Operating Systems

Microsoft Flashes Brief Glimpse of Windows 7

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer revealed on Tuesday a few details on the software company’s next operating system, Windows 7, at the D: All Things Digital conference in San Diego.

The company has maintained a disciplined silence about the upcoming OS — a marked contrast to the constantly changing plethora of information released during the five years it took Microsoft to develop and launch Windows Vista.

“With the last release, many of the technologies Microsoft executives talked about and got everybody excited about didn’t make it into the product,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

Although the company is still giving little if anything away about the application’s security, performance, networking and other so-called “under-the-hood” functionalities, during their keynote address, Gates and Ballmer presented a demonstration of the multitouch user interface the software maker plans to add to the OS.

That Touchy Feeling

Based on some of the technology developed for the Microsoft Surface, the multitouch fingertip user interface for Windows 7 covers a range of applications. Users will be able to enlarge and shrink photos, paint pictures with the new “Touchable Paint” application, and arrange, examine or write on digital photographs as well as map their location and search for specific places such as the nearest Starbucks.

Some of the features, including the two-finger zoom, single finger thumbnail panning and flicking through a slideshow, are reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone.

“They developed this previously for another product, Microsoft Surface, which was built on Windows, so it’s not a surprise that they are using this work in Windows 7,” Gary Chen, a Yankee Group analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “I think it’s a great leap forward in terms of the UI (user interface). It will make using a computer much more intuitive and collaborative.

However, Cherry said the UI “looked interesting” but there just aren’t enough details about the technology for him to be enthusiastic about it.

“We don’t know what it entails. Were the applications specially modified to work with it? Right now I’d say it looks interesting. They’ve demonstrated a lot of things, and I don’t see any guarantee that that’s a feature that will be in [Windows 7] or will require new hardware,” he said.

Windows 7 Wish List

Outside of the show-and-tell session at the conference, Microsoft’s silence regarding Windows 7 and its features is in part due to the development process being in the early stages.

“It’s early, and you don’t really want to commit publicly to something that hasn’t been firmed up. Microsoft is still deciding a lot of things with Windows 7, and with their position in the market, it’s best to keep mum until you know what and when you can really deliver something,” noted Chen.

However, he added, Microsoft needs to give people a “reasonable lead time” about what they should expect in the new version. “I expect in 2009, we’ll have a much better idea of what Windows 7 will be,” Chen continued.

With details on Windows 7 sketchy at best, the one feature Chen said he hopes Microsoft will include in the OS is virtualization.

Meanwhile, Cherry just hopes that Microsoft does a better job of “managing expectations and only claim those things they really have accomplished, and if there are hard problems they have yet to solve, say that.

“The fact that they’re not telling me anything right now, I don’t care. What I’m more interested in is that the information they do give me be incredibly complete and accurate. What I don’t want is a quick demo that says, ‘Isn’t this exciting?’ What I want is specific details. And I want accurate scheduling information. When can I really get my hands on it?” he stated.

Windows 7 scheduling, however, appears murky based on conflicting remarks from Microsoft. Microsoft plans to release the new OS in late 2009, according to Ballmer; however, Windows Engineering Chief Steven Sinofsky told Cnet the launch would happen in January of 2010.

Lesson: Don’t Over-Promise

Large enterprises and small businesses alike are in the midst of making very strategic decisions about their Windows desktop roadmap, explained Benjamin Gray, a Forrester Research analyst. That said, customer optimism is high for new information on the future of Windows.

However, with Windows 7, Microsoft is taking a tighter approach to communications. This approach stems from the lessons Microsoft learned from its Windows Vista experiences, Gray told TechNewsWorld.

“Let’s face it, Microsoft was burned for promising too much for too diverse a crowd with Windows Vista, and it’s going to be a little more disciplined about when and how it discloses information on Windows 7.

“Obviously, Microsoft is still in the throes of development and testing for Windows 7, so it’s still too soon to come to any conclusions. And while the touch capabilities that Mr. Ballmer and Gates demonstrated were neat, they aren’t going to help businesses with this decision-making process,” Gray noted.

“At the end of the day though, Forrester recommends that most companies deploy Windows Vista eventually, because Windows 7 is clearly going to be an evolutionary update that is built on the Windows Vista foundation. So the challenges that organizations are experiencing with Windows Vista today will likely occur with what’s coming next, and you’re better off preparing for the future now than later,” he concluded

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