Windows 7, which will be released to manufacturing next month, has some sexy new features such as DirectAccess. But if you talk to customers and integrators, it's the more mundane improvements that will drive enterprise desktop adoption.
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One early adopter of Windows 7 is Turkcell, the No. 2 European mobile phone operator based in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkcell deployed Windows 7 on 93 PC desktops two months ago and plans to expand the pilot program to 200 desktops this summer.
Turkcell is expecting to use key new features, such as BitLocker and DirectAccess, but Zihni Ugurbil, who heads up the company's Infrastructure and Operations Division, cites Windows 7's compatibility, speed and quicker login are the key reasons his company plans to upgrade.
"We did not upgrade to Vista because we had problems running business applications internally," he said. "Compatibility was the biggest concern [about the Vista] desktop. We installed Windows 7 to 93 desktops and haven't had any big problems."
So what is the biggest enterprise desktop feature?
Unlike its predecessor, Windows 7's robust compatibility with the majority of corporate applications makes it a sure winner in the enterprise, agreed Rand Morimoto, President of Convergent Computing, an enterprise IT consulting company in California.
Vista's weakness in this critical area killed its prospects in the enterprise. "Vista was pretty much off the table [because of compatibility issues]. Windows 7 doesn't have that buzz," Morimoto said. "Compatibility is rock solid."
Convergent conducted a series of tests with the Microsoft Application Compatibility Framework and the five applications passed with a 100 percent hit rate. The systems integrator also did a test with another client, a law firm, which often experience compatibility issues because of the number of plug-ins and add-ons used in legal circles. They were pleasantly surprised with the results.
"It just works better out of the box for application compatibility. We tested 147 applications and the return was 100 percent compatibility. Vista had a 20 to 30 percent incompatibility rate for the line of business stuff."
Convergent and Turkcell are also looking forward to the two key new enterprise features, DirectAccess and BitLocker, which expand network access to remote users without compromising security. DirectAccess allows enterprises to provide remote access without deploying a VPN as well as expanded flexibility over who has access to what and when.
Any mobile laptop or device that has IP encryption can access network resources, but Direct Access gives IT administrators more control. "The challenging part [with VPNs] is that users have access to all resources on the network," Morimoto said. "Now you can have 50 resources all DirectAccess enabled but can give different people access to different things by policy," the systems integrator said.
BitLocker was first made available in the Vista-Windows Server 2008 product wave but it did not offer support for removable storage devices -- a fact that crippled its usefulness at the enterprise level, both gentlemen said.
"This will allow us to secure removable media so we don't have to worry about security issues," Turkcell's Ugurbil said about Windows 7.
"Vista only offered BitLocker for the hard drive and not USB drives," Morimoto said. "The biggest complaint people have about BitLocker is that it didn't support encryption at the device level and left thumb drives wide open. It defeats the purpose of doing encryption and is why many organizations have gone to third-party solutions."
Morimoto said most of the valuable features for the enterprise can be achieved with a client upgrade only, and this will accelerate deployment on the enterprise desktop.
"There's some stuff that requires the [Windows 2008] R2 server, such as DirectAccess, and other benefits that come only with the combination, but the majority of stuff you get with the Windows 7 client," he said. "I'd say 80 percent of new features you get with Windows 7 client only and 20 percent of the benefits are a result of the combination of Windows 7 and the Windows Server 2008 R2 server."
"Adoption has been big because most of the features come with Windows 7," he noted.
Even DirectAccess -- a new feature that has tremendous benefit for the enterprise -- only requires that one Windows 2008 R2 server to be deployed as a gateway server. That means DirectAccess can be deployed without a company-wide server upgrade. "It requires a R2 server gateway but as long as the company's Windows servers support IP Sec and that's any 2003, 2008 Windows server, it's can be deployed."
Windows 7 also offers enhanced Internet Explorer browser security features that can be turned on without upgrading to the new R2 server, he added. For instance, IT administrators now have the flexibility to expand access to select servers for top executives while restricting access to specific web sites to thousands of employees, on a per user basis or based on their role in the company.
Yes, it requires a Windows server of some variety with Active Directory. But it doesn't have to be the new Windows Server 2008 R2.
"In Internet Explorer 8, all the settings are managed through group policy [in Active Directory]. Now 300 policies can be managed remotely and done at the user level," said Morimoto. "Upon log-in, user policies are applied to IE8 because of their role in an organization. Before, it was harder for corporations to enforce browser policy."
Windows 7 is not expected to hit store shelves until mid-October but will be released to manufacturing in the second half of July. Partners and large enterprises get the code before consumers. Convergent plans to begin building images in July and will deploy to some customers beginning in October. Turkcell, which has 10,000 enterprise desktops, expects to begin the official rollout of Windows 7 in the second quarter of 2010.