MSDN and TechNet Live Present: Highlights from "The New Efficiency" Launch

by dboynton 10/30/2009 11:38:00 AM

imageWhat’s that? Couldn’t make it to one of the regional launch events for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange Server 2010? Never fear. Your second chance is on its way.

Microsoft recently announced that it will be holding two “best of launch” events in the central region over the next couple of months featuring content from the so-called “New Efficiency” launch events. The content will be for both developers and IT professionals. These events will focus on:

  • Windows 7: It simplifies everyday tasks, improves productivity and works the way you want it to work.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2: It delivers new functionality and powerful improvements to the core Windows Server operating system to help organizations increase control, availability and flexibility for their changing business needs.
  • Exchange Server 2010: Achieves new levels of reliability, reduces cost and drives productivity.
image image image

These events will be held in Des Moines, IA and Omaha, NE. To register for these free events, use the links below:

TechNet Events Presents >
8:30 AM – 12:00 PM
SESSIONS INCLUDE
  • Introducing to Windows 7
  • Introduction to Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Introducing Exchange Server 2010

 

Date/Location?registration
11/11/2009 Des Moines, IA
12/3/2009 Omaha, NE
MSDN Events Presents > 
1:00 PM – 4:30 PM
SESSIONS INCLUDE
  • Taking Your Application to the Next Level with Windows 7
  • Light Up Your Application with graphics, Multi-Touch and Ribbon on Windows 7
  • What’s New and Changed in Windows Server 2008 R2?
Date/Location?registration
11/11/2009 Des Moines, IA
12/3/2009 Omaha, NE

And what launch would be complete without some great giveaways? Register and attend the event for you chance to win:

  • Netbook! Dell Mini 10 – US $329.00 ARV
  • Zune! Zune HD – US $289.00 ARV
  • Games! Halo 3 ODST for Xbox 360 – US $49.99 ARV
  • Books!
    • Windows 7 Inside Out – US $49.99 ARV
    • Introducing Windows 7 for Developers – US $39.99 ARV

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Architecture | Events | Windows 7

Windows 7 Friday: New Security Features and Options

by dboynton 2/27/2009 4:52:00 PM

windows7 Security. Ask anyone in the software industry what they think is the most important thing to consider when developing an applications and, invariably, security will be in the top three if not the number one thing (which is really what it should be every time). Of course, it’s no secret that many applications have fallen from the pure path when it comes to security. It seems almost a cliché news item these days where tens of thousands or even millions of records containing personal information walked out of an office building somewhere on a thumb drive, driving-up costs for corporations, governments and individuals and driving-down the public trust that the personal information we entrust to other is actually being secured in any reasonable fashion.

In 2002, the famous Bill Gates security memo changed the way Microsoft approached development of its products. The so-called “Trustworthy Computing” initiative was born and Windows Vista was the first OS release from Microsoft that embraced the security-first mindset. Windows 7 takes the next evolutionary steps by enhancing some of the features of Vista and adding support for new security features. In this post, we’ll look at the two most obvious new security features in Windows 7: BitLocker To Go and User Account Control (UAC).

BitLocker To Go
BitLocker, which debuted on Windows Vista Ultimate and Enterprise, is a hard drive security tool that encrypts all of the data on your computer’s hard drive partition and allows access to it only if you are logged into the machine under the identify of the data’s owner. This utility was designed specifically to prevent sensitive data from being accessed from a lost or stolen laptop, an ever increasing phenomenon with the number of mobile workers burgeoning.

Stolen or misplaced laptops are not the only threat to sensitive data, however. More and more, we hear stories about data walking out the front door of an office building on USB flash drives and other types of portable media. According to the 2008 Computer Security Institute Computer Crime and Security Survey, 42% of respondents reported that their organization experienced theft of laptops or mobile devices.

Windows 7 takes BitLocker to the next level with BitLocker To Go, which extends encryption capabilities to externally connected USB drives while making the original features of BitLocker even easier to use. To access BitLocker or BitLocker To Go, just follow these steps:

1) Attach your external USB drive and open Windows Explorer. Click on the Computer item to look at all internal and attached drives.

2)  Right-click on the icon for your attached drive and select Turn on BitLocker…

3) BitLocker will initialize for a few seconds and then present you with the following dialog:

BitLocker1 Decide whether you want to use a custom username and password to access the encrypted data or use your SmartCard and click the Next button.

4) On the next dialog box, you will choose how to persist your recovery key should you forget or lose your password to the encrypted drive:

BitLocker2 As this information will give someone access to your drive, be sure to store this information in a secure area, both the physical page if you choose to print it, and in your file system. Once you’ve stored your recovery key, click the Next button.

5) On the final dialog window, click the Start Encrypting button to encrypt your USB drive. Depending on the size of the drive, this can take some time. Once the encryption process begins, you should let it finish before removing the drive from your machine. However, if you need to remove it, be sure to click Pause button.

BitLocker36) Now, remove the drive for your computer and then reattach it. You’ll see the dialog below:

BitLocker4 Notice that you’re being prompted to enter your password. For your convenience, you can also indicate that the drive should automatically unlock when connected to your computer. If you need to ever change any of your BitLocker settings for the drive, you can always right-click on the drive icon in Windows Explorer, select Manage BitLocker…, and you’ll get the following dialog which will let you configure the BitLocker settings for the drive, including removing protection.

BitLocker5

So there you have it. The same security that BitLocker brought to your internal hard drives in Vista can now be used on portable drives. Cool stuff.

UAC Customization
Easily one of the most contentious security features to ever come out of Microsoft, UAC was implemented in Windows Vista as a means of preventing users from inadvertently installing unwanted software on their machines.

I want to make this very clear here and now:  There is a lot of passion, both for but mostly against UAC. I have always been a supporter of using UAC as it is the best means Windows provides of keeping unintended software from getting installed on your computer. This post is meant to show some of the ways UAC works in the beta of Windows 7. I will not engage you in a debate over whether UAC should or shouldn’t be or how well you think it works. There are other venues for that conversation and this post isn’t one of them.

That being said, the first thing you’ll notice about UAC in Windows 7 is that the product team seems to have “right-sized” UAC prompts. One of the main complaints from users regarding UAC in Vista was its ubiquity. It seemed that even the most minute system changes required user or even administrative approval. While this certainly had the effect of making users more aware of what was happening on their PCs, it also had a negative impact on their experience.

In Windows 7, the user impact of UAC is significantly improved. By default, Windows 7 UAC will only prompt the user when software on the system tries to modify Windows, but does not prompt when the user makes changes to Windows. In Windows Vista, you had two options as far as UAC was concerned:  Leave it on or turn it off. When left with this choice, many users chose to turn it off and completely lost the benefits UAC did provide. In Windows 7, you have significantly more control over this via the UAC Control Panel Applet. To access it:

1) Click on the Windows Start icon in the lower left-hand corner and select Control Panel.

2) Click on the System and Security link and then, under the Action Center section, click Change User Account Control settings.

UAC1 3) You will now see the dialog below which contains a slider providing you with the ability to modify how UAC works on your machine. The default setting only notifies the user if software attempts to change Windows somehow, but not when you make changes to Windows yourself:

UAC2 Like wise, you can increase the UAC setting to prompt you when you are about to change Windows settings, by moving the slider to the top “Always notify” setting. Moving the slider down one position from the default will remove the grayed out background that happens when UAC prompts appear, and obviously moving the slide to the lowest position turns off UAC notifications altogether.

The guiding principle I have for everyone regarding UAC in Windows 7 is:  “With great power comes great responsibility.” In roughly two months of using exclusively Windows 7, I have found no need to modify my UAC settings. It’s nice to not be prompted about every little system change, but it’s reassuring to know that it’s still monitoring for system changes initiated by applications on my machine.

It’s important to reinforce here the need for developers to write their software for Standard User in Windows 7. There are plenty of best practices documents available online, including this excellent presentation from PDC 2008, for doing this. Developing software with UAC in mind is a good security practice and should be made top of mind with developers writing software for Windows.

There are, obviously, many more security features coming with Windows 7, including improvements in the migration and deployment tools,  the AppLocker application I discussed in last week’s post, improvements and better transparency in the System Restore utility and performance enhancements in Windows Defender. I will likely touch on these additional features in future post, but I thought that BitLocker To Go and the changes to UAC were the most compelling to touch on first. Tune in next week when I look at some cool ways to tweak out your experience in the new Windows 7 desktop!

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Windows 7 Friday: Locking Down and Protecting Your Computer With AppLocker

by dboynton 2/20/2009 12:46:00 PM

windows7 I’ve been running Windows 7 Beta on all of my machines, work and personal, for about seven weeks now and have really been loving it. There are so many great new features and capabilities in Windows 7, I’ve decided to do a post each Friday on one new feature of Windows 7 until, well, I run out of things to post about. I’m calling this series Windows 7 Friday. Cool and original name, eh?

For this first post, I’m going to show you how to use an application called AppLocker to keep unwanted malware off your computer. Note: You’ll need to have administrative rights on your Windows 7 machine to use the AppLocker application, really since this is actual administrative work!

Put Your PC On Lock-Down
If you have kids and they use the family PC on a pretty regular basis, you’ve no doubt had to deal with malware getting installed on your machine and the scavenger hunt that ensues afterward as you try and locate it. No matter how many times you tell kids to be careful, they just can resist the shiny “Click Me and You’ll Have Good Luck for Sever Years” buttons that appear all over the social networking sites they like to visit. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could give them the ability to install software of which you approve while keeping them from loading up junk inadvertently?

Enter AppLocker. Basically, AppLocker lets you set policies for certain users or groups on your Windows 7 PC and define specifically what types of applications they can and cannot install.

Keeping with the “Preventing my kids from screwing up my computer” scenario, I created a new Windows group called Boynton Progeny and added my daughters’ user accounts to it. I could obviously apply the rules to their accounts individually, but grouping them like this just makes life easier for me.

Also, it's important to note that you should always leave the default rules running on your machine. Primarily, this exercise is designed to just add an additional rule for specific users on my home PC, namely my daughters.

With that done, follow these steps:

1)  Open AppLocker by clicking on the Windows 7 “start” icon in the lower left-hand corner of the desktop and, in the search field, type Run. When the dialog window appears, type GPEDIT.MSC.

2)  When the Local Group Policy Editor loads, navigate using the tree on the left to Computer Configuration->Windows Settings->Security Settings->Application Control Policies->AppLocker. Click on the Executable Rules applet.

AppLocker1

3)  In the pane to the right, left-click and select Create New Rule. From this point forward, AppLocker provides a really nice wizard-driven experience, so even if the process of getting here isn’t as friction free as I/’d like it, the rest of the experience will be.

4)  Once you click past the first screen of the wizard, you’ll find yourself at the Permissions screen. Here you can define whether this rule is to allow or deny activity on the PC, as well as selecting the Windows user or group to whom the rule should apply. In this case, I selected the Boynton Progeny group I created earlier. Click the Next button.

AppLocker2

5)  The next screen lets you set conditions for the rule, whether that rule is for a specific software publisher, a local path on your PC, or for unsigned applications. In this case, I want to allow the group Boynton Progeny to install any software signed by Microsoft Corporation, so I select the first option, Publisher, and click the Next button.

AppLocker3

6)  Since I selected Publisher in the previous screen, he next screen let’s me define the specific software publisher I want to approve. As I’m approving software signed by Microsoft, I need to provide that publisher information here. Fortunately, I don’t need to know it off the top of my head because AppLocker lets me provide a sample signed application. In this case, I used Virtual PC 2007. AppLocker pulled the publisher information from the executable certificate for me automatically. Now, all you have to do is use the slider to the left of the extracted publisher information and scope it to the right level, in this case by moving it next to the Publisher field. Notice that you can adjust the scope to the Product Name, File Name and File Version levels as well. Click the Next button.

AppLocker4

7)  The next screen gives you the ability to define any exceptions to the rule. For example, I could click on the Add button and, in the dialog box that appears, select the installer for Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio, click OK, and now the Boynton Progeny group can install any software signed by Microsoft except for the Silverlight Tools. When you’ve added any exceptions, click the Next button.

AppLocker5 

8)  This is the final screen of the wizard, so simply click Create and you’re done.

And that’s it!. Pretty easy, really. Likewise, you can go back through the wizard and restrict the ability for the Boynton Progeny group to install any software that isn’t signed by a known publisher or even to a specific directory path on the machine, like Windows\System32.

You will obviously want to take care in selecting rules as you could inadvertantly block perfectly valid applications from running. If for some reason you run into any unexpected issues setting up and using the rules in AppLocker, you can deactivate it by shutting down the AppIDSvc service via the Task Manager.

Having good malware detection software on your PC is a must, but the best defense is a strong offence. If you can stop unwanted or unnecessary software from getting installed on you machine, all the better, and AppLocker in Windows 7 gives you an easy, intuitive way to do this.

Coming up: Next Friday I’ll dive into some of the security updates in Windows 7, including the new and improved User Access Control (UAC) and BitLocker.

 

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One Day Left to Download Windows 7 Beta

by dboynton 1/23/2009 4:24:00 PM

clock As you’ll recall, I posted last week that the 2.5 million download limit was lifted and, instead, Microsoft was going setting a timeframe to download the beta bits for Windows 7 – through January 24th. Seeing as today is the 23rd, that means you only have about twenty-four more hours to download the beta and try it out.

If you’re interested, then go to the download site for the beta and get it while you still can!

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A Bumper List of Windows 7 Secrets

by dboynton 1/14/2009 2:22:00 PM

While I continue to dig into Windows 7 and all the goodness it brings, I’ve been discovering a lot of great new features and keyboard shortcuts, like the Win+P combination that opens a dialog for connecting my laptop to an external projector. How long have we needed that?

As I mentioned in my post on Saturday, I will be continuing to post on the cool new stuff I’m finding in Windows 7, but I just happened upon an absolutely fantastic post from Tim Sneath covering 30 tips and tricks you can take advantage right away with Windows 7. I consider this post a rocket sled to getting started using Windows 7 efficiently. By all means, go check it out, if for no other reason because it tells you how to hide the MSN Messenger icon in the new task bar!

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My First Twenty-Four Hours With Windows 7

by dboynton 1/10/2009 12:21:00 PM

win7_logoThursday afternoon, I logged into my MSDN account, much like many of you did, and downloaded the beta release of Windows 7 that was announced this week during Steve Balmer's keynote address at the CES in Las Vegas. Like many of you, I've heard a lot of good things about Windows 7, from both fellow Softies and from the press (which is a refreshing change of pace) and I wanted to give it a try.

Several earlier adopters have already told me I should upgrade my main work machine to the new beta bits, that they've seen no issues. Now, it's not that I don't trust them, but I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to new versions of Windows, especially those generating as much buzz and Windows 7. So rather than run full steam ahead with a machine I depend on daily, I decided to really put the claims of Windows 7 being friendly to older, crappier hardware and pull my Toshiba M400 out of the storage room.

This is not what you would call a high-end machine. It has an Intel, dual core 2.0GHz processor with 2GB RAM. This was my primary work machine for about a year-and-a-half and spent a good amount of that time fighting with 32-bit Vista from a performance standpoint. I mean, to say it ran like a pig most of the time would be an understatement. I procured a new laptop about four months ago, a Lenovo T61p with an Intel, dual-core 2.5GHz and 4GB RAM running 64-bit Vista, that I really love, so the old m400 has been gathering dust and serving as a silicone-based crash test dummy.

Because of the hardware on the Toshiba, I decided to use the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate and burnt it off to a DVD.

Installation
Installing Windows 7 couldn't have been easier. There was an upgrade option available to me, but I decided to do a clean install (I had the M3 bits released at the PDC installed and wanted to make sure I blew any of the pre-beta stuff away). From beginning to end, the installation took about 20 minutes. Like the Vista installation experience, outside of choosing the system partition, there wasn't much for me to do but wait until the installer was done.

First Impressions
Windows 7 boots very fast. When I was running Vista on this machine, I would say that the load time averaged about 20-30 seconds. With Windows 7, I went from the BIOS screen to a blinking cursor on the login screen in about 15 seconds. So far, so good.

After logging in for the first time, my first thought was, "Wow, this looks a lot like Vista," which I happen to think is a good thing. Vista made a lot of significant improvements in the user experience with Windows, so I was glad to see they kept the "best in show" features. However, upon clicking around for about, say three seconds, I discovered there was a lot of significant changes. More on that in a bit.

Performance
The first thing I noticed when I started opening up applications was how responsive Windows 7 is. The pauses after selecting an application or double-clicking on a document that I've gotten used to in Vista over the past couple of years aren't there in Windows 7. For example, I opened Internet Explorer 8. The browser launched and rendered the MSN home page showing in less than three seconds. Later on, when I got around to installing other software, I noticed that this responsiveness was not unique to IE8.

I don't have any super sophisticated software to measure exact load times for applications in Windows, nor do I have the time to go look for some. So, I decided to run a smoke test and compare the application load times I was seeing in Windows 7 with those of Vista. After installing Visual Studio 2008 SP1 on the Windows 7 box and starting it for the first time (Visual Studio needs some customization information the first time it is launched), I rebooted both machines. Visual Studio tends to take a relatively long time to load on Vista and always has. As soon as both machines were fully booted, I went to the start menu on both machines and launched Visual Studio simultaneously.

Windows 7 beat Vista by almost six seconds. Nice!

After running several of these test on other applications, like Outlook, Excel and Sony Vegas Pro, I would posit that 32-bit Windows 7 is at least as fast as 64-bit Vista, and even faster sometimes.

UI Enhancements
The new task bar in Windows 7 is fantastic. It's pretty much par for the course for me to have several applications open at the same time, multitasker that I am. With applications like Internet Explorer that allows for multiple tabs, it's easy for me to lose track of the stuff I'm working on. To solve this problem, the new task bar in Windows 7 actually shows you thumbnails of your active applications.

Win7TaskbarThumbnails

In this example, I've got four different web sites up that I'm using. By simply moving my mouse over the IE icon in the task bar, Windows 7 shows me a thumbnail of each site. I can then move my mouse to the one I want and either go directly to it or even close it if I need to. Also, these four web sites are in multiple tabs in two separate browser sessions. With one click of the mouse, I can get to exactly what I want.

Win7Gadgets Another thing I like about the new UI is gadget management. I always thought that the sidebar in Vista was a very cool idea and I used my all the time, but having everything imprisoned in the sidebar was kind of a pain. In Windows 7, you can move those gadgets wherever you like on the desktop. Again, a small feature, but from the user experience perspective, it's giving me control of my environment, which is important when you spend as much time in front of a computer as I do.

Other new UI enhancements that I really like are:

  • Jump Lists: Move your mouse over an application icon in the task bar and right-click with the mouse. This will show you a list recent documents you've accessed via that application. This is extremely handy with applications like Word, Excel, Adobe Photoshop, Visual Studio and Expression Blend.
  • Windows Docking: Do you ever have to compare information in two different windows, like when you're comparison shopping online? Windows 7 will automatically dock these windows for you. All you do is click and drag one window off to one side of the screen and do the same for the other window on the opposite side of the screen. Viola! And the best part is that, when you undock the windows, they go back to their original size.
  • Window Transparency: If you have an application shortcut or gadget on your desk top that you want to see, just drag your mouse to the lower right-hand corner of the screen and all the open windows become transparent, allowing you to look at your desktop. If you need to get to something on your desktop, just click the mouse in the same place and all your windows get minimized.

User Access Control and Security
Arguably one of the least liked features of Vista, the intrusiveness of User Access Control (UAC) in Windows 7 has been toned down considerably. Philosophically, I doubt anyone could argue with the intent of Vista implementation of OS level security. It isn't just marketing fluff that Vista is the most secure version of Windows ever released. That being said, I think of UAC like the TSA staff at the airport security line: They may be annoying and intrusive, but ultimately they're there for your protection.

My initial impression of UAC in Windows 7 is that the product team "right sized" it. For example, I didn't get a single UAC nag when I was installing software on Windows 7 from a local source. It just did what I asked it to do. The first application I tried to install from the web, though, needed a confirmation from me to continue. That seems to me very reasonable. If I'm installing software from a DVD I've had for years, Windows shouldn't worry too much about that -- I know it's safe. Double checking when I'm attempting to install something from a web site, that's something that we all need.

Overall, what I've seen is a significant decrease in unnecessary and duplicated UAC prompts, making the prompts that I do get more visible and impactful.

Software and Hardware Compatibility
As you'll recall, I mentioned that I wanted to fully vet Windows 7 before taking the move of replacing Vista on my work machine. If that machine is down, I'm in trouble. Besides evaluating the performance and stability of Windows 7, I wanted to make sure that all the software and hardware devices I use on a daily basis would continue to work.

screenshot_devicesYesterday afternoon, I finished installing the last piece of software on the M400, essentially making it a mirror of my Lenovo. I've opened and, to varying degrees, used all the applications I'd installed and didn't experience one problem. Everything I have installed on my Vista machine not only work on Windows 7, but they all load considerably faster. In fact, since I'm planning to install Windows 7 on my home machines as well, I check and yes, World of Warcraft runs on Windows 7 as well.

Also this afternoon, I hooked up my Zune, the HP Laserjet printer in my home office, my Samsung i760 cell phone and my Nikon D70 digital camera to the M400, all of which installed right away and worked the first time. Windows 7 uses the same device driver model as Vista, ensuring that if your device works on Vista, it will work on Windows 7. It also appears that Windows 7 has at least the same number of device drivers that Vista SP1 has, so whatever you're using will likely install without issues.

And actually, that's another cool thing about Windows 7: The new Devices and Printers screen. Essentially, Windows 7 provides access and configuration options to all the attached devices on your system in one location.

Memory Footprint
So far, everything I've seen in Windows 7 has really impressed me. The one thing I wasn't really excited about was the base memory footprint of the OS. When I saw Steve Sinofsky's keynote at PDC in October, it was specifically mentioned that the notoriously large memory footprint of Vista would be reduced in Windows 7. The M400 is running fine with Windows 7 as it has 2GB of RAM, but this might cause problems for my daughters' laptops, as they only have 1GB of RAM a piece.

I'm running the standard installation package and haven't had a chance to dig in and see what is actually running in the background. That will be one of the next things I evaluate. My hope is, now that the feature set for Windows 7 is pretty well locked in, the product team will focus on reducing this footprint by RTM. In fact, not even knowing if it's possible, it would be great to see this down around the 200MB mark that Windows XP had. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

In Conclusion...
Overall, I'm really excited  about what I'm seeing with Windows 7 these first twenty-four hours. I've found a few "interesting" items that I think are probably bugs that should be taken care of by RTM. In fact, the beta has a ubiquitous means of reporting these issues. Just about every Windows 7 window has a link in the upper right hand corner inviting you to Send Feedback.

The Windows 7 beta was made available for public download yesterday afternoon. I highly encourage you to go download it and evaluate it for yourself. You can download it from here. Also, please feel free to share any of your favorite or not-so-favorite features of Windows 7 in the comments section below. I'd love to hear from you!

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Denny Boynton Denny Boynton
Microsoft Architect Evangelist by day, wannabe rock 'n roll star by night! Want more? Here's my bio.

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