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Channel Gets a Crack at Windows 7

Microsoft has begun aggressively reaching out to the channel to prepare for the release of Windows 7.

The company released the Windows 7 Beta on Jan. 7 and this week rolled out a channel-focused program called the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Ecosystem Readiness Program.

According to a blog posting this month by Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live Engineering, the company is taking the channel very seriously for this release.

"We're now seeing how releasing Windows is not something that Microsoft does 'solo,' but rather is something that we do as one part of the overall PC ecosystem," Sinofsky wrote. "The last stages of a Windows release are a partnership across the entire ecosystem working to make sure that the incredible variety of choices you have for PCs, software and peripherals work together to bring you a complete and satisfying Windows 7 experience."

Sinofsky does not go so far as to say that Microsoft learned lessons in how not to release an operating system -- namely, Windows Vista. He does make clear that the schedule for the Release Candidate of Windows 7, along with Release to Manufacturing and General Availability, will depend on partner readiness.

Windows 7 has been characterized as an enhancement to Windows Vista, with a major design goal of ensuring that drivers and applications that work with Vista also will work on Windows 7. That approach represents a big change from Microsoft's previous transition, moving from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

On the server side, Microsoft officially describes Windows Server 2008 R2 as an even "smaller incremental release to Windows Server 2008" than Windows 7 is to Vista.

Some of the channel push can also be seen as an attempt to avoid the Windows "Vista Capable" PC flap that landed Microsoft in court with a class-action lawsuit in April of 2007. The lawsuit exposed awkward internal e-mails suggesting Microsoft put strategic partner Intel's quarterly business goals for moving a specific chipset over the needs of strategic PC vendor partners, such as HP and Dell. The PC vendors faced the prospect of selling consumers PCs that inadequately supported Vista's GUI features.

While Microsoft is pointedly not releasing system requirements yet, Microsoft officials say there's enough information out now for partners to ramp up their readiness efforts.

"Partners…can confidently invest and start testing now because the Windows 7 beta will have the same API set that they will see in the final release," Mike Nash, corporate vice president, Windows Product Management, said in a statement.

Nash encourages partners to download the code and tools to get a sense of the products' capabilities and identify opportunities, as well as join the Ecosystem Readiness Program. For now, Microsoft is targeting specific partner categories for its readiness efforts. At the top of the list are independent hardware vendors, original equipment manufacturers, developers, independent software vendors and original device manufacturers.

Hardware and software partners can both join the program, which provides them with beta builds, development and test toolkits, technical documents and application testing labs, which can be accessed either in-person at Microsoft facilities or remotely via virtual servers.

Microsoft has two portals to sign up for its Ecosystem Readiness Program: one for software partners and another for hardware partners.

There are several technology areas where Microsoft is currently expecting the most interest from its ecosystem, according to Nash's statement.

One is the Device Stage, which provides a visual interface where customers can find and use applications and services for their hardware devices. Another is the multitouch feature, which allows users to manipulate objects on the screen with their fingers.

Microsoft is also hoping partners will make use of a few "better together" features that combine the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 platforms. Nash pointed to two technologies of note for solution provider and systems integrator partners.

One of those technologies is called BranchCache, supporting Windows 7 computers in a branch office. Users may have a Windows Server 2008 R2 system located in the branch office or back at the home office. The feature allows HTTP and SMB content to be locally cached in the branch. If no local server is present, the Windows 7 clients share cached content with each other, depending on permissions set on the server at headquarters.

The other technology, Microsoft Direct Access, uses IPv6 and IPsec to permit offsite users to access corporate resources without a virtual private network. Conversely, IT can use Direct Access to manage those mobile PCs anytime the user is connected to the Internet -- not just when the user is connected through a VPN or even logged on to the corporate network.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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