LOS ANGELES — Day two of Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference kicked off with the first public demonstration of Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista.
It’s a key unveiling for Microsoft, not just because the company is quickly seeking to move on beyond the problems it encountered with Vista. To Ray Ozzie, chief software architect for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Windows 7 marks a part of its overall effort to better deliver what he described as one complete offering.
“If you take one thing away from what you see here today at PDC, it is that we can do our customers a great service by focusing how much we can give them for a combined value of their investments,” Ozzie said. “Our objective to make the combination of PC, phone and the Web of more value than the sum of their parts.”
Julie Larson-Green, vice president of Windows Experience, gave Windows 7’s first public demonstration, focusing heavily on its touchscreen elements, such as how older applications can be touch-enabled without rewriting them.
Larson-Green also demonstrated Windows 7 support for connecting to a multitude of devices, including a Windows Mobile phone. Though a service called Device Stage, all devices on a network — including desktop PCs, laptops, printers, attached storage and Windows Mobile phones — can be viewed and accessed as readily as a hard disk partition on the computer.
Developers can embed their own links into the Device Stage screen that appears when accessing their specific device. As a result, a user can easily visit the driver download page for their printer, for instance.
In addition to new touch functionality and Device Stage, Larson-Green also demonstrated another nifty user-interface element that combines Quick Launch buttons and Taskbar icons. Moving the mouse over a Word icon shows thumbnails with all of the application’s open documents, making it possible to jump to an open Word file with a single click.
Yet another change: The sidebar from Windows Vista that occupied the right side of the screen is gone. Under Windows 7, it’s possible to place widgets anywhere on the desktop.
While this drew some polite applause, it was when Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live, got around to dealing with the issues that had plagued Vista that the audience become more enthusiastic.
‘Fessing up on Vista
It was the admission of problems in Vista, and what they were doing to fix them, that worked up the crowd. “We got feedback on Vista from bloggers, the press, oh, and some commercials,” Sinofsky said, to laughter.
For starters, he addressed the annoying User Access Control (UAC) security system, which asked people if they really wanted to perform a certain action even for the most basic of functions. In adding UAC to Vista, Sinofsky said Microsoft had meant well, but “we possibly went too far.”
In Windows 7, users can specify the intrusiveness of notifications and confirmations Windows uses to alert the user to system changes. They can now control how much notification they desire using a slide bar, which enables them to choose from “Never notify me,” “Only notify me when programs try to make changes,” “Always notify” and “Notify and wait for my approval.” UAC had offered only an all-or-nothing choice.
The change drew a fair amount of applause.
Sinofsky also addressed Vista’s problems with drivers, many of which were not available until some time after the operating system had shipped. Because Windows 7 uses the same device driver model as Vista, which now has been on the market nearly two years, he did not see there being a similar snag when Windows 7 hits the market. Now, he said, the third-party market is fully involved in writing compatible drivers.
“With Vista, we really weren’t ready at launch with the device coverage we need,” he said.
Page 2: Release plans and reactions to the news
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Another change that drew audience applause is being able to natively create and mount a virtual hard drive in Windows 7, a feature demonstrated on-stage. These drives can be either dynamic or fixed in size.
Sinofsky also teased a much smaller footprint for Windows 7.
He showed off a netbook with 1GB of memory and said that after it booted Windows, the tiny, low-powered notebook PC still had more than half of its memory left over.
Concerns over memory had proved to be another thorn in the side of Vista, with the older Windows XP finding new life not only among customers who didn’t want Vista, but also as the OS of choice for less-powerful computers like netbooks.
It wasn’t all about rethinking some of Vista’s shortcomings. Sinofsky made one direct plea to the audience, for more 64-bit development — echoing predictions Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds made last week to InternetNews.com.
“Please develop for 64-bit. We think a lot of people will move to 64-bit and we need to you bring your code up as well,” Sinofsky told the audience.
Sinofsky said Microsoft would release a broadly available public beta of Windows 7 early next year, which would be available for download from MSDN.
Beyond that beta, Sinofsky stuck to the company’s stated release schedule, stating that Microsoft plans to make it available three years from the general availability of Vista — which would make it early 2010. InternetNews.com has learned that Microsoft has a much shorter time frame in mind and is aiming for a June 2009 release.
At the event, Microsoft gave out copies of Windows 7 Ultimate in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, plus Windows Server 2008 R2, which is also in beta.
Sizing up Windows 7’s big debut
Despite how much Microsoft has riding on Windows 7 in repairing the damage from Vista, not everyone at the presentation felt like the company was indeed making its most important sales pitch in years.
One reason may be that Microsoft simply doesn’t rev up the fervor the way Steve Jobs does with the Apple faithful, some observers said.
“Part of the problem with Windows 7 is there are many changes,” Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies told InternetNews.com. “Some of them small, some of them large, and it’s hard to tell which are the good and package all that up in a short speech, and say, ‘Here it is.'”
One change not discussed during the demo is the boot process. Prior versions of Windows have loaded components sequentially, but Windows 7 will load components in parallel. Boot time could be as fast as 15 seconds, in theory.
But Kay, who got a six-hour briefing on Windows 7 on Sunday, said he thought the operating system’s first public unveiling had enough moments of applause for it to be considered successful.
“You’re not going to get the kind of cheering you’re going to get out of an Apple audience,” he said. But they saw the outlines of what they’re getting to work with, and they are leaving with the code.”
In addition to showing off Windows 7, Microsoft on Tuesday also demonstrated .NET Framework 4.0, with new features for developers that include parallel programming support.
The company also took the wraps off Office Web apps — lightweight versions of its main Office applications that will run in any Web browser.