Windows 7 – A First Glimpse

by Kevin Chan

The whole world is excited by Windows 7, which is coming out on 22nd October. But why it is called Windows 7? Microsoft says that it is the 7th major version of Windows.

Different Editions of Windows 7

There will be 6 editions of Windows 7:

  1. Starter: available only in the OEM channel on new PCs limited to specific types of hardware, for example, low powered netbooks.
  2. Home Basic: for emerging markets only.
  3. Home Premium: includes Aero, multi-touch, and Windows Media Center.
  4. Professional: business SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) for home users and non-enterprise licensees.
  5. Enterprise: volume licensing, includes BitLocker, DirectAccess, AppLocker and BranchCache.
  6. Ultimate: for consumers who want business features and security features such as BitLocker found in Windows 7 Enterprise edition.

Each higher edition includes everything in the previous ones, as users move up they gain additional features and will not lose any. Readers can find the descriptions of these features and the differences among the 6 editions as well as other useful information on Windows 7 by following links listed in the Reference Section at the end of this article. Below are some highlights of Windows 7 and CityU’s schedule of its support.

Splendid Features of Windows 7

There are many new features in Windows 7. Some attractive ones are highlighted here.

Action Center

While we all know the “Security Center” from previous versions of Windows (introduced in Windows XP SP2), Windows 7 takes a further step in to the “Action Center”. In addition to monitoring security, Action Center also monitors the OS’s maintenance features and consolidates alerts from numerous Windows features into a single interface.

Bitlocker To Go

Bitlocker was introduced in Vista, which is used for encrypting a complete hard disk volume. “Bitlocker To Go” is designed for removable storage devices. Though it is based on Bitlocker technology, “Bitlocker To Go” significantly enhances the technical capabilities of Bitlocker. For example, instead of NTFS only for Bitlocker, “Bitlocker To Go” is compatible with all FAT (FAT32, exFAT, etc.) file systems. And it is even better that Bitlocker To Go works completely independent of Bitlocker. This means you can encrypt the removable devices without encrypting your own hard disk.


In Vista, Microsoft introduced a new Windows Sidebar environment that hosted mini applications called gadgets. In Windows 7, the gadgets continue on as Windows Gadgets. But the container environment, Windows Sidebar, is no longer provided. By default, Windows Gadgets are disabled, and they are designed to work properly when offline. Windows Gadgets will still be visible on the desktop when you use the “Show Desktop” function.

Fine tune the User Account Control (UAC)

One of the most annoying behaviors of Windows Vista should probably be the UAC. As Vista cannot differentiate between a user clicking a button and a program clicking a button, UAC was initially implemented to always prompt the user via a dialog shown in the Secure Desktop, similar to the logon screen. In Windows 7, UAC will be configured to hide prompts when users change Windows settings. Users can even change UAC settings, allowing applications free reign in elevated mode! Of course, users can still set Windows 7 to behave exactly the same as Vista too.

Windows XP Mode (XPM)

Windows XP Mode is a “secret technology” that Microsoft would ship with Windows 7. This technology dramatically changes the compatibility story for Windows 7. XPM is built on the next generation Microsoft Virtual PC 7 product line, which requires processor-based virtualization support to be present and enabled on the underlying PC. XPM consists of the Virtual PC-based virtual environment and a fully licensed copy of Windows XP with SP3. It will be made available, for free, to users of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions via a download from the Microsoft web site. XPM does not require to run the virtual environment as a separate Windows desktop, instead, the applications can be installed inside the virtual XP environment, and they will be published to the host (Windows 7) OS as well. That means users can run Windows XP based applications alongside with Windows 7 applications under a single desktop.

Schedule of Windows 7 Support at CityU

The Computing Services Centre (CSC) has begun to evaluate Windows 7 since its beta version. Now, we are experimenting with the release candidate, and participating in seminars and training courses to prepare for support. Although Windows 7 is a refined version of Windows Vista with exceptional focus on performance improvements and compatibility, we still need to test its compatibility with our existing hardware and software when it is officially released in October. Windows 7 cannot be formally supported and widely deployed in campus before support units have ensured all in-house developed applications, the e-learning system and administration systems can be run smoothly under Windows 7.

As a general practice, the CSC will make Windows 7 available on CSC managed computers for teaching and learning as soon as possible. The earliest possible time for this will be Semester B, 2009-10. Depending on the initial results and stability of Windows 7, the CSC will develop a secure environment for Staff LAN users. When this is done, it will probably be the time when Service Pack 1 of Windows 7 is formally released.