Windows 7 will include features specifically developed for enterprise customers and partners.
That decision was made after Microsoft invited more than 100 customers and partners to give feedback on Windows 7 early on in its development process, says Gavriella Schuster, a senior director of Windows product management.
Microsoft created four new customer and partner focus groups and spent six months planning how it would build Windows 7, and how it would engage customers in that process, before beginning development, Schuster says.
The company formed a Desktop Advisory Council, an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) engagement group, a Windows ecosystem readiness programme and a First Wave programme of customers to deploy the beta in live environments to gain "really early insight" from customers and partners about what the final OS should look like, Schuster says.
It also invited 4,000 enterprise customers in the US, Germany, Brazil, Japan, India and China to provide feedback, she says.
This unprecedented level of early customer engagement, combined with an effort to make the development process more predictable in general, was aimed at avoiding the missteps Microsoft took as it built Vista. Features Microsoft promised early on in Vista's development didn't make it into the final code, and the process itself was shut down and restarted midway through.
As a result of feedback from Microsoft's focus groups and other research, Windows 7 will include several enterprise-specific features in security, administrator access and other fields.
Customers and partners say protecting corporate data was a key priority, which is why Windows 7 will expand the BitLocker feature from Vista with a BitLocker To Go feature, Schuster says.
BitLocker To Go will extend the encryption already provided by the feature not only to the PC's hard drive itself but to any external USB device that is plugged into the laptop, she says. This will make it more difficult for hackers to access data not only on the PC but on peripherals connected to it.
Enterprise customers also expressed a need to ensure that corporate users only install and use authorised applications on their PCs and desktops, which led Microsoft to include a new AppLocker feature in Windows 7.
AppLocker allows IT administrators to determine, through group policy, which applications a user is able to install. For instance, a policy can be set that a user can install any application from Adobe Systems or to be more specific, only Adobe Acrobat 8.1 or later, Schuster says.
Policy setting in AppLocker can also be narrowed down to the "script level", with administrators authorising users to install only certain scripts on their machines, she says.
Enterprise customers also told Microsoft that they need to be able to give better remote access to employees. As a result, Windows 7 will include a couple of new features to make it easier for remote workers to access corporate networks, Schuster says.
One is a DirectAccess feature that replaces a virtual private network with a secure tunnel to the network at the core OS level. Another is a Branch Office Caching feature that allows users on a corporate network to find and access a file on another corporate user's local machine if it has already been downloaded from the corporate network to that machine.
Microsoft is expected to release Windows 7 before the end of the year.