On the second day of PDC 2008 in Los Angeles Microsoft gave the first public preview of the next version of their client operating system code-named Windows 7.
The demo was held in the conference’s “Big Room” and the hype was high. As I was waiting for the very first Windows 7 desktop to show up on the giant screen, I was feeling a mixture of excitement and skepticism.
Well, I didn’t have to wait long to get a grasp on Microsoft’s next client operating system. The essential nature of Windows 7, in fact, revealed itself already within the first ten minutes of the demo. Let me synthesize it for you with a simple equation:
Windows 7 = Windows Vista SP2 + Multi-touch
In my opinion Windows 7 is really what Vista should have been in its first release back in November 2006. Microsoft used this release to polish the rough edges in the operating system like resource usage, responsiveness and user access control (UAC), amongst others. I really don’t blame them for that. They applied the hard lessons learned with Vista and used this second release to stabilize and strengthen the OS without introducing too much change. This way they hope to re-gain the users’ confidence in Windows. Here is a brief overview of some of the key improvements made in Windows 7:
- Improved thumbnail previews in the task bar
- Possibility to collect and hide system messages in the tray bar
- Gadgets can now be placed anywhere on the desktop
- Improved dialog to customize the desktop theme
- Possibility to control how often UAC will ask you to confirm your actions
- Reduced memory footprint
- Reduced amount of IO operations and registry access
- Increased UI responsiveness
- Possibility to mount virtual hard-disk images (VHD) as bootable drives
But the biggest new feature Windows 7 offers customers is really native support for multi-touch computing. This means that with 7 you will be able to interact with your desktop and applications exclusively through a touch-screen. Microsoft even made available an on-screen virtual keyboard, which effectively makes the monitor the only interface needed to interact with the computer.
In my opinion this is a step in the right direction. It is evident by looking at how mobile devices have evolved in the latest years starting with Apple’s iPhone, how natural human interfaces like touch, gestures and voice is the way we will prefer to interact with computers in the future. It really feels natural to click buttons, move items and zoom documents or pictures in and out using your fingers.
All of the attendees here at PDC 2008 got a copy of the pre-beta release of Windows 7, so I will be posting a little more detailed tour of what’s in there soon.
In conclusion let me finish off this brief overview by quoting Steven Sinosfky when talking about the Windows 7 roadmap. According to him Windows 7′s development lifecycle will be divided into four main phases: pre-beta, beta, release candidate and RTM. The release dates coming out of each phase will be decided dynamically based on when the previous phase completed. Hence the final release date cannot be determined at this point in time. However he concluded saying:
“[...] we believe in shipping a new version of Windows every three years.”
And with Vista gone RTM in the fall of 2006, I’ll let you do the math.