What to Expect From Windows 7

With Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference just days away, so is the arrival of Windows 7. The pre-release test release of Microsoft’s next version of Windows, will undoubtedly be the most sought-after item in the goodie bag of freebies that attendees will receive on checking in to the show.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will not discuss its planned schedule, but it looks like Windows 7 will get its biggest moment in the sun on Tuesday, October 28. The show opens on Monday the 27th with Bob Muglia, head of the server and tools division, set to join Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie during the keynote.

Day two will feature Ozzie and Steve Sinofsky, who is heading the Windows 7 development team. That would be the ideal time to discuss what’s in Windows 7, what Microsoft is looking for from developers, and perhaps even a release date.

Windows 7 isn’t a huge departure for Microsoft. It’s built on the Vista kernel and device driver, so existing device drivers will work on it. Thus far, through their numerous blog posts, the Windows 7 team has given away this much: Windows 7 will focus on performance, since Service Pack 1 for Vista didn’t really help in that department.

It will add support for multitouch technology, similar to that found in Microsoft’s Surface tabletop computer, as well as support for solid state drives and using GPUs for general purpose applications. The “ribbon” interface in Office 2007 will find its way into many Windows applications. Windows 7 also introduces a new networking API with support for building SOAP-based Web services in native code.

The hated User Access Control (UAC) systems will be overhauled to make it a lot smarter. It couldn’t get much dumber, really. Microsoft estimates it will go from 775,000 unrecognized applications to 168,000 applications, so it will stop asking you for approval every time you make a move.

Microsoft has been fairly up front in communicating about its Windows 7 plans through regular, detailed Windows 7 blog updates. Mike Cherry, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said he’s surprised, because Sinofsky was known for running silent during the development cycle of Office, his previous project.

“This is more information than he would normally let out,” Cherry told InternetNews.com. “He realizes that on an operating system, developers need more advanced time than they do with an application. If he had his own choice he’d release even less than this.”

That said, Sinofsky has shaken things up internally, according to Paul Thurrott, who runs the SuperSite for Windows site. “His style of management is what they need right now. There are no sacred cows in the Windows organization any more. There were some guys there who were walking around on air thinking they were untouchable and got their comeuppance,” he said.

No reviews please, we’re early code

Thurrott said one major change Sinofsky introduced is how the OS is being assembled. In the past, Microsoft would have all of the pieces under development, and a build would mean one component might be in a very early, crude state, while another piece might be in a near-complete state.

“With Windows 7, it’s not in the build unless it’s done, and code has to meet a much higher-quality barrier than in the past,” he said. “So the things that are not complete or buggy are developed outside the main product. Many people from Microsoft have told me, ‘You’re going to be surprised by the fit and finish — it will be high-quality.'”

That’s good, because the poor reviews of the early betas of Vista crippled its perception out of the starting gate. Whatever challenges an OS might have, it doesn’t need negative perception formed before it’s released.

“In general it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re excited people want to work with your latest technology and give you feedback. On the other hand, any impressions formed early on, if they are negative, are hard to reset later in the process,” Cherry said.

Next page: Testing Windows 7

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But once Microsoft gives out that code next week, there’s nothing it can do, and somewhere along the line, Web sites will get their hands on it and will start testing it. Cherry is critical of this habit of evaluating beta code, especially performance of that code.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to be looking at the size of the code or the performance of the code at this stage of the development,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this software will have its own end-user license agreement and it wouldn’t surprise me if it says you can’t benchmark it.”

Thurrott said he won’t be doing any such benchmarks. “I don’t think it’s fair to do actual benchmark tests, but it is fair game to make off the cuff remarks about performance. [Microsoft] has been talking in their own blogs about things like boot time, so people are going to look at performance. There’s no way to prevent that.”

Scott Fulton, managing editor of BetaNews, said his site will not publish test results of private betas either. “The secrecy of the private beta process is something we respect; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t get the opportunities we get to learn as much as we do,” he said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Other PDC news

Two other OS-related items could be the subject of discussion at PDC: Windows Server 2008 R2, which would be a release somewhere between an official update and a service pack in terms of significance of code, and Vista Service Pack 2. Yep, Microsoft is sticking with Vista name, Apple commercials be damned.

Windows Server 2008 R2 was set for a 2009 release, according to Microsoft at last year’s WinHEC show. However, the Windows Server page at Microsoft states it will come in 2010. R2 would, among other things, feature improved authentication and be 64-bit only.

Service Pack 2 for Vista is expected to be just a rollup of all of the individual fixes for Vista since SP1 came out earlier this year, plus some new hardware support, such as Bluetooth. It reportedly has been shipped to a limited number of private testers but has no formal release date.

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