Windows 7 may be less than a year away

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By Tim Anderson

I'm at Microsoft's Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, where we've heard a ton of stuff about Microsoft's forthcoming technology. A lot of the press has focused on Windows 7, and that's understandable since Windows is what many of us stare all day. I've been running Windows 7 myself since Sunday, in an pre-beta build, and I'm both impressed and unimpressed.

The good bit: Windows 7 is better than Vista in every way I can think of. Even in the pre-beta, it is fast and stable. Even better, Microsoft has worked on making Windows "quieter" - reducing the number of distracting dialogs and notifications, and giving users more control over them.

Too much "toast" popping up in the system tray? Just choose "Customize", and you can turn off notifications from applets that are annoying. Too many prompts from Vista's User Account Control, the thing that flashes the screen and asks, "Did you really want to do that"? Now there's a simple slider that lets you minimize the prompts. Provided that you avoid the lowest level, security is not much compromised.

There are other user interface changes, but the nagging question is whether Windows 7 really merits a full new version number. In fact, Microsoft says there are no core architectural changes, which is great for driver and application compatibility, but reinforces the impression that this is just Vista done right.

The biggest innovation (if you have never seen an iPhone) is the multi-touch control, which lets you use your fingers instead of the mouse. You can scroll windows with a flick of the wrist, and pinch the screen to zoom or rotate what you see. Impressive; but whereas this works well on the iPhone which is designed from scratch with this in mind, there are a couple of problems applying it to Windows. First, most of use don't have touch screens, and while that might change, it's also possible that the technology will go the same way as the current Tablet PC, into a small niche. Second, how many application developers will make the effort to support touch properly? Watch this space; but I guess it is possible that mouse and keyboard will remain by far the most common way to control Windows.

The more interesting themes at PDC are outside Windows itself. There's cloud computing, there's Visual Studio 2010, there's news on the future of C#, which as its architect Anders Hejlsberg pointed out, is now a decade old, and plenty more. I'll post separately on some of these topics.

Nevertheless, Windows 7 will be a welcome upgrade when it comes. Which is when? Microsoft won't tell, but I'm guessing we may have it in our hands by this time next year, probably earlier. OEM vendors will want it for the Autumn. To hit that date, Microsoft will need to be complete the OS by the summer. Given the lack of major changes under the hood, that strikes me as plausible.

Originally published at ITJoblog

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