectAccess. Microsoft see this as a game breaking technology that will change the way we work remotely. A Windows 2008R2 server  acts as a gateway for DirectAccess clients providing access to servers on the internal LAN.

DirectAccess does away with the need for third party VPN clients or access gateways on client devices and simplifies data access from the end user.The end user experience is seamless and simple. The user simply turns on and connects to the internet, no additional user actions required. DirectAccess will automatically reconnect if the internet connection is dropped for any reason.

DirectAccess removes some of the more frustrating issues end users have when working remotely. Connections are over port 443 (a standard port) removing connection issues due to firewall rules on remote networks and routing issues due to subnet clashes. Intelligent routing means users can access internet services at the same time as company resources.

For Network Administrators the ability to manage computers outside the firewall will be a key driver for using this technology. NAP can be used to audit clients before allowing network access. Group Policy can be applied over the DirectAccess connection before the user gains full network access.

One of the biggest difference between DirectAccess and traditional VPN solutions is that the DirectAccess connection can be initiated from either end where VPN’s are initiated from the client only. The connection is established when the client device starts up and doesn’t require the end user to login and initiate a connection.

DirectAccess Requirements:

  • Windows 2008R2 Server Active Directory Domain Controller Role
  • Windows 2008R2 Server DirectAccess Role
  • 2 Network cards configured
  • 2 consecutive public static IPv4 addresses with public DNS names
  • Digital Certificates with CRL attributes
  • Windows 7 client joined to the domain

Firewall configuration details can be found on technet – DirectAccess requirements article.

DirectAccess really is in my opinion one of the best reasons to move to Windows 7 when it is released later this year. End users will love seamless access to company resources while Network Administrators will see real value in the management capabilities.

Microsoft have recently published some tools to help implement and manage Direct Access. Download the kit from here:
Direct Access Admin Kit