Over the past few weeks, Windows 7 Release Candidate has been widely downloaded, used, praised (including by some very vocal critics), and loved. It’s easy to fall in love with the Windows 7 user experience, and I don’t just mean the lovely wallpapers and themes that are in stark contrast to the kind of visual content that’s been generally packaged with Microsoft products in the past. You can see the images in A Little Bit of Personality on the Engineering Windows 7 blog. The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Wingfield calls them “some of the most visually arresting background images ever to ship with a piece of software”. More in This is Your Windows on Drugs on wsj.com.
Last night, Brandon LeBlanc revealed box shots and details of Windows 7 packaging on the Windows blog. Head over to Check out the New Windows 7 Packaging.
One of the Windows 7 features I love is called Direct Access. It’s like the Outlook Anywhere version of VPNs.
Outlook Anywhere, AutoDiscover, and Microsoft Communicator: A Seamless Unified Communications Experience
Outlook Anywhere allows Outlook 2007 + Exchange 2007 users to seamlessly access their mailbox from outside (and inside) the corporate network. Yes, part of it is of course RPC over HTTP(S)— available in Exchange 2003, but another important piece that makes this experience so transparent to the user is AutoDiscover.
You get out of work (or work remotely), turn on your laptop, and if you have Internet access Outlook 2007 just works as if you were in your office. No VPN connections to establish, no wondering if the required ports are open on the firewall, no additional authentication prompts, and full Outlook access! Although Outlook Web Access has increasingly become more like a full-fledged email client, for many folks there’s simply no replacement for the full blown functionality of Microsoft Outlook. With Office Communications Server 2007 implemented right, you can have a similar experience with Microsoft Communicator – seamless access to Instant Messaging, presence information, and the all-important ability to connect to the “voice world”.
Yes, the voice world, still an inseparable part of our work lives. The ability to click and talk to a Contact is handy, and found in many free IM and telephony services such as Skype. However, what’s more impressive and important for many— you can dial phone numbers and receive inbound phone calls on your work phone number, regardless of your location. You can check voicemail, and also redirect calls to another phone number. The voice quality is good enough that it’s hard to tell if one’s using an ordinary phone or a VoIP phone.
Direct Access: Extending the Anywhere Experience
Windows 7’s Direct Access feature extends this Anywhere Experience. It allows you to access network resources on your corporate network, without having to establish a VPN connection. Now you can turn on your laptop, and if you have Internet access, you can access file shares on your corporate network, use client/server apps, and use RDP to connect to servers/computers “on the other side”.
DirectAccess uses IPv6-over-IPSec to encrypt communication, and supports multifactor authentication mechanisms such as smart cards.
Besides the initial “Wow!” moment, which inevitably follows the first experience with Direct Access, the combined Anywhere Experience boosts productivity, and improves satisfaction levels of remote/mobile workers.
Steve Riley explains why it’s one of his favorite Windows 7 features:
More about Direct Access in DirectAccess enhances mobility and manageability, or download Technical Overview of DirectAccess in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 for a more in-depth technical look.