Operating Systems

Dev Pros to Get Rough Cut of Windows 7

Developers attending Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference, set for Oct. 27 through 30 in Los Angeles, will leave with an alpha version of the software maker’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system (OS), the company confirmed Wednesday.

Microsoft has historically offered up early versions of upcoming OSes to developers. However, this recent promise dispels rumors that Redmond was planning to skip its traditional alpha release due to timing issues in developing Windows 7.

“This is common. It would have been a bigger deal if they had not given the people attending PDC the code,” said Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

The rumor, Cherry told TechNewsWorld, stated “that [Microsoft] was not going to release it. Had they not, it would be taken as a sign that they were behind on their development plans. [Microsoft] can’t win. If they give people code at PDC, then everyone will evaluate it and start to comment on what they think Windows 7 will be. If they don’t give code, everyone will assume they cannot get it shipped. So they’re in a no-win situation. In this front, it is hard to be Microsoft.”

Discovery Zone

Developers heading to PDC next month now know they will be able to take a rough version of the next Windows OS for a test drive. However, Microsoft has divulged few details about what it plans to show off to developers, save that they will “see advances across the full range of Windows — including the kernel, networking, hardware and devices, and user interface.”

However, once they have the pre-beta code in hand, developers will have a wealth of information they will use to decide whether and how to optimize their software to function with Windows 7.

“Developers are just eager to see what things Microsoft is changing, but will wait for a more stable build before they begin their work. Others will be looking to see what this means in terms of what they can do with their applications — and whether to try and exploit Windows 7 with their applications,” Cherry explained.

Specifically, developers expect performance improvements to the .NET framework and more Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) controls, said Jeffrey Hammond, a Forrester Research analyst.

“I think support for new interaction model interests developers, and then specifically for ISV developers, there’s interest in being able to continue to take full advantage of frameworks like DirectX,” he told TechNewsWorld.

With the Windows 7 alpha code released, Microsoft hopes to receive feedback from developers on the OS.

“The more feedback they can get early in the process, the better. By the time you get to formal beta, it’s often pretty hard for software development shops to make real substantive changes — the feedback period becomes more about fixing defects and taking input for the next release planning cycle,” Hammond pointed out.

Something to Work With

Software developers are not looking for Microsoft to make a host of changes with Windows 7 but are interested in what their programs can take advantage of. Given Vista’s well-reported compatibility issues, they will definitely be looking to see that Microsoft has remedied the problem in Windows 7, Cherry said.

“Developers are looking to have their applications run wherever there are the most places for them to run. So right now, if your application runs on Windows XP and probably runs OK on Vista, you’re probably covering the largest set of places where an application can run,” Cherry noted.

What developers want is for Vista, and then Windows 7, to really take off — and pull their applications, designed to take advantage of the operating system’s features, with it, Cherry said. They want to know whether it will be worth it to optimize their applications to work with a particular version of an operating system.

Many developers need a larger installed base to sell their software to than currently exists with Vista. Meanwhile, with Windows 7, Microsoft needs to get developers to write software that takes advantage of new features to make the new OS attractive to upgraders, Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

For instance, many developers are increasingly making investments in rich Internet applications (RIAs). That makes the choice of desktop less important than choice of browser, noted Hammond.

“This is one of the reasons Microsoft is investing in Silverlight — to provide a consistent programming model for desktop apps and Web apps. This serves two purposes. It makes it easier for developers to move to rich client apps based on WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), but it also gives Microsoft a .NET development play that is independent of the operating system,” he concluded.

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