Microsoft Plays Feature Shell Game In Windows 7


Earlier this week when Microsoft unveiled its lineup of six Windows 7 SKUs, the company said it expects Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Home Premium to fit the needs of most customers, with the former aimed at consumers and the latter aimed at users that need more features and functionality.

"Windows 7 Professional is the recommended choice for small businesses and for people who work at home but have to operate in an IT-managed or business environment where security and productivity are critical," said Windows General Manager Mike Ybarra in a Q&A.

But Windows 7 Professional won't include BitLocker (full disk encryption) and Applocker (software restriction policy manager). It also won't include new Windows 7 features like Direct Access, which securely connects mobile workers to corporate networks without VPN; or BranchCache, which stores frequently used data locally to improve network performance at remote locations.

To get these features, customers will have to either buy the pricier Windows 7 Ultimate -- which Microsoft expects to see limited distribution -- or Windows 7 Enterprise, which is only available through volume licensing.

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This isn't that surprising: BitLocker was only available with Vista Ultimate and Vista Enterprise, and Microsoft, of course, has every right to try to drive users to premium versions of Windows using the carrot-on-a-stick approach to feature sets. Still, when Microsoft was backed up against the wall by Vista critics, the company often mentioned BitLocker as an example of the value in Vista that didn't exist in XP.

One of the security industry's most oft-repeated maxims is that small businesses need strong security just as much as larger ones do. That's why some solution providers believe Microsoft shouldn't be using security as an up-selling tool.

"The way Microsoft is breaking out features like BitLocker shows me that they're not serious about security," said Jay Tipton, vice president of Fort Wayne, Ind.-based solution provider Technology Specialists. "And if Microsoft really wants to simplify things, why not just have Home and Business versions?"

Susan Bradley, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist partner based in Fresno, Calif., says small businesses could benefit from features like BitLocker, BranchCache and Direct Access. "But the message from Microsoft is that, unless I am one of their enterprise customers, I shouldn't need such things," she said.

Added Bradley: "There are many third-party -- and free -- alternatives to encryption right now. All Microsoft is doing in the small business marketplace is making us be creative in looking for alternatives."