Posts tagged MCSE 2008

Parallels release Windows 7 desktop upgrade

Parallels have shipped their ‘Desktop Upgrade’ tool, which is geared toward PC users who are moving from Windows XP or Vista to the latest and greatest, Windows 7. The tool, available for online order now, allows users to upgrade keeping all their applications and settings intact – painlessly.

Supporting in-place upgrades on the same PC, or helps move everything across to a new system, the software will also be available in retail outlets from 31 May internationally.

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CEO of Parallels, Serguei Beloussov, announced that the Desktop Upgrade software for Windows 7 provides “a simple and safe solution for Windows XP and Vista customers who want to successfully move to Windows 7 but may be overwhelmed by the process.”

The software entirely automates the upgrade process, so that the user need only actually answer a few simple questions before leaving the Desktop Upgrade to work its magic. Following the upgrade, the user will be pleasantly surprised to find that their old applications remain installed – and even those with compatibility issues will run under a virtual machine, so as far as the user is concerned, everything that was available previously is still present.

Additionally, Parallels provide interactive video tutorials in order to train users to work in Windows 7! The software – “Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7” – is available at £39.95 (GBP) for the tool that upgrades on a single machine, and the price with the cable has yet to be announced.

For more information and a short product tour, visit the Parallel’s website !

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder

Note: This article is adapted from Windows 7 Secrets Chapter 25, Troubleshooting and Recovering from Disaster. –Paul

The integrated Windows Troubleshooting tools works well in Windows 7, and they’re one of many reasons that this OS is superior to its predecessors. But sometimes you will run into an issue that isn’t covered by the built-in troubleshooters. When that happens, it’s time to escalate the issue, either with Microsoft Support or, if you’re a corporate customer, with your IT help desk. Either way, Windows 7 includes an excellent new tool that takes the guesswork out of explaining what happened when something went wrong. It’s called the Problem Steps Recorder, and it allows you to record the steps you took leading up to a problem so you can duplicate it and provide a record of what happened.

Secret: Problem Steps Recorder is hidden in Windows 7, so you have to know it exists before you can access it. To enable this tool, open the Start Menu and type problem steps in Start Menu Search. You’ll see an item called Record steps to reproduce a problem in the search results. Click that, and the minimalistic Problem Steps Recorder application appears.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder
Problem Steps Recorder is hidden in the Windows 7 UI and pretty subtle when it’s running too.

Here’s how it works. Click the Start Record button in Problem Steps Recorder. When you do, the application interface changes slightly, to indicate that it’s recording and provide a few additional options, including Pause Record, Stop Record, and Add Comment.

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Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder
You’re on candid camera: Duplicate that bug.

Now, you step through the things you did that caused the issue you’re trying to report. Along the way, as you click on things, you’ll see an orange circle appear below the mouse pointer, indicating that Problem Steps Recorder has taken note of that step. If you get to a particularly important part, you can take a manual screen, and provide a note: Just click Add Comment and you’ll see something like the following figure.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder
Take a picture and leave a note if you want to explain something further.

When you’re done, click Stop Record. Problem Steps Recorder will prompt you to save a ZIP file on your desktop. Give it a name and click Save. At this point, you’re supposed to email this to the entity that’s going to provide the help. But let’s take a look inside that ZIP file to see what’s going on.

Inside the ZIP file, surprisingly, you’ll find a single MHTML document, which can be viewed with Internet Explorer. The file, an example of which can be seen in Figure 25-15, is actually pretty impressive. It includes a complete walkthrough of all the steps you took.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder
The Recorded Problem Steps file documents want went wrong.

But it’s even more impressive than that. Each time you clicked anything, the Problem Steps Recorder took a screenshot and highlighted what was clicked. As you can see here, this can be very specific.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Problem Steps Recorder
Each mouse click triggers a screenshot.

Secret: Problem Steps Recorder is so helpful, in fact, that it’s not hard imagining using it as a training tool or for other kinds of documentation. Hm…

But wait, there’s more…

There’s much more going on with Windows 7’s troubleshooting and recovery features, but you’ll have to check out Windows 7 Secrets for the rest, including Windows Troubleshooting, Troubleshooting Packs, Startup Repair, Windows Recovery Environment, and System Restore. The book is available now from and other booksellers. Click here to find out more about Windows 7 Secrets.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore

Note: This article is adapted from Windows 7 Secrets Chapter 24, Keeping Your Data Safe. –Paul

With Windows 7, Microsoft expands on the pervasive and reliable backup and restore solutions for both data files and the entire computer that it introduced in Windows Vista. Key among this functionality is Backup and Restore, which can be ued to copy your important files and folders to a safe location or create a system image that can be used later to restore a broken PC. You may never need to turn to a third-party backup and restore utility again.

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Backup and Restore supports the following types of backups:

Data Backup If you think of your Documents library as the center of your data universe, and keep an elaborate series of folders and files there and in other libraries, then you?ll understand the necessity of backing up these crucial files on a regular basis. To this end, Windows 7 supports both automatic and manual data backup options, enabling you to choose which files to back up and when. You can then restore your backups at any time to recover previous versions of documents, or to replace a file you may have accidentally deleted.

System Image There?s nothing worse than discovering that you need to reinstall Windows for some reason. Not only do you have to take the time and make the effort to reinstall the operating system again, you also have to ensure that you have drivers for all your hardware, find and reinstall all the applications you use regularly, reload all your personal data, and reconfigure all of the system?s options so that it?s exactly the way you used to have it. Rather than go through this rigmarole, you can use a Windows 7 feature called System Image Backup to create what is called a system image or snapshot. This image?which is essentially a huge backup file?contains the entire contents of your PC as it existed the day you created the image. If you need to recover your entire PC, you can simply restore the system image and get right back to work.

In addition to these capabilities, Window 7 also offers a way to access previous versions of data files (called Previous Versions) and a way to return to a previous state in time, or restore point (called System Restore). These features are not part of Backup and Restore, but when you add it all up, what you have is the makings of a full-featured data recovery software suite. Amazingly, Microsoft provides all of that functionality in Windows 7, for free.

Secret: OK, there’s gotta be a catch, right? Actually, there is: Microsoft does not offer two kinds of backup that would be useful to have as part of Windows 7. The first is PC-to-PC data synchronization, or what we might called peer-to-peer (P2P) synchronization. With a such a solution you could, among other things, make sure that all of the files in your home PC’s Documents library were always duplicated, automatically, with the Documents library on your laptop; any time you made a change in either place, it would be replicated in the other. As it turns out, Microsoft does make such a tool, two in fact. They’re called Windows Live Sync and Live Mesh, respectively.

The second type of backup is online backup, where you backup files to the Internet cloud. Microsoft does have two online storage solutions, Windows Live SkyDrive, which is aimed at general online storage needs, and Office Live Workspace, which is really about document collaboration. However, neither offers any automated way, perhaps through Backup and Restore, to backup files or system images from your PC to the Internet. Maybe in Windows Live Wave 4. Or in Windows 8.

Available Backup Capabilities in Various Windows 7 Product Editions

The different product editions of Windows 7 include support for different features. These differences can be dramatic in some cases?digital media feature support is an obvious example?and subtle in others. In Windows Vista, lower-end versions lacked some of the systems?s best data and PC reliability features. Fortunately, this is no longer the case in Windows 7: Now, all Windows 7 product editions get Backup and Restore (with file and system image backup capabilities), Previous Versions, and System Restore. The only exception is network-based backups: Only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate support that capability.

As a reminder, the following table outlines the Backup and Restore technologies that are available in each mainstream Windows 7 product edition. You can find the complete list of Windows 7 features in my article, Windows 7 Product Editions: A Comparison.

Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows Backup     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
System image     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Backup to network                 Yes     Yes

One Tool to Rule Them All: Using Backup and Restore

Although various data recovery tools are available scattered through the Windows 7 user interface, a single interface?Backup and Restore?provides a handy front end to most of them. Shown in the following figure, this application helps you backup and restore files on your PC, create and restore complete system image backups as well, and access the System Restore recovery utility.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
It?s a one-stop shop for all your data protection needs.

Tip: This interface was called Backup and Restore Center in Windows Vista.

Because Backup and Restore basically sits in front of most of the other data recovery functions included in Windows 7, we will use this as the obvious starting point for the data and system backup and restore features discussed here.

Tip: Backup and Restore can be found in the Start Menu under All Programs, Maintenance, but the easiest way to find this application, as always, is Start Menu Search: Type backup and press Enter.

Backing Up Documents, Pictures, and Other Data

If you want to create a data backup, you can use Windows Backup, which is available from Backup and Restore. To do so, launch Backup and Restore and click the Set up backup link. This launches Windows Backup’s Setup up backup wizard, as shown here:

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Windows Backup helps you manually create a backup of your important data files.

In the first step of the wizard, you must choose a location to store the backup. You can save a backup to an internal or external hard disk or other storage device, a recordable optical disk (typically a writeable CD or DVD), or a network share. (Network backup is not available in Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, or Home Premium, however.) The amount of space you need, of course, depends on the amount of data you are backing up. The wizard autoselects the local storage offering the most free space, but you can change this selection, of course.

Tip: Microsoft does not allow you to back up to the disk or partition you are backing up. That is, if you are backing up data from the C: drive, you cannot save the backup to the C: drive.

In the second step, you have two choices: Let Windows choose (recommended) and Let me choose. If you choose the former, Windows Backup will automatically backup data files saved in libraries, on the desktop, and in any folders founder in your user folder. (Windows Backup will also create a system image if you choose this option, and then automatically make periodic backups on a schedule going forward.)

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Here, it really is best to let Windows choose.

If you choose Let me choose, Windows Backup will present an expandable view of your file system. From this interface, you can pick and choose exactly what to backup. You can also optionally cause a system image to be made with this type of backup.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
If you have specific backup needs, you can micro-manage Windows Backup as well.

In the next step, review what you’ve chosen. This step is important because you can change the schedule on which Windows Backup backs up your data going forward. Click the Change schedule link to change the default, which is to make a backup every Sunday night at 7:00 pm.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
This is your last chance to adjust settings before the first backup is created.

Click Save settings and run backup to start the backup and establish a backup schedule going forward. As the backup begins, Backup and Restore displays its progress.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
You can monitor the backup progress or get on with other work.

Tip: If you set up an automatic backup schedule now, Windows 7 will monitor your PC usage and prompt you to perform occasional full backups over time as well.

As the backup runs, the Action Center icon in the notification area of the taskbar changes, adding a small black clock. If you click this icon, you’ll see the message shown below: A backup is in progress. This message will occur in the future, when Windows Backup runs in the background.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Backups trigger a change in the Action Center notification icon.

Tip: You can create multiple automatic data backup schedules if you want. For example, you may want to back up different drives or data file types at different times or with different regularity.

Managing Data Backups

Once you have created your first data backup, a few things change. First, Backup and Restore indicates that you?ve configured a backup location and notes when the last and next backups occur. You can also change the automatic backup settings and restore all of the files for the current user.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Backup and Restore reflects the recent backup.

You can also manage the disk space used on your backup device. When you click the Manage space link in Backup and Restore, the Manage Windows Backup disk space window will occur, displaying information about the currently selected backup device. As you can see in the figure below, you can browse the file system of the backup location, view backups stored on that device, and change settings associated with system image backups.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
From this simple interface, you can manage details associated with your backup device and the backups stored on it.

If you do click View backups, you can’t actually navigate around inside of the backups you have made so far. Instead, you’re provided with the window shown below. From here, you can view the backups and delete them, but not get into them in any meaningful way.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Only the simplest of backup management choices are available.

Tip: Want to see what’s in a backup? You can do it, but not from this interface. Instead, go back to the previous window and click Browse. This will open Windows Explorer, pointing at the location of your backup. At this location, you will see a special folder with a Windows Backup icon and the name of your PC. If you try to double-click this folder, a Windows Backup window will appear. Instead, right-click the folder and choose Open. Then, click Continue in the permission folder that appears. You’ll be presented with a folder structure representing your various backups. Inside of each of these folders? A number of standard ZIP files (shown below). Worse comes to worse and you lose everything, at least these files will always be accessible.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Windows Backup uses regular ZIP files under the covers to backup your data.
Restoring Files

Backup and Restore can also be used to restore files you have previously backed up. There are three general file restore methods.

Restore my files. Restore your own files and folders.

Restore all users’ files. Restore your own files and folders as well as those of other users.

Select another backup to restore files from. Perform more advanced restoration tasks, such as restoring files from a different PC.

These all work similarly. You can follow these steps to trigger a restore of your own data:

1. Open Backup and Restore and click the Restore my files button.

2. The Restore Files window appears.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Restore Files lets you find the files you’d like to restore.

From here, you have three options:

Search. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, and only need one or a handful of files, you can use the Search button to Search your existing backup sets.

Browse for files. If you’d like to manually browse around the backup set to find a file or any number of individual files, click Browse for files. You’ll be presented with a modified File Open dialog, from which you can browse the various backups you’ve created, diving into the full backup or just the files in your user account.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
With either Browse for files or Browser for folders, you can dig in and route around inside the backup set.

Browse for folders. To recover entire folders full of files (and other folders).

Whichever method you choose, you can mark files and folder for restoration as you go and then continue looking for more.

3. When you’re ready to go, click the Next button in the Restore Files window. Windows Backup will prompt you to decide where you want to restore the files to; either to their original locations or to a different location.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
While you will often want to simply restore to the original location, sometimes it’s a good idea to see what’s in the backup before overwriting your files.

Choose one and then click Restore. Windows Backup will begin restoring your files. If there any of the backup files will overwrite an existing file, you’ll see the normal File Copy window shown below, which offers you a chance to overwrite, copy but keep both files, or don’t copy.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Make sure you don’t wipe out anything important while restoring files.

When the restore is complete, Windows Backup will let you know that the files have been restored and give you an opportunity to view a list of restored files.
Backing Up the Entire PC: System Image

Backing up and restoring data files is important and should occur on a regular basis; but over the past few years, a new type of backup utility that backs up entire PC systems using system images has become quite popular. These types of backups protect against a hardware disaster: If your hard drive completely fails, for example, you can purchase a new drive and use the system image to restore the PC to its previous state.

System imaging utilities aren?t actually all that new; corporations have been using them for years. But now that consumer-oriented system-imaging utilities have gained in popularity, Microsoft has created its own version, which it includes with Windows 7.

Secret: The system image utility was called Windows Complete PC Backup in Windows Vista.

Secret: System imaging utilities typically compress the data on your hard drives so that the image file takes up a lot less space than the original installation. Various solutions use different compression schemes, but you may be interested to know that Windows 7 uses the tried-and-true Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format that Microsoft also uses in Windows Virtual PC and its server-based Hyper-V virtualization solutions. That means system images created with Windows 7 will be supported for a long time to come.

Caution: System images contain complete PC environments. You can?t arbitrarily restore only parts of a system image, as you can with data backups. Instead, when you restore a system image, it restores the entire PC and overwrites any existing operating system you may already have on there. That means you should be careful before restoring a system image: Any data you have on the disk will be overwritten. Of course, you?re using automatic backups, too, right?

To create a system image, launch Backup and Restore and click the Create a system image link on the left. This launches the Create a system image wizard, shown below, which walks you through the steps needed to completely back up your PC system. You can save system images to hard disks or optical storage (such as recordable CDs or DVDs), as well as network locations (Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate only). However, network-based system images cannot be securely protected, as hard drive- and optical disc-based backups can.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
System image is one of the best features in Windows 7.

Secret: You can only write a system image to a hard disk that is formatted with the NTFS file system. That?s because system images often exceed the 4GB file size limit imposed by the older and less reliable FAT32 file system.

Click Next. The wizard will give you a chance to confirm the backup settings and remind you which partitions are being imaged. It will also provide an estimate of the amount of space needed to create a system image. The required storage space varies according to the size and usage of the hard disk on your PC.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
System image is ready to go.

Click Start backup to begin the system image process.

Secret: Two file system locations must be included in the system image?what Microsoft refers to as the boot partition and the system partition. The boot partition is always C:\, whereas the system partition is the drive with the Windows 7 Windows directory. This is typically C:, but if you installed Windows 7 in a dual-boot setup with a previous Windows version, the system partition might be in a different location. If you have other drives or partitions, you can optionally choose to include them in the system image as well.

As the image is created, Windows Backup will provide an ongoing progress indicator.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Though complete PC backups are huge, they are compressed and therefore much smaller than the actual disk to which you are backing.

This process could take some time, especially on a heavily used PC. When it’s done, Windows Backup will prompt you to create a system repair disc. You should do so: While Windows 7 does install recovery files directly into the boot partition, in some cases, these files will not boot the PC. If that happens, you can use the system repair disc to boot your PC, a requirement for restoring the entire PC with the system image (as we’ll see in the next section).

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
If you don’t have one already, be sure to create a system repair disc.

Secret: You can use any writeable CD or DVD for a system repair disc.

Secret: If you have both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 on different PCs, you cannot use the same system repair disc for each. Instead, you must create separate system repair discs for 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

Restoring the Entire PC

If a catastrophic hardware or software failure has rendered your computer untenable, and you simply want to return to a known-good system backup, you can use one of the system images you’ve previously created to do so. Note, however, that you will typically need to boot your PC into the Windows Recovery Environment to make this happen, either using the boot files on your PC or the system repair disc that you previously created. Note, too, that restoring your PC in this fashion will wipe out all of the data and settings changes you’ve made since the last system image. So this should not be undertaken lightly.

Follow these steps to restore your entire PC using a system image:

1. Reboot the computer.

2. If you are using a system repair disc, boot the PC with that. Otherwise, after your PC has finished its BIOS sequence, hold down the F8 key. Choose Repair Your Computer from the Advanced Boot Options screen (below) and tap Enter.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
Choose the top option to restore your entire PC.

3. After the loading files screen, choose the correct language and keyboard input method and then click Next.

4. If you booted from the hard drive, you will need to choose System Image Recovery from the System Recovery Options window that appears. Otherwise, System Recovery will examine the hard drives attached to your PC and look for Windows installs. When it’s done, it will list the install(s) it found and give you the opportunity to use Windows 7’s built-in recovery tools to fix problems with Windows (which we cover in Chapter 24) or you can restore your PC to an earlier time using a system image. Choose that latter option and click Next.

5. The Re-image your computer wizard begins. In the first phase of this wizard, you choose the latest image available (the default) or you can select a different system image. When you’ve chosen, click Next.

Windows 7 Feature Focus: Backup and Restore
This wizard will step you through the process of restoring your PC with a system image.

6. In the next step, you can choose to format the PC’s hard drive and repartition disks (as Windows 7 Setup would do) to match the layout of the system image. Generally speaking, you should enable this option. Click Next to continue.

7. In the final phase of the wizard, you can verify what you’re doing and click Finish to continue. Note that restoring an entire PC from a system image can be a time consuming process.
But wait, there’s more…

There’s much more going on with Windows 7’s data protection features, but you’ll have to check out Windows 7 Secrets for the rest, including the Windows Recovery Environment, Previous Versions, and System Restore. (We also cover Live Mesh and Windows Live SkyDrive, too.) The book is available now from and other booksellers. Click here to find out more about Windows 7 Secrets.

Internet Explorer Feature Focus Download Manager

While Internet Explorer’s rivals have had download managers for years, users of the Microsoft browser have had to suffer along with a more limited and less useful downloading capability. Until now, that is: With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft is finally adding a download manager to the dominant web browser line. And while they may be late to the game, IE 9’s download manager is, as you might expect, quite a bit more capable than those of its rivals.

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On the surface, the IE 9 download manager works much like similar features in other browsers. When you trigger a download, the IE 9 notification bar appears, asking you if you’d like to run or save the file, much like previous IE versions. But while there are prominent Run and Save buttons (as well as Cancel), the Save button has an ancillary drop-down that lets you choose between Save, Save as, and Save and run.

If you do choose to download the file, a View downloads button will appear, giving you access to the download manager. (You can also trigger this view by clicking Tools and then Download manager or with the CTRL + J.)

The download manager window provides a handy central location for viewing and tracking your downloads. Each entry in the list provides a location link, so you can jump directly to the folder in question, a Run or Open/Open with button so you can access the individual files, and a Remove (“X”) button so you can remove that file from the list.

Secret: If you mouse over the an item that is still downloading you can find out the transfer speed:

You can also clear the entire list and access a very simple Options window that lets you set the default download location.

OK, so most of that is likely familiar to you, if you’ve used other browsers. Where the IE 9 download manager improves on that basic design is through its integration with the IE security features, the SmartScreen Filter and a new SmartScreen download reputation service.

The SmartScreen Filter debuted in IE 8, providing users of that browser with integrated protection against electronic threats. In IE 9, the SmartScreen Filter works with the download manager, and the new download reputation service, to provide similar protections against threats from downloaded files. It checks the reputation service, scans downloads for viruses, and verifies the source of the download.

“Downloads are attack vectors,” Microsoft general manager Dean Hachamovitch told me. “The question is, are you getting real stuff or are you getting malware? This is handled generically in other browsers , which leave answering these questions up to the user.”

According to Hachamovitch, he talked to the guys at Microsoft behind IE’s phishing filter and SmartScreen features and asked them about the best way to handle download manager security. “They told me we needed application reputation. Each time the browser goes to download a file, it should be able to query a database and ask, is this a commonly downloaded thing like iTunes? Is it signed? Who signed it? Are they OK?

“This is an early warning system for malware,” Hachamovitch said. “Of the stuff that people download that has no reputation data, about 30 to 40 percent is malware. You need an early warning system.”

Note: IE 9’s reputation checking is running in silent mode during the beta and will be enabled (during the beta) when Microsoft feels it has enough data to make accurate download decisions. This update will not require users to download any code or update the browser explicitly.
Final thoughts

The Internet Explorer download manager was a long time coming, but Microsoft’s decision to bolster this functionality with important security features was a good one. Worth the wait? Absolutely. And if you’ve been pining for a true download manager, IE 9 won’t force you to switch browsers or download and maintain a separate add-on.

Internet Explorer Feature Focus One Box

Like other browsers, Internet Explorer 9 dispenses with the traditionally separate address bar and search box, replacing both with a single control that Microsoft calls the One Box. The IE 9 One Box, shown below, provides a single place for getting started, whether that means navigating to a particular site or searching for a site, term, or phrase.

IE 9 One Box

While other browser makers may have beaten Microsoft to market with a single, all-in-one address bar, IE 9 goes further than the competition in many ways. Key among these is keystroke privacy, which is enabled by default. In other browsers, each keystroke you type is sent automatically to the configured search provider. But in IE 9, this is not the case: Keystrokes are not sent to the search provider unless you explicitly enable this functionality. (Doing so provides support for search suggestions, which are described below.)

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For the most part, navigation in the IE 9 One Box works as it did with the address bar in older IE versions. That is, you can select the control (ALT + D, or CTRL + L), type in a URL (with or without http://,www, or a site extension) and browse the web normally. According to Microsoft, One Box will evaluate single words to determine if they represent a valid URL (“apple” for, for example, or “microsoft” for If they do, it will load that site. (During the beta, this functionality does not appear to work correctly, however, loading instead the search provider’s results page.)

Inline autocomplete

As you type in the One Box, IE 9 provides inline autocomplete functionality so that you can quickly get to the sites you want after typing only a few letters. IE 9 anticipates your needs by autocompleting with popular web sites, and also with items from your Favorites and history. And if your search provider supports it, you can type in common terms like “news” or “music” to navigate quickly to the site you prefer.

IE 9 One Box Search

In previous versions of IE, you would need to select the dedicated Search box to search the web from the browser. But now you can do so from the One Box, by typing in a search term instead of a URL. For example, if you want to see a weather report, you could type “Seattle weather” (or whatever; no quotes) and tap ENTER, instead of manually navigating to or whatever site you might use.

IE 9 One Box Switch search providers

You can also switch search providers on the fly, and choose between Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and whatever other providers you like. So if you don’t see the results you want on one, you can easily try another. Search providers are accessed from the One Box drop down that appears as you type. Or, you can click and drag down on the One Box to display this drop down and select a new provider.

IE 9 One Box Use search suggestions
If you enable search suggestions, One Box will display search suggestions as you type directly in the drop down that appears. So as you type “Seattle weather” you’ll get the forecast inline, without having to display the search results page.

IE 9 One Box

These search suggestions are often very visual as well. So if you search for a product, place, or other thing, you will often see pictures inline in the drop down.

IE 9 One Box Corporate search
PCs that are connected to a corporate domain can use the IE 9 One Box to quickly find intranet sites using single words with a forward slash. So if you have an internal web site at http://vail, you can get there by typing vail/ in the IE 9 One Box. That’s because the single word vail, without the slash, would trigger a search.

Access browsing history and Favorites
To access your recent browsing history and Favorites directly from One Box, just click, hold, and drag down on the One Box control, or click the little down arrow at its far right.

IE 9 One Box Pin a web site

You can also pin a web site to the Windows 7 taskbar by dragging its web site icon from the One Box to the taskbar. This process is described in my Pinned Web Sites feature focus.

Windows 7 Product Editions: A Comparison

Back in February, I wrote an article, Windows 7 Product Editions, in which I discussed the various SKUs (stock keeping units, or product editions) that Microsoft would provide with its next operating system. Now, with nearly fully-functional versions of each product edition available to the public, I thought I’d provide a series of tables comparing each Windows 7 product editon, similar in scope to the work I did documenting Windows Vista.

I believe these tables will help you pick which Windows 7 product edition makes the most sense for you, based on your needs and wants. Let’s dive right in.

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Note: This set of tables has been updated for the final, shipping versions of Windows 7. Unlike similar comparisons, these tables were generated using not by simply observering each product edition, but also by using Microsoft’s internal reporting mechanisms to determine exactly which features are, in fact, available in each version. For this reason, I can reasonably state that this is the most complete and accurate list of Windows 7 features anywhere. That said, I’m still human and could have made mistakes transcribing the information. If you see anything wrong or missing, or would like to see a certain feature added, please contact me.
Finding what you need

Availability     User interface features
Security features     Performance features
Reliability features     Bundled applications
Digital media and devices     Networking features
Mobility features     Enterprise features


Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Retail packaging                 Yes     Yes     Ult. only
Can purchase electronically                 Yes     Yes     Ult. only
Pricing: Full version                 $199.99     $299.99     $319.99 (Ult)
Pricing: Upgrade version                 $119.99     $199.99     $219.99 (Ult.)
Bundled with new PCs in major markets           Yes     Yes     Yes     Ult. only
Windows Anytime Upgrade (WAU)     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
WAU pricing/To Home Premium     $79.99     $79.99
WAU pricing/To Professional           $114.99     $89.99
WAU pricing/To Ultimate     $164.99     $164.99     $139.99     $129.99
Virtualization rights (Can be installed in a virtual environment)                 Yes     Yes     Yes

User interface features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows Basic UI     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Standard UI     Yes           Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Aero UI (“Glass”)                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Aero Peek                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Aero Snaps     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Aero Shake                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Aero Background                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Libraries     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Flip     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Flip 3D                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Live Taskbar Previews     Yes           Yes     Yes     Yes
Live Preview (Explorer)                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Jump Lists     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Search     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes

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Security features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
More granular UAC     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Action Center     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Defender     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Firewall     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
IE 8 Protected Mode and DEP support     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Update (can access Microsoft Update)     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Fast User Switching     Yes           Yes     Yes     Yes
Parental Controls     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes

Performance features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows ReadyDrive     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows ReadyBoost     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
SuperFetch     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
64-bit processor support     No     No     Yes     Yes     Yes
Physical processor support     1     1     1     2     2
Processor core support     Unlimited     Unlimited     Unlimited     Unlimited     Unlimited
Max RAM (32-bit)     4 GB     4 GB     4 GB     4 GB     4 GB
Max RAM (64-bit)     n/a     n/a     16 GB     192 GB     192 GB

Reliability features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows Backup     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
System image     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Problem Steps Recorder     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Backup to network                       Yes     Yes
Encrypting File System (EFS)                       Yes     Yes
BitLocker                             Yes
BitLocker To Go                             Yes
Automatic hard disk defragmentation     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Previous Versions     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Create and attach (mount) VHD     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes

Bundled applications

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Internet Explorer 8     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Gadgets and Gallery     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Games Explorer with basic games (FreeCell, Hearts, Minesweeper, Purble Palace, Solitaire, Spider Solitaire)     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Premium games (Internet Backgammon, Internet Checkers, Internet Spades, Mahjong Titans)                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Calculator     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Paint     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Snipping Tool                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Sticky Notes                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Journal                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Fax and Scan     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows PowerShell and ISE     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
WordPad     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
XPS Viewer     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes

Digital media and devices

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows Photo Viewer     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Basic photo slide shows     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Media Player 12 with Play To     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Windows Media Player Remote Media Experience                 Yes     Yes     Yes
MPEG-2 decoding                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Dolby Digital compatibility                 Yes     Yes     Yes
AAC and H.264 decoding     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
DVD playback                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Can install MPEG-2 (DVD playback) add-in     Yes     Yes     n/a     n/a     n/a
Windows Media Center                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Number of TV tuners supported                 4 of each type (analog, digital, etc.)     4 of each type (analog, digital, etc.)     4 of each type (analog, digital, etc.)
Windows DVD Maker                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Device Stage     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Sync Center     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes

Networking features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
SMB connections     20     20     20     20     20
Network and Sharing Center     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
HomeGroup sharing     Join only     Join only     Yes     Yes     Yes
Ad-hoc network create and join     Yes     Yes, but accessible only via Start Menu Search     Yes     Yes     Yes
Improved power management     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Connect to a Projector     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Remote Desktop     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Remote Desktop Host                       Yes     Yes
IIS Web Server                 Yes     Yes     Yes
RSS support     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Internet Connection Sharing     Yes           Yes     Yes     Yes
Network Bridge     Yes           Yes     Yes     Yes
Offline files                       Yes     Yes

Mobility features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Windows Mobility Center     Yes (No presentation mode)           Yes (No presentation mode)     Yes     Yes
Windows Sideshow (Auxilliary display)                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Sync Center     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes     Yes
Tablet PC functionality                 Yes     Yes     Yes
Multi-Touch support                 Yes     Yes     Yes

Enterprise features

Home Basic     Starter     Home Premium     Professional     Enterprise & Ultimate
Domain join (Windows Server)                       Yes     Yes
XP Mode licensed                       Yes     Yes
AppLocker                             Yes
Boot from VHD                             Yes
BranchCache                             Yes
DirectAccess                             Yes
Federated Search (Enterprise Search Scopes)                             Yes
Multilingual User Interface (MUI) Language Packs                             Yes
Location-aware printing                       Yes     Yes
Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications                             Yes

With MED-V, Microsoft Moves One Step Closer to the Future of App Compatibility

Last week, Microsoft announced the availability of the 1.0 version of its Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) product, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) set of tools that the software giant makes available to its volume license customers. MED-V, along with associated tools like Virtual PC and App-V (Application Virtualization) is, I think, the future of Windows application compatibility, a theme we’ve discussed a few times here in the past. But now that MED-V has been finalized, what was once a theory can now be put to the test.

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MED-V removes one of the biggest barriers to adopting a new version of Windows because it eliminates the need for application compatibility testing. Until now, migrating to a new Windows version entails a lengthy compatibility testing process and, usually, investigations into what it will take to move critical custom applications, LOB (line of business) applications, and other client software over to the new OS. This delays the rollout of the new OS, and prevents users from taking advantage of that system’s enhanced security and functionality.

With MED-V, application compatibility is decoupled from the OS. Those applications that cannot run natively under the new Windows version can be deployed to desktops under a hidden Virtual PC-based virtual environment. To the end user, however, they’re simply running the applications that they need, and they don’t need to deal with separate virtual and physical desktops. Instead, MED-V allows virtualized applications to run side-by-side with native applications and interact properly with the underlying PC’s file system and other capabilities. The effect is nearly seamless.

With MED-V, you can run virtualized legacy applications alongside more modern local applications.

Of course, in its current incarnation, MED-V requires you to participate in Microsoft’s volume licensing program, which somewhat impacts its availability. Too, similar MDOP tools like App-V–which lets you essentially stream virtualized applications from a server to clients without requiring them to be installed locally–are similarly constrained from an availability perspective. But I have no doubt that Microsoft will make this technology more broadly available in the future, if only for the simple fact that it removes the need to saddle the core Windows OS with backwards-compatible APIs and components. Suddenly, the fetters are off.

Even Microsoft hints as much. On its MED-V web page, the software giant hints at future use-cases for MED-V beyond the 1.0 release: “In future releases, MED-V in conjunction with the new VECD [Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop] licensing, may be used to deliver a corporate virtual image to ‘unmanaged’ PCs, and reduce the tension between IT control and user flexibility. [This will] increase productivity for on-site contractors, offshore outsourcing and branch offices, enable employees to work from home or with personal laptops, [and] drive business continuity and recovery plans with virtual desktops anywhere.”

I’m excited about what this technology portends. I think it’s safe to say you can expect to see a lot more about this topic in the coming months. And if you’re already licensing MDOP or can do so, be sure to check out MED-V. It may just forever alter how you view application compatibility on new versions of Windows.

MED-V: The Final Piece of the Vista Compatibility Puzzle?

Microsoft this past week issued a beta version of its upcoming Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) tool, previously codenamed “Kidaro.” (Kidaro was the name of the company that originally created this technology; Microsoft purchased Kidaro in March 2008.) OK, so the name isn’t that great. But MED-V will be a key driver to more modern Windows versions because it provides enterprises with a way to overcome that final compatibility bump with Windows Vista and, soon, Windows 7.

As previously announced, MED-V will be made available to Software Assurance (SA) customers via the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which is already a stellar collection of virtualization and management tools. (We last discussed MDOP in A Look at Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack from April 2008.) This addition will make MDOP all the more valuable to SA customers, though I’d still like to see this important suite of functionality become available to a wider audience.

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MED-V builds off of Microsoft’s free Virtual PC desktop virtualization solution, but eliminates a key complaint about that product by removing the underlying virtual machine (VM) UI and allowing users to simply run Virtual PC-hosted applications as if they were installed locally on their PC. Consider the way Virtual PC normally works: The user would have to manually start up the VM, deal with two different Windows desktops (their “actual” desktop and the virtualized one), one of which is running in a window. And then they would have to remember where to find certain applications, as they typically run some things locally and some in the VM.

With MED-V, these distinctions disappear, and to the user, they’re using a single, cohesive environment. Shortcuts for virtualized applications and local applications appear side by side in the PC’s Start Menu, so users need only think of individual applications and not worry about which are running inside of virtualized environments and which are running natively. If there’s a major downside, it’s one of resource allotment: Virtualized applications still require the overhead of their virtualized OS, so the physical PC will typically need to be a bit beefier than that $399 Dell special.

From an administration perspective, MED-V allows enterprises to deploy virtualized applications on demand, and via a number of deployment technologies, including DVDs, USB memory fobs, and the web. You can use policies to lock down these environments, making MED-V a perfect solution for security conscious businesses with remote offices or transient workers. And MED-V can simplify management across the board because applications are decoupled from specific hardware configurations.

The biggest benefit to MED-V, however, is that it decouples application compatibility issues from the Windows OS for good, and my guess is that Microsoft will be closely watching how well this solution fares in the real world to determine whether it can form the basis for a broader compatibility break that could come in a future version of Windows. To date, one of the biggest concerns with any new Windows version is that it be compatible with legacy applications, some of which are over a decade old. This reliance has stymied innovation in some ways, because Microsoft must continually serve the needs of a market that stopped upgrading their applications years ago. With MED-V, it’s possible to gain the benefits of the newest Windows versions without worrying about application compatibility because it’s possible to use any previous Windows version as the guest OS for virtualized applications inside of this environment.

If MED-V sounds like it might be just the right fit for your enterprise, I recommend checking out the beta, which is now available via Microsoft’s Connect web site. The company has made a Quick Start Guide available as well.

Microsoft expects to ship the final version of MED-V sometime in the second quarter of 2009.

SBS 7 Highlights Gaps in Microsoft’s Small Business Strategy

The Windows Small Business Server (SBS) world is being torn asunder as you read this, thanks to Microsoft’s decision to split the product into two separate product lines that will, in effect, compete with each other.

OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But it’s impossible to evaluate both of these next-generation SBS products–SBS “Aurora,” which dispenses with most of the of the on-premise stuff in lieu of the cloud, and SBS “7,” which is basically just the next version of the SBS you all know and love–without feeling a bit conflicted.

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I’ve already discussed Aurora a number of times (see here and here). But since both products take a decidedly different tack, you might believe that Microsoft is hedging its bets between the cloud-based future and the on-premise past. But that’s not what’s happening here, not really. Microsoft’s bet, such as it is, is with the future, with the cloud, and with Aurora in the SBS space. SBS 7 exists solely because the software giant has already created a thriving ecosystem for partners that wish to sell and maintain SBS with their own customers. SBS 7 gives these customers a way to move forward.

Maybe “forward” isn’t the right word. SBS 7 gives Microsoft and its partners an upgrade to sell. But it’s an upgrade that is rooted firmly in the on-premise past. Those SBS-using small businesses that would like to move into the cloud can do so, of course. But they have to do that on their own.

Why is this? Simple: Microsoft’s partners–the customers that support traditional SBS products–have no incentive to push customers to the cloud. So while Microsoft can make the argument that SBS 7 provides its existing customers with a way to upgrade to the functional advances and improved security of its latest products, this product is really just a partner play. And at its heart, that’s what I don’t like about it. SBS 7 isn’t as customer-centric as it perhaps should be.

(That said, Aurora is perhaps too simplistic. Indeed, there’s a weird sense of “now what?” with Aurora.)

Hopefully, a future SBS version will bridge the gap between these two products, and Microsoft will provide an upgrade to existing SBS customers that lets them cross over to cloud-based solutions as an integrated part of the upgrade experience.

Perhaps. Meanwhile, back in the reality-land, I’ve spent much of the past week or so examining the next follow-up to Microsoft’s traditional SBS products, SBS 7. If you’re familiar with SBS, there are no major surprises. But if it’s been a while, here’s a quick overview.

SBS 7 installs as do traditional Windows Server versions and doesn’t utilize the super-simple Aurora-style installer. Indeed, the first phase of Setup is essentially identical to that of Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard (or even Windows 7), which is certainly simple enough. But in comparing SBS 7 with Aurora, you can see how the needle has moved even further towards idiot-proof in Aurora.

SBS 7 Highlights Gaps in Microsoft’s Small Business Strategy

Once Windows Server is installed, of course, you have to deal a bit of configuration as well as with the other Microsoft servers that are bundled into this product. It’s as tedious as ever, but no surprises there. Management occurs via the familiar management console, with its quick look at network health assessment column (where “green is good”).

Unlike Aurora, SBS 7 expects to be the center of your network, doling out DHCP addresses and whatnot. So it will detect the current network configuration and then seeks to replace it with its own scheme. This is actually understandable but speaks to the major underlying differences between Aurora and the old-school SBS 7.

Depending on your perspective, there are complexities–or tons of functionality–everywhere in SBS 7. You can create reports, manage software licenses, and access a variety of intranet web sites. There is a server firewall, a VPN connection, and a POP3 connector to think about. Users have roles, like Network Administrator and Standard User with administration links, and exist within groups, like Windows SBS Fax Users, Windows SBS SharePoint_MembersGroup and many more.

SBS 7 Highlights Gaps in Microsoft’s Small Business Strategy

Put more simply, SBS 7 is too complex for a small business. And while the original ideas behind SBS were always well intentioned, in today’s world, this product seems anachronistic. Where Aurora can be set up and forgotten, SBS 7 requires your time. It needs to be managed. I believe this product was specifically engineered to require oversight.

I understand that there are those fans of SBS who will recoil at my opinion of this product. But at least let me offer you this roundabout fig leaf: Microsoft’s online offerings are also woefully unprepared for the unwashed masses. Primarily, the issue is cost, not quality. With Google offering a free version of its Google Apps solution, I’m unclear on why small businesses–especially the smallest of small businesses–would ever opt to pay for Microsoft’s. It’s that simple.

For this reason, I suspect that the vast majority of small business customers out there that do adopt a Microsoft server product in the future will choose Aurora. But they’ll also adopt Google Apps, and not Microsoft’s BPOS or other hosted services, as the Microsoft offerings are just too expensive. And this is a situation that needs to change.

Note: Coincidentally, Microsoft this week touted some BPOS (and Live @edu) “wins,” including a tripling of the BPOS installed base and adoptions by some impressive corporations. This is fantastic, and no one is suggesting that BPOS isn’t a great offering for mid-sized businesses and the enterprise. My concern here is more for small businesses.

Microsoft and HTML 5: Solving the Compatibility Problem

At the Professional Developers Conference 2010 (PDC10) last week, a Microsoft executive misspoke, or at least over-generalized, with regards to the software giant’s plans for HTML 5 and Silverlight, kicking off an online debate about the viability of the respective technologies and a hasty public statement on Microsoft’s corporate web site. But this episode underscores a much deeper problem around compatibility that is going to dog businesses of all sizes for years to come, a situation that will only be exacerbated by the popularity of heterogeneous smart phone platforms.

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What kicked this all off was a set of comments by Microsoft Server and Tools president Bob Muglia about Microsoft’s strategy for Silverlight. “HTML is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including [Apple’s] iOS platform,” he said. “Our Silverlight strategy and focus going forward has shifted … Silverlight is our development platform for Windows Phone.”

This seems straightforward enough. But with developers up in arms over the possibility that Microsoft was deemphasizing Silverlight on the PC and on the web, the software giant was doing some backpedaling early this week. “Silverlight is very important and strategic to Microsoft,” Muglia wrote in a statement on the Silverlight team blog. [It’s] “a core application development platform for Windows, and it’s the development platform for Windows Phone.”

I have to be honest: That revised statement is more in keeping with my understanding about Microsoft’s plans for Silverlight. And if you really care about Silverlight for some reason, please do read the whole open letter.

This specific topic isn’t of particular interest to me, however. Most businesses are never going to embrace Silverlight, at least not on Windows or the web. Heck, many businesses still haven’t moved off of Internet Explorer 6 anyway. Silverlight isn’t even on the menu. It may never be.

What I am interested in is how we solve the compatibility problems that have arisen in the wake of the platform diversification that has been sweeping IT. And this is across the board: On servers, on the desktop, and now on mobile devices.

While the server is unique and perhaps outside the bounds of this discussion, the client desktop and mobile devices come with arguably identical issues around compatibility. But unlike in the past, these issues are no longer insurmountable, or at least don’t have to be. And the solution, in both cases, is HTML 5. And the driver, in both cases, is user demand.

The latter is perhaps easier to explain. Whereas it was inconceivable that many users in a typical business would be able to choose a Mac over a PC, that’s no longer the case. Thanks to steady and regular market share gains, the Mac now has an appreciable share of the market, especially in the US, where Apple has exceeded 10 percent market share.

The demand for Macs comes, of course, from the demand for iPhones, which is in turn even more voluminous. A good experience with the iPhone leads to evangelism with other users, and also to repeated trips to the Apple basket, with more and more users considering and purchasing other Apple products, including Macs, iPads, and iPods. It is, as Apple recently noted, a virtuous cycle.

Android has benefitted from a similar popular demand on the mobile device side, and with Google’s platform, of course, users also have more choice, both with hardware models and with wireless carriers. Android and iPhone smart phones and, to a lesser extent, Macs are recasting the possibilities for knowledge workers, and not just those that are always on the go.

The problem with these disparate platforms, at least theoretically, is compatibility. This was a bigger issue in the past than it is now, however. As Google noted at its Google I/O conference earlier this year, no major new PC-specific applications have appeared in the past several years. Instead, all the major new apps have been web based, and run equally well on standards-based browsers on any desktop OS, including Windows, the Mac, and even Linux.

And while some Windows-centric shops are still building Windows-based applications, many intranets and extranets are completely web-based, and if they’re not, they should be. Embracing web standards can eliminate a lot of problems, and for those few remaining monolithic desktop apps like Microsoft Office, heck, there’s a good version for the Mac too.

And when it comes to web standards, the industry is rallying around something called HTML 5, which is really HTML 5 plus a host of related technologies, including in-progress versions of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), the JavaScript/ECMAScript programming language, and more. HTML 5 is more promise than reality–right now–but even Microsoft is embracing it, their predictable backpedaling on Silverlight notwithstanding. It’s pretty clear that the changes we’re seeing in Internet Explorer 9 are only the beginning: I expect this trend to accelerate in Windows 8, due just 18 months from now.

On the mobile side, HTML 5 is a bit more future-leaning, but could, I think, bridge the gap between disparate and incompatible platforms like the iPhone, Android, and, soon, Windows Phone, just as it is on the desktop. Today, these smart phones all run different OSes with incompatible apps. But if developers create mobile web solutions instead of native apps–as they have on the desktop–this problem can be erased, where possible. In many cases, there won’t be any need to develop three completely different apps in different environments, and with different languages. Instead, they can create a single web app.

Microsoft is wise to restate its goals for Silverlight. But make no mistake: The software giant is embracing HTML 5 as its path to the future. You should as well.

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