Windows 7: What's New in the Last Beta

While the hot-off-the-presses Windows 7 release candidate has no radical changes from the beta version released in January, it does have a bundle of interface tweaks as well as some minor changes to security and networking features.

From more keyboard shortcuts to new control over jump lists from the taskbar to some new and trippy desktop backgrounds, UI adjustments abound in Windows 7 RC.

But these are workmanlike tweaks, not new features. Nevertheless, Windows 7 RC does have two brand-new features that are generating buzz: Remote Media Streaming, which that lets users stream media to PCs outside of the home, and Windows XP Mode, a controversial add-on in Windows 7 that runs Windows XP applications in a virtual machine.

Jeff Price, senior director of Windows product management, discussed these two features with CIO.com.

Remote Media Streaming

Mostly for consumers and small businesses, Remote Media Streaming in Windows 7 extends the media sharing abilities of Homegroup - which links Windows 7 PCs in a home to share media - to the outside world.

Remote Media Streaming "allows you to take media sharing on the go," says Microsoft's Price. So, the media library full of songs and photos that a person could access on any laptop in their home network can be accessed anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection.

"Whether in the home or remotely you get the same access to media. I think this feature will be a lot of fun for people," says Price. "If I chose to play a song from my home media library at Starbucks, it would stream it over the Internet. I'm not copying the songs and photos over or synchronizing them. I can just view the library and play them."

Remote Media Streaming is unique to the Windows 7 RC, and is not included in the Windows 7 beta.

Windows XP Mode

This virtualization feature designed for enterprises is a free, downloadable add on to Windows 7 RC. It allows users to run older XP-only applications on Windows 7 through a Microsoft virtual machine that contains a licensed copy of Windows XP SP3. Windows XP Mode is currently in beta.

XP Mode is not for consumers, and will only work with the Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions of Windows 7. It is designed for enterprises with mission-critical apps that have not been updated to work with Vista or Windows 7. Users can run the app in XP Mode until they upgrade to a newer version.

XP Mode is likely Microsoft's response to enterprise IT pros who have been hesitant to upgrade from XP because of compatibility worries and negative perceptions of Vista.

The add-on does give IT pros a much-needed compatibility option, but XP Mode has been met with some early criticism, including predictions of support headaches for IT pros, who will now have to manage two versions of Windows and could become spoiled by virtualization and delay making sure all their apps work with Windows 7.

Additionally, not all microprocessors from Intel and AMD support virtualization, hence some laptops may not be able to run Windows XP Mode.

But with regards to easing compatibility fears of the XP faithful, Windows XP Mode is arguably Microsoft's most compelling case to date.

"This feature is for XP-only line of business apps that companies are planning to update but just aren't quite ready yet," says Price. "XP Mode gives them a good transition tool to ease the deployment of Windows 7."

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