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Windows 7 gets down to business

Microsoft talks about what it's doing to try to make enterprises more jazzed about the new Windows than they were with Vista.

With Windows 7, Microsoft is trying not to make the same mistakes it did with Windows Vista. That much is clear.

One of the biggest things Microsoft is trying to do different this time is be a more dependable software vendor. The company knows it lost some credibility with businesses by changing its Vista plans midstream and also having several delays.

Windows 7
Windows 7 bears a resemblance to Vista. ZDNet UK

"We know the stop and start nature of Vista created big challenges for our customers and partners," Microsoft senior director Gavriella Schuster said in an interview this week.

Microsoft is aiming to get Windows 7, currently in beta, ready to go in time to be included on PCs sold during the 2009 holiday shopping season.

Although Microsoft has been criticized by some enthusiasts worried that their voices weren't being heard early enough to affect the design of Windows 7, Schuster notes that businesses have had an early say in Windows 7, through efforts such as a desktop advisory council.

"We brought them in periodically at each development milestone including the planning phase," Schuster said.

As an example of the kinds of changes Microsoft made in response to the business feedback, Schuster points to the way Microsoft handled DVD playback.

With Vista, Microsoft offered the DVD decoding software only in its consumer and Ultimate versions. When some businesses complained that they needed DVD-playing abilities too, Microsoft added that feature to the business versions. However, some businesses said they actually didn't want workers to be able to play DVD movies on their machines. So in the end, Schuster said, the feature will be there in all the business versions, but companies will be able to elect whether it is on or not based on the image they select.

Another change came when the company showed customers its BitLocker-to-go feature, which brings the file encryption to portable devices like USB flash drivers. Businesses like the feature, Schuster said, but were concerned that the encryption would prevent the devices from being used later with Windows XP and Vista machines. As a result, Schuster said, Microsoft decided to engineer some measure of support in earlier operating systems for BitLocker-to-go. Now, when protected devices are inserted in an XP or Vista machine, users can enter their credentials and then use the device in a read-only manner.

In addition to listening to business customers, Microsoft is also watching how they work. The company says many of the changes that it decided to make in Windows 7 were based on the hard data it collects on how customers are using the product and where they are getting tripped up. (Microsoft has a number of opt-in programs that allow the company to get data on Windows use and problems.)

In some cases, the company found that a little change can make a big difference. By studying Vista, Microsoft learned that often when a program wouldn't install in Vista, it was because the application's designers had hard-coded the program to work with only a certain version of the operating system. That's why Microsoft decided to make Windows 7 officially version 6.1 rather than 7.0.