We take a first look at the Release Candidate for Windows 7 Security Edition. Where other versions have promised enhanced security, this version could even deliver.

The latest addition to Microsoft's family of Windows 7 products is now nearing Release Candidate stage. Microsoft Windows 7 Security Edition - in circulation with select MSDN members for the last four months - was developed in parallel with the more-familiar Windows 7 range launched to widespread acclaim last October.

Some significant changes to the codebase have necessitated a longer gestation period, as the few remaining issues are resolved, for what some analysts are already calling the most stable, easy to use and, crucially, safest operating system (OS) the company has yet released.

We put this near-final version through its paces to see how it compares to more familiar editions such as Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional.

Security first

In contrast to popular past versions of Windows, real-world security has been promoted as the cornerstone of the OS in all stages of design and development.

This has meant certain features long-familiar to Windows users have been removed, or at the least extensively modified. But early reports suggest that with the enhanced security now available, the final RTM version may even allow users to surf the web without need for anti-virus software.

Realising that supporting legacy code has contributed to many deep-seated security vulnerabilities, Windows 7 Security Edition has been redesigned from the ground up, and no longer runs win32 binaries natively.

Learning from tried-and-tested industrial operating systems in long use in critical server-level environments, military security and even space-probe control systems, Microsoft has alighted upon a Unix-based kernel for the core of the operating system, with an accesible graphical user interface skinning the traditionally command-line-lead system.

User first, market share second

With Microsoft's legendary ease-of-use to the fore, we found using this interface entirely intuitive, assisted by the kind of attention to detail that has made the software giant so endeared to its loyal user base.

While abandoning support for every program ever written for Windows to date may mean independent developers will have to rewrite all their existing software from scratch, Microsoft is upbeat about the enhanced security this ‘clean start' will reap.

‘We anticipate that user uptake of Windows VII SE will remain slow initially,' admitted a February 2010 press release from Redmond, ‘but security through obscurity is an important part of our roadmap. We forecast that even after several years mainstream use, worldwide market share is not expected to rise much above 10%. Hence cybercriminals will have little incentive to aim at our new OS.

‘Nevertheless, given that there are several million unique strains of malware currently in circulation, very nearly all designed exclusively for the Windows platform, we anticipate that even with a 10% share, there could soon be hundreds of thousands of new strains of malware, specially compiled for the new Windows VII Security Edition API (application programming interface). Hence our attention to other levels of security to deal with this inevitable new threat landscape.'

NEXT PAGE: How Microsoft keeps out the hackers >>


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