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Windows 7 business features explained

Should enterprises upgrade?

Much has been made of Windows 7's new taskba and the more friendly User Account Control. But what about the less 'sexy' enterprise features of Windows 7?

Recently, Microsoft has taken some criticism for neglecting enterprise needs with Windows 7. Popular blogger and editor of Supersite for Windows Paul Thurrott said recently that Microsoft is treating businesses as an afterthought and "arbitrarily locking Windows enterprise features to Windows Server 2008 R2 and asking corporations to spend a significant sum of money".

To that, Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's senior director of Windows product management, admits that Windows 7 features that need Windows Server 2008 R2 are not going to be deployed overnight. "Some of these features are part of a longer-term strategy," Schuster says.

Nevertheless, Microsoft continues to spread the word about how Windows 7 can help enterprises. In a recent interview, Schuster drilled down into what Microsoft believes are the key features.

DirectAccess

The DirectAccess feature, which requires both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, lets mobile workers connect to corporate networks without the use of a VPN, giving business users more flexibility and easing the burden on IT.

Schuster says that with DirectAccess, users only need an internet connection to have access to everything on the corporate network; they will never have to stop what they're doing and log on to a VPN. This will reduce the use of corporate bandwidth as remote users will mostly be using their own local broadband, she says.

The benefit of DirectAccess runs deeper for IT managers, she says. "For IT, the biggest challenge is managing remote laptops, knowing how long they've been off network, when they came back on and when they got patched. With DirectAccess, as long as a machine is on and connected to the internet, it can be managed."

As for security concerns over there being no official VPN, Schuster says that DirectAccess is used with Windows Server 2008 R2 in the background, which will use the most secure protocol, IPv6, to encrypt data transmitted across the internet. "It's not as if you don't have a VPN or firewall; we've just integrated that into DirectAccess," she says. "There is no longer a separate step to get to that secured tunnel."

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