Windows Washing: Microsoft Talks Up Tweaks Following Public Beta

With its big round of public beta testing out of the way, Microsoft is apparently moving quickly to the next milestone on the Windows 7 upgrade path. On Thursday, the company revealed some of the changes users can expect to see in the upcoming Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) — possibly the penultimate stage prior to the release of a final product — in its Engineering Windows 7 blog.

Looking at feedback garnered during the first round of public beta testing, Microsoft has been working on incorporating some needed changes.

“It should be no surprise, but the Release Candidate for Windows 7 will have quite a few changes, many under the hood, so to speak, but also many visible. The goal of having a fully functional Beta was to make sure we received reliable feedback and not a lot of ‘hey this doesn’t work at all’ sorts of reports. This has allowed us to really focus on delivering a refined RC where the changes we made are all the reflection of feedback we have received,” wrote Chaitanya Sareen, senior program manager at Microsoft.

Anyone Up for Another Round?

Microsoft software designers have enhanced the desktop experience, touchscreen functionality, networking, the control panel, Windows Media Player, the Device Stage ecosystem, the headphone experience, Windows Explorer and libraries, and performance, according to the company.

“The list and breadth of improvements show that they are receiving and listening to customer’s feedback, but by the same token, the number of changes could be a reason to consider a second beta prior to a release candidate. These changes, while making improvements, touched a wide range of Windows systems and sub-systems,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

The RC stage, according to Cherry, is the point at which a company has basically stopped tinkering with the code aside from minor alterations and is saying that the code is done save for final testing to weed out the last few bugs.

Among these scores of changes, Microsoft has expanded the Aero Peek touch interface so that users can use it with the Windows Flip — Alt + Tab — function. The company has added new keyboard shortcut for the taskbar functions that will enable users to launch and switch between programs. Needy window alerts for applications requiring a PC user’s attention are now flashier. The software maker has also enhanced the OS’s networking feature to make it easier for users to find and connect to networks.

“These will certainly enhance the product. It’s sort of like gilding the lily. As Microsoft goes into RC, the concern is that adding a new feature could break something else. When you hit the RC cycle, you want it to be very stable very fast,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.

“I’ve been very pleased with [Windows 7] so far. Aero Peek is a feature that I really like and have been using a lot, and I can’t think of any new feature that I would want them to add now,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Just in Time for Back to School?

Even as Microsoft gears up to push out the near-final RC for Windows 7, an the president of an OEM partner made news Thursday by reportedly indicating at an investor’s meeting that Windows 7 could be released as early as September or October of this year. The comment was made by Ray Chen, president of Compal Electronics, a Taiwan-based laptop maker.

With speculation building that the RC could be launched as early as the second week in April, a fall release that coincides with back-to-school sales and a ramp up to the 2009 holiday season is not impossible, according to Enderle.

“They could probably make it by June. September is the drop-dead date. Remember, they went through a fast beta cycle. They just did one beta, which means that the beta came through very clean. If the beta comes through clean, that means it’s likely the RC candidates will also come through clean,” he pointed out.

If Microsoft does not have any major issues during the course of the RC testing and does only one RC as opposed to three — which could push the release date to September — they could come in early, Enderle continued. “September is drop-dead, but it’s very likely they could release this before.”

Impressed with the overall stability of the Windows 7 code, Cherry concurred, saying that he can “see no problem with Microsoft meeting its promised dates, or even releasing earlier if things continue to go well.”

Many partners, Cherry continued, would be thrilled to see a release in time to offer hardware and software for Windows 7 in time for the 2009 holiday season. “But I don’t think Microsoft will release prematurely to meet that target unless the testing shows they have a stable, releasable version,” he continued.

Servicing Vista

Meanwhile, Microsoft also announced the upcoming availability of the second service pack (SP2) for its Vista and Windows Server 2008 OSes. Currently available to TechNet and MSDN subscribers for testing prior to its final release, Vista SP2 RC will be made broadly available for testing by the general public in the near future, according to the company.

A compendium of security, feature and performance updates created since the previous service pack, Vista SP2 will also include support for new types of hardware and emerging standards, Microsoft said.

“It appears to be a more traditional service pack, which is a collection of fixes for security and non-security items, with a few feature changes to accommodate new hardware that most customers will want to install to eliminate having to add many independent patches,” Cherry explained.

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