Prior to the launched of Windows 7, Microsoft introduced a new microsite called Windows Test Drive that allows IT professionals and developers alike to experience Windows 7 live on Microsoft's own servers.
Both are invited to explore Windows 7 while IT Professionals are encouraged to go further and learn more about deploying Windows 7.
Test drive themes like "Make people productive anywhere" are divided into sections like "Makes everyday tasks faster and easier" and these are further divided into sub-themes like Navigation and Internet Explorer 8. These are peppered with the actual test drive, downloadable videos (although clicking on one link asked us to install a Windows Media plugin) and links to further resources.
Although Microsoft says that the test drive takes place "instantly", we found it to be less user-friendly than expected. For a start, you need to use an Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher browser to access the test drive environment.
Then you need to install an Active X control which then allows users to explore the chosen MSDN Virtual Lab. We selected Windows 7 : Taskbar : Managed. Microsoft says that after completing the Virtual Lab, you should be able to do things like "Remotely controlling a window from the taskbar thumbnail using thumbnail toolbars" which seems fun enough.
You can start and exit a Virtual Lab whenever you want as long as you don't close the browser window. Another snag that we encountered was what appeared to be a security message warning us that "the client cannot verify that the Microsoft server has not been impersonated" and that our password could be discovered through a malicious attack on the authentication token before asking us whether we wished to continue.
We found the Virtual Labs environment to be painfully slow, something we'd put down to the connection (Microsoft's) or perhaps the number of people connecting to the same lab. Each of them has a time limit of three hours as well as a well defined scenario and a useful virtual lab chat.
Fortunately for those who want something a bit more traditional (or don't want to wait for screen refreshes), the Virtual Lab also allows for the whole session to be downloaded as a PDF file as a lab manual.
All the test drives and virtual labs are done on Windows 7 Enterprise and assume that users will include the operating system in their mix at some point. The idea behind the Test Drive is a good one, it provides with a dedicated portal to those who want to know more about Windows 7 from a corporate perspective.
However, there are too many kinks for the experience to be a seamless one, something that was expected given the wide array of resources that are pulled together into one semi-coherent amalgam; links from Technet's immense library, videos requiring Silverlight, modules requesting ActiveX installations etc.
Still, it does provide with a nice starting point, after which we suspect, sysadmins and developers will rather download Windows 7 (either from their technet accounts) or using that Windows 7 Enterprise 90-days trial and put it on a test computer and then read a good Windows 7 book.