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The big question rises how to become the Microsoft certified , All Microsoft certifications are acquired by simply taking a series of exams. If you can self-study for said exams, and then pass them, then you can acquire the certification for the mere cost of the exam (and maybe whatever self-study materials you purchase).

You’ll also need, at minimum (in addition to the MCTS), the CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ certs; as well as the Cisco CCNA cert.

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) – This is the basic entry point of Microsoft Certifications. You only need to pass a single certification test to be considered an MCTS and there are numerous different courses and certifications that would grant you this after passing one. If you are shooting for some of the higher certifications that will be discussed below, then you’ll get this on your way there.

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) – This certification was Microsoft’s previous “Developer Certification” meaning that this was the highest certification that was offered that consisted strictly of development-related material. Receiving it involved passing four exams within specific areas (based on the focus of your certification). You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCPD here.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) – This is Microsoft’s most recent “Developer Certification” which will replace the MCPD Certification (which is being deprecated / retired in July of 2013). The MCSD focuses within three major areas of very recent Microsoft development technologies and would likely be the best to persue if you wanted to focus on current and emerging skills that will be relevant in the coming years. You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCSD here.

The Microsoft Certifications that you listed are basically all of the major ones within the realm of development. I’ll cover each of the major ones and what they are :

Most people, however, take some kind of course. Some colleges — especially career and some community colleges — offer such courses (though usually they’re non-credit). Other providers of such courses are private… some of them Microsoft Certified vendors of one type or another, who offer the courses in such settings as sitting around a conference table in their offices. Still others specialize in Microsoft certification training, and so have nice classrooms set up in their offices.

There are also some online (and other forms of distance learning) courses to help prepare for the exams.

The cost of taking classes to prepare can vary wildly. Some are actually free (or very nearly so), while others can cost hundreds of dollars. It all just depends on the provider.

And here’s a Google search of MCTS training resources (which can be mind-numbing in their sheer numbers and types, so be careful what you choose):

There are some pretty good, yet relatively inexpensive, ways to get vendor certificate training. Be careful not to sign-up for something expensive and involved when something cheaper — like subscribing to an “all the certificates you care to study for one flat rate” web site — would, in addition to purchasing a study guide or two at a bookstore, likely be better.

If you want a career in IT, then you need to have both an accredited degree in same (preferably a bachelors over an associates), and also a variety of IT certifications. The MCTS is but one that you will need.

You should probably also get the Microsoft MCSE and/or MCSA. The ICS CISSP. And the ITIL.

There are others, but if you have those, you’ll be evidencing a broad range of IT expertise that will be useful, generally. Then, in addition, if the particular IT job in which you end-up requires additional specialist certification, then you can get that, too (hopefully at the expense of your employer who requires it of you).

Then, whenever (if ever) you’re interested in a masters in IT, here’s something really cool of which you should be aware…

There’s a big (and fully-accredited, fully-legitimate) university in Australia which has partnered with Microsoft and several other vendors to structure distance learning degrees which include various certifications; and in which degrees, considerable amounts of credit may be earned simply by acquiring said certifications. It’s WAY cool.

One can, for example, get up to half of the credit toward a Masters degree in information technology by simply getting an MCSE (though the exams which make it up must be certain ones which correspond with the university’s courses). I’ve always said that if one were going to get an MCSE, first consult the web site of this university and make sure that one takes the specific MCSE exams that this school requires so that if ever one later decided to enter said school’s masters program, one will have already earned up to half its degree’s credits by simply having the MCSE under his/her belt. Is that cool, or what?

I wouldn’t rely on them over experience (which is far and away the most valuable asset out there) but they are worth pursuing especially if you don’t feel like you have enough experience and need to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills to land a position as a developer.

If you are going to pursue a certification, I would recommend going after the MCSD (Web Applications Track) as it is a very recent certification that focuses on several emerging technologies that will still be very relevant (if not more-so) in the coming years. You’ll pick up the MCTS along the way and then you’ll have both of those under your belt. MCPD would be very difficult to achieve based on the short time constraints (passing four quite difficult tests within just a few months is feasible, but I don’t believe that it is worth it since it will be “retired” soon after).

No job experience at all is necessary for any of the Microsoft Certifications, you can take them at any time as long as you feel confident enough with the materials of the specific exam you should be fine. The tests are quite difficult by most standards and typically cover large amounts of material, but with what it sounds like a good bit of time to study and prepare you should be fine.

Certifications, in addition to degrees, are so important in the IT field, now, that one may almost no longer get a job in that field without both. The certifications, though, are so important that one who has a little IT experience can get a pretty good job even without a degree as long as he has all the right certs. But don’t do that. Definitely get the degree… and not merely an associates. Get the bachelors in IT; and make sure it’s from a “regionally” accredited school.

Then get the certs I mentioned (being mindful, if you think you’ll ever get an IT masters, to take the specific exams that that Strut masters program requires so that you’ll have already earned up to half the credit just from the certs).

If you already have two years of experience in working in the .NET environment, a certification isn’t going to guarantee that you will get employed, a salary increase or any other bonuses for achieving the honor. However, it can help supplement your resume by indicating that you are familiar with specific technologies enough to apply them in real-world applications to solve problems.

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Color, a revolutionary new iPhone and Android application from Bill Nguyen, the creator of the La La music service, is poised to change the way you view mobile photo sharing and social networking.

The free app, which is set to hit the Apple App Store and Android Market tomorrow, lets people in close proximity to one another gain real-time access to photos, video, and text messages, simultaneouly, from multiple smartphones. Color aims to make photo sharing easy by eliminating the need for multi-step signups, and emailing or uploading images and videos.

Color is powered by Multi-lens, a patent-pending technology that identifies other smartphones through the use of proximity algorithms. Every photo, video, or text message captured by each Color-enabled smartphone (it works cross-platform on both Android and iOS handsets) is instantly shared with surrounding phones also running Color. This lets users see and keep all photos taken during a specific moment (such as a party or sporting event), and eliminates storage capacity concerns as the images are stored in the cloud.
Color

 

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I had a chance to sample Color two weeks ago. Photos and video are easily searchable as the thumbnail images are grouped based on the time it was taken; you can scroll through days, weeks, or months on touchscreen-enabled phones. Tapping a thumbnail image serves up not just the photo, but contextual information, letting you see what was involved, who saw it, and whatever conversations it sparked.

Naturally, privacy is a concern when it comes to the public sharing of images. Color maintains a strict public use policy to ensure that everything shared is appropriate for all ages. Its creators expect that users will use real-life etiquette and accountability for all their photographed actions as they will be immediately shared by others. Any violation of decency can result in permanent suspension of service for a specific handset (the software is tied to a cell phone’s user ID).

“Color is the most advanced and intuitive way to share with your iPhone and other smart phones,” said Bill Nguyen, Color’s CEO. “We are happiest when we experience life together. Not alone and days later online. By creating Color, we made it possible to instantly capture, experience and share life with those around you without rigid Web concepts like ‘friending.’ We believe real social interactions are dynamic and evolve with time.”

Color will be available tomorrow via the Apple App Store and the Android Market in the U.S., parts of Europe, and Asia. Color supports iPhone 3GS and 4 on both GSM and CDMA networks, and 4th generation iPod touch.

Windows Phone 7 developers got an unexpected present from Microsoft this holiday season: early payouts (bumped up to January from February) and immediate access to downloads and sales data (originally slated for February as well). I don’t know why Microsoft had a sudden change of heart, but I do know that there was a widely circulated and quoted, copied, and imitated article about how hard it was to make development decisions regarding the server-side end of Windows Phone 7 apps without this data. The timing of the change in course for Microsoft and the publication of that article (November 29, 2010) is curious indeed.

Before this information was released, developers were really frustrated because they knew the data existed. Bing’s Visual Search was showing the “download popularity” of apps for a short period of time (incidentally, I think that the ranking weights recent downloads much more than past downloads), and developers were finding other ways to get the data (such as pinging a Web service when an app was run for the first time or purchased).

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A look at the numbers
From my perspective, the numbers are positively abysmal. I am not going to comment on how these numbers may indicate potential handset sales because I don’t know nearly enough about the correlation between the number of handsets sold and the actual sales numbers on other platforms to make any guesses. I have said that Windows Phone 7 development should be thought of as a hobby or a learning experience rather than a business model, and I was spot on. Let’s look at the data for my Windows Phone 7 apps to see what I mean.

My first Windows Phone 7 app was the free Airport Status Checker. It’s hardly a unique app, and it’s limited in scope. Incidentally, the app has a poor user rating (one-and-a-half stars from three reviewers, last I checked), but since a good number of the downloaders are outside the United States, and it only works for U.S. airports, I suspect that is the source of the poor ratings. At one point, Bing Visual Search showed it as #272 in the rankings, but it has been slowly slipping. A friend reports that his apps are slowly slipping, as is my other app that has been out a while, which is why I believe that recent downloads are more important in the rankings. All the same, it is still at the bottom of the top 10% of applications on the platform, which isn’t too shabby.

Airport Status Checker had just over 900 downloads in a month, but let’s put this into perspective. Every now and then, I post source code that accompanies one of my TechRepublic articles to my company’s Web site, and those packages get over 900 downloads in several days, so 900 downloads does not impress me. That’s the number of downloads that some obscure, niche piece of shareware can get on one of the major shareware/freeware/trialware sites. Of course, the phone market is much, much smaller. At the same time, the Windows Phone 7 App Hub is too. It isn’t the saturated market that the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace are. You can write a throwaway app like Airport Status Checker, and it will still stand out a little (it didn’t help that I used a public domain icon that a number of other apps used too).

But what do the numbers on a paid application look like? My Local Crime Rate application has been ranked at the top of the bottom 50% for a while, coming out around #1,700 and sliding down to around #2,000. It has been out nearly a month. It is priced at 99 cents, and does not have a free trial. It has a whopping seven downloads. Assuming the pace of sales holds steady, accounting for Microsoft taking 30% of revenues and holding checks until you’ve earned $200 in payouts, it would take me over 288 months to see my first $200 check from Local Crime Rate. And that is an app that is not doing too poorly in the overall rankings. That tells me that apps in the bottom 50% are looking at 10 downloads per month, or less.

My third application, Name That Nerd, provides some additional clues. After about a week in the market, it is rated #2,006 (out of 3,000 listed). It has 24 downloads and 1 sale. Extrapolating a little bit more, that’s 100 downloads a month and 4 sales (at 99 cents each). I can understand the low sales numbers — it’s a quiz application, and I simply did not put many entries into the quiz database (I was in a hurry to get it approved so I could enter a contest). I take full credit for the sales numbers.

The top apps are pretty high-quality, for the most part. Kudos to the folks who put forth the time and effort to making something good. (There are reports that Microsoft has been slipping payments to developers to port apps or develop apps for Windows Phone 7.) That said, my Airport Status Checker app shows that you can be in the top 10% (which isn’t a bad place to be) and not be moving many units. If it was a paid app, even with a 20% conversion rate (which is phenomenal), that would be under $200 in sales because Microsoft took its percentage. While $200 in sales is a good number for an application that required this level of effort, it is abysmal for anything that I would have spent much time and effort on.

Conclusion
My advice still stands for the time being: do not develop applications for Windows Phone 7 with the expectation that you will make big bucks. Does this mean that there is no opportunity in the Windows Phone 7 App Hub to make money? Not at all. I think that the market is wide open for apps.

Games and entertainment dominate the top apps, but outside the top tier, the apps look pretty run-of-the mill, with a lot of unit converters, flashlights, and dice rolling applications. The applications are mostly uninteresting right now. I think that the folks who can fulfill basic, mass market need (say, an outstanding Twitter or Facebook application for 99 cents), put together a polished game, or create a must have business application will be on to something. I am sure that there is a logarithmic rise in download rates in the top 100 as well.

So, if you have an app that you think can get into the top 100, or it will be something with staying power and earn enough per month to make you happy, by all means, go for it. But if your plan is to count on the sheer number of downloads to carry a niche or less than stellar product into profitability, you are mistaken. Windows Phone 7 just does not have the number of handsets out there for a “throw mud to the wall and see what sticks” strategy to get a great success unless you have a way of cranking out mud at a rapid pace.

Microsoft has warned of a vulnerability found across the range of desktop and server Windows offerings that could potentially allow an attacker to run malicious scripts through a web page.

The vulnerability, which was first reported on Friday by the Redmond-based software giant, impacts all “supported” editions of Windows, including Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2003 and 2008.

Microsoft says the exploit is a result of a bug in Windows’ MHTML handler, which the software giant says interprets MIME-formatted requests in a way in which attackers could be able to take advantage of the tool.

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“The vulnerability exists due to the way MHTML interprets MIME-formatted requests for content blocks within a document. It is possible for this vulnerability to allow an attacker to run script in the wrong security context,” Microsoft said.

“The vulnerability could allow an attacker to cause a victim to run malicious scripts when visiting various Web sites, resulting in information disclosure. This impact is similar to server-side cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities.”

At this stage it’s understood the vulnerability has not yet been exploited by malicious parties, despite a number of sites publishing information about the problem.

“Microsoft is aware of published information and proof-of-concept code that attempts to exploit this vulnerability,” the company warns, explaining that “at this time, Microsoft has not seen any indications of active exploitation of the vulnerability.”

A patch is being prepared by Microsoft, but in the meantime the company is encouraging those who feel worried about the vulnerability to download the FixIt steps provided here. The FixIt download also includes a proof-of-concept tool which allows users to test whether the fix has worked or if they are still open to the exploit.

The CEO of home networking giant Netgear has hit out at Apple chief Steve Jobs and his company’s ”closed” approach to products.

Speaking in Sydney, Australia, Patrick Lo said Apple’s ”closed and proprietary products” would soon be overtaken by open alternatives, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. ”Ultimately a closed system just can’t go that far … If they continue to close it and let Android continue to creep up then it’s pretty difficult as I see it,” he said.


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Apple’s domination of many product categories had allowed the company to succeed – but that wouldn’t always be the case, he said. ”Right now the closed platform has been successful for Apple because they’ve been so far ahead as thought leaders because of Steve Jobs,” he said.

Mr Jobs will step back from the company’s day to day operations after announcing earlier this month that he will take a second medical leave of absence, though he will remain CEO of Apple. Despite his apparent praise for Mr Jobs, Mr Lo wasn’t pulling any punches when it came to the Apple’s ”visionary” leader. ”Steve Jobs wants to suffocate the distribution so even though he doesn’t own the content he could basically demand a ransom,” he said. He said Mr Jobs’ public denouncing of Adobe’s Flash standard in favour of HTML5 was driven by ego. ”What’s the reason for him to trash Flash? There’s no reason other than ego,” he said.

Mr Lo predicted Google’s Android mobile OS would eventually end up on top of the mobile heap and establish itself in a range of devices including TVs and home media servers.

Microsoft also copped a lashing, with Mr Lo declaring that just over three months after it launched, Windows Phone 7 was a failure. ”Microsoft is over – game over – from my point of view,” he said. It is worth noting that Mr Lo did not elaborate on his last jab, leaving the distinct possibility that the cocky CEO simply felt like making an attention-grabbing statement.

V3.co.uk celebrates 25 years of Windows with 25 amazing facts covering the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Jerry Seinfeld and Brian Eno

It’s 25 years since Microsoft launched the first version of Windows, and what started out in November 1985 as a graphical front end for DOS has grown into the most widely used operating system. To mark Windows’ 25th, we’ve put together 25 facts about the OS to highlight some of the more memorable moments in its history.

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1. The origins of Windows can be traced to September 1981 when Microsoft began working on a project entitled Interface Manager.

2. The release of Windows 1.0 in 1985 was actually two years later than planned. We’d be on Windows 8 now if they’d stuck to their schedules.

3. Microsoft supported Windows 1.0 until the final day of 2001, some 16 years later.

4. Windows 3.1, despite being first launched in 1992, found a niche role as an embedded operating system, and was still in use in 2008 by Virgin Atlantic and Qantas in some onboard entertainment systems on long-distance flights.

5. Fortune named Microsoft as the ‘Most Innovative Company Operating in the US’ in 1993 as sales of Windows started to rocket.

6. Many editions of Windows required endless floppy disks to install the system. For example, Windows 95 came on 13 disks.

7. Microsoft used Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones on adverts for the launch of Windows 95. The Stones were reportedly paid between $8m and $14m, but this is said to be a gross exaggeration.

8. Music was also part of the obligatory free stuff that Microsoft bundled in with Windows 95 – to be exact, a video of Buddy Holly by rock band Weezer to show off the system’s multimedia capabilities.

9. Microsoft also cashed in on the success of Friends in the 1990s by commissioning a promotional video, labeled a ‘cyber sitcom’, featuring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry showing off the top 25 features of Windows 95. The firm claimed it was a “fast and funny” guide to the new operating system. It was anything but.

In February, at the VS Live! conference in San Francisco, Microsoft announced some anticipated changes to its developer certification program. These changes updated the company’s certification offerings for the new .NET development platform and included a new “MCSD Junior” certification, called Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD). In this article, I’ll take a look at this new certification and explain the changes in the MCSD program.

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New certification offerings
One of the complaints I’ve heard about Microsoft’s developer certification program is that there is no middle ground between the generic MCP certification and the premium MCSD. The new MCAD certification, which Microsoft says is meant for developers who “use Microsoft technologies to develop and maintain department-level applications,” bridges that gap and is aimed more for implementers and programmers than for system architects.

Although the intended audiences for the two certification programs seem pretty clear, their respective requirements are a little confusing. MCAD represents a subset of the knowledge needed for MCSD-level certification; therefore, two of the exams required for MCAD are also requirements for MCSD. Earning an MCSD also entitles you to an MCAD, although earning an MCAD is not a prerequisite for earning an MCSD. If you happen to enjoy adding unpronounceable acronyms to the end of your e-mail signature or business cards, then you’ll surely like that arrangement.

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The road to certification
How do you go about getting one of these new-fangled certifications? You’ll need to first decide whether you’re more interested in Web applications or Windows-based desktop applications; an exam on one or the other is required. As you’d expect, the MCAD offers multiple language options: You can currently choose either VB.NET or C#, and an option for C++ .NET is coming later this year.

You’ll need to pass your chosen exam, one covering XML Web services, and an elective of your choosing. Figure A summarizes your MCAD options.
Figure A
Microsoft Certified Application Developer exam requirements
VB.NET MCAD     C# MCAD
*Exam 70-305—Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET
-Or-
*Exam 70-306—Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET     *Exam 70-315—Developing and
Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual C# .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET (June 2002)
-Or-
*Exam 70-316—Developing and
Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual C# .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET
*Exam 70-310—Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework
-Or-
*Exam 70-320—Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual C# and Microsoft and the Microsoft .NET Framework
Plus one elective exam, can be either of the exams for the other language.
Example: If 70-305 is taken, then either 70-306 or 70-316 can fill this elective.
Source: Microsoft
MCAD exam requirements

Unfortunately, you’ll also need to learn to wait. The new .NET exams are still being developed and will not be available before April. Look at it this way: You still have two months to study.

MCSD for Microsoft .NET
The changes to Microsoft’s development certification program weren’t limited to the new kid on the block. The MCSD got a .NET overhaul as well. Like those of its MCAD little brother, MCSD exams are available for C# and VB.NET only, with C++ .NET on the way later this year. The requirements for the new MCSD, shown in Figure B, should be familiar to you.
Figure B
Microsoft Certified Solution Developer for Microsoft .NET exam requirements
VB.NET MCSD     C# MCSD

Exam 70-305—Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

Exam 70-306—Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

Exam 70-310—Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework

Exam 70-315—Developing and Implementing Web Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

Exam 70-316—Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with C# and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET

Exam 70-320-Developing XML Web Services and Server Components with Microsoft Visual C# and the Microsoft .NET Framework
Exam 70-300—Analyzing Requirements and Defining .NET Solution Architectures
Plus one elective
Source: Microsoft
MCSD exam requirements

For an MCSD, you’ll need to pass both the Web-based and Windows-based exams for your chosen language. The other required exams are the same XML Web services exam needed for MCAD and the perennial favorite, Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solution Architectures, which is back in a brand-new .NET edition.

As I mentioned before, there’s some overlap between the MCAD and MCSD exams, and earning an MCSD earns you an MCAD as well. If you’re interested in the MCSD, you’re unfortunately in the same boat as the MCAD folks: No tests will be available until April.

Hey, what about my existing certification?
Those of you who already hold MCSDs can breathe easy; Microsoft has no plans to retire the certification, and you don’t need to recertify unless you just want to. Once an MCSD, always an MCSD, it seems.

If, on the other hand, you are currently pursuing the certification, you’ve got a little time left to complete it, but the future of the exams is rather hazy. Microsoft has not announced plans to retire the current MCSD exams; all they will say at this point is that the exams will be available for two years from their release date, and they will not retire anything before this June.

You can still use XP apps. If you need Windows 7 speeds but have applications that only run on eight-year-old Windows XP, XP Mode can save you. This free, downloadable add-on for the Pro, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions of Windows 7 lets your old programs run as if native to Windows 7. XP Mode does not require a separate, licensed copy of XP. Sure, you can accomplish the same thing with third-party software, but that’ll cost you.

bitlockerBetter search. If you’re an organizational pro, you never need to search your hard drive. But the chance that all your employees are equally gifted is about as likely as Steve Ballmer using an iPhone. Search is the killer app on the Web, and Windows 7 might finally have made it so in the OS. Vista integrated a search box throughout the interface; you’ll find one in the Start menu, the control panel, and Windows Explorer. In Windows 7, it’s the results that count. You can narrow the returns on the fly when you get too many. The search bar retains a history of what you’ve looked for, so you can quickly find things again. There’s a better preview available for search results, as well. Finally, you don’t have to worry about employees being organized when it comes to digital data.

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Your driver is here. Older systems had a hard time with Vista upgrades due to lack of driver support for the hardware. Heck, so did some newer systems. That’s unlikely to be the case with Windows 7. It has more in common with Vista than not, and Vista’s had lots of time to get all the hardware support it needs. Better yet, Windows 7 is designed to go directly to the driver download pages of major vendors if a compatible driver isn’t found.

DirectAccess may be the best access. DirectAccess is just that: direct access to your business network from anywhere, via secured tunneling using IPsec and IPv6— without the use of a trusted virtual private network (VPN). Don’t worry about IPv6 costs—Windows 7 comes with IPv6-to-IPv4 transition technology that integrates with current networks. It’s a whole new way for connecting securely. The catch: Your network has to run Windows Server 2008 R2, so this solution won’t work for offices without dedicated IT staff. If you do have Windows Server, it’ll only take you a few clicks to connect clients via the Web. It’s significantly easier than setting up a VPN server. Users can be authenticated with Active Directory, so the Windows 7 solution not only provides network permissions, but can push software updates to users as if they’re connected to the business intranet.

Better enterprise features. There’s a lot of good stuff in Windows 7 Enterprise (which is essentially Windows 7 Ultimate bundled on corporate OEM systems) besides DirectAccess, specifically for security and management. That includes Bit- Locker, which encrypts entire hard drives, and BitLocker to Go, which does the same on removable USB flash drives. AppLocker lets IT pros specify exactly what programs are run on Windows 7 systems, so users can’t bring in games from home. And more languages are supported. None of these features needs Windows Server 2008 R2 to function, but it is necessary to have Server 2008 if you want to use the Windows 7 Advance Group Policy Management 4.0 tools to control them from afar.

drive protectionLess user annoyance. This might be subjective, but anyone who used Vista at all to install a program knows the heart-stopping fear that hit when a screen went blank for a split second. But instead of a crash, it was a feature, not a bug, part of the User Account Control (UAC) that forced you to approve installation of programs (among other things). UAC is still in Windows 7, but it’s far less intrusive. Plus the control panel for it got infinitely simpler, with just a slider-bar to indicate just how much control it should have.

64 whole bits. Not that you couldn’t get a 64-bit version of Vista, but every box with Windows 7 comes with both the 32- and the 64-bit version inside. You’ll want the latter if your hardware can support it. The 64-bit version will work, for example, with more than 4GB of RAM; if you’ve got an older CPU and less RAM than that, don’t bother. You only get one activation key, however, even if it looks like there are two versions of the OS in the box. (Use the free utility to determine if your system can even handle a 64-bit OS. Microsoft also offers an Upgrade Advisor.)

Less useless bloatware. Say goodbye to unused extras like Windows Mail or Movie Maker. You’ll have to get them from Windows Live’s Web site in the future—if you even want them. (See below for more on MSPaint and WordPad, however.) That won’t stop system vendors from shoving some shovelware onto your company computers if you get them at retail; for that, use The PC Decrapifier for a pre-use cleanup.

More work time. In our tests in PC Labs, we found that Windows 7 boots up several seconds faster than Vista on identical hardware. That’s precious time during which your employees can be productive! Okay, that’ll last only a while, until installing new software and everyday use slow down start time, but with the right hardware, Windows 7 should zing along plenty fast in all uses.—Next: No, Keep Your Biz With XP >

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Microsoft’s Windows 7, and the software giant revealed today that it has sold 240 million Windows 7 licenses since its release.

Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft spokesman, said in a blog post that those numbers make Windows 7 “the fastest selling operating system in history.”

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As of last month, Windows 7 was running on 93 percent of new consumer PCs. It also has more than 17 percent OS market share according to October data from Net Applications.

“Six months after launch, 100 percent (over 18,000) of our OEM partners were selling Windows 7 PCs versus 70 percent for Windows Vista PCs at a comparable time period,” LeBlanc wrote.

Earlier this month, Microsoft brought back the Windows 7 Family Pack, which provides upgrade licenses to Windows 7 Home Premium for up to three devices for $149.99. It is available now in the U.S.; after Oct. 22, the family pack offering will expand to Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Australia and other international markets.

Several Microsoft employees posted their seven favorite features about Windows 7 on the company’s blog. To commemorate the anniversary, LeBlanc asked people to do the same in the comments section for a chance to win a full copy of Windows 7 Ultimate (and some Microsoft stickers). You have until 8am Pacific on Oct. 27 to submit your thoughts.

For more details about the OS see PCMag’s Top 10 Hidden Features in Windows 7 as well as 50 Ways to Make the Most of Windows 7 and 12 Tips to Speed Up Windows 7.

On Thursday, Microsoft announced final availability of Windows Live Essentials 2011, Microsoft’s suite of consumer apps designed to complement Windows.

Microsoft vice president of Windows Live engineering Chris Jones announced the final release on the Inside Windows Live blog.

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Windows Live Essentials is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iLife within the Mac OS. Microsoft has circulated a preview version, called “Wave 4 beta,” since last June.

“Together with Windows 7 and the new Internet Explorer 9 beta, Windows Live Essentials completes your Windows experience and connects your PC to the services you use every day,” Jones wrote. He also noted that “…Dell will be the first global PC manufacturer to ship PCs with Windows Live Essentials 2011 and Windows 7 pre-installed, just in time for your holiday purchases.”

The suite includes the photo manager/editor Windows Live Photo Gallery, video editor Windows Live Movie Maker, and IM client Windows Live Messenger. Also included within the suite are Windows Live Mail, a multiple-account email reader; and Windows Live Writer, a blog editor offering what-you-see-is-what-you-get updates for most of the major blogging platforms. The new versions, particularly the Photo Gallery, which features face recognition, bring the suite more on par with Apple’s iLife offerings.

The suite also includes a couple of apps that lean more towards the service category—Windows Live Mesh syncs files and folders across multiple PCs, and Windows Live Family Safety provides parental controls on Windows PCs for households harboring little ones. Lesser members of the suite include the Messenger companion, which shows you when contacts have commented on a web page you visit; the Bing bar browser search plugin; Outlook Connector Pack, which hooks Hotmail and Social updates to Outlook; and the Microsoft Silverlight browser plugin.

Like Internet Explorer 9, Windows Live Essentials 2011 will only run on Windows 7 or Vista – XP users need not apply. All of the apps can be selectively installed using a unified installer, available for download from the Essentials download page. The apps will become available over the next few hours in 48 languages.

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