Microsoft’s next operating system is creeping quietly towards us, under cover because company officials have so far refused to talk Windows 7 up.
The current rumour is that the Windows 7 beta announcement will take place at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC) next month on October 27 (see our story here
What we do know is that it should be released in January 2010.
Nevertheless, snippets have escaped Microsoft HQ. The biggest hints came at a public display of eye-candy at the end of May. Anxious to reclaim lost ground on Apple,
Microsoft jumped in with an imagination-capturing multitouch display that allows the user to paint with several fingers at once on a touchscreen, play the piano, or move and reshape pictures with specific gestures.
We’ve scoured the rumour mill to separate fact from fiction, and while every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, the conclusions are unofficial – and subject to change. New kernel
Early rumours of Windows 7 promised a sleek, streamlined operating system based on a waif-like kernel called MinWin, which was more componentised than Vista and would improve performance across the platform. According to Microsoft engineer Eric Traut, the idea was about “stripping out all the layers above to create a really clean architecture”. He claimed the revamped kernel could have squeezed into as little as 25MB.
However, Microsoft has since poured cold water on the MinWin prophesy with a statement that it “isn’t creating a new kernel for Windows 7. We’re refining the kernel architecture and componentisation model introduced in Windows Vista”.
Instead, the kernel seems more likely to be a refinement of what we’ve seen in Vista and Windows Server 2008. “The key issue is that making big changes can have a de-stabilising effect on an OS, and creates all manner of compatibility and other issues,” said Michael Cherry, lead analyst for Windows at Microsoft. “The last thing Windows needs at this point is a lot of architectural changes.” VERDICT Although MinWin elements may feature, Diet Windows is more likely to arrive in the version after Windows 7.Synchronisation central
As the world moves to always-connected computing, keeping files updated across hardware is critical and Windows 7 should address Microsoft’s weaknesses in this area. For example, mobile phone synchronisation is likely to be built into the operating system.
At a Windows Digital Lifestyle Consortium in Tokyo, Bill Gates talked of Windows 7 having “more connections up to the mobile phone”, and that “if you have two personal computers, your files are automatically synchronised between them, so you don’t have a lot of work to move data back and forth”. The feature would borrow heavily from Live Mesh, a folder synchronisation tool Microsoft has been beta testing.
“I can see file synchronisation being a big feature for people who have more than one computer,” said Gary Kellett, managing director of Microsoft solutions provider Expersys. “Although you can get this by using Groove as part of Office 2007, I suspect it will end up as part of the OS, as the code has already been developed.”
Also improving connectivity – especially in home networks – is HomeGroups, a feature set to make it easier to create secure networks for sharing pictures, music and other files.VERDICT Better synchronisation is a must if Windows 7 is to meet the needs of consumers with multiple devices.End of keyboard/mouse era
The most anticipated element of Windows 7 is the hyped multitouch screen capabilities, where users interact with the PC by pointing or dragging digits across the screen.
Microsoft is talking up touch as a replacement for keyboards and mice for certain tasks.
Sneak previews promise vibrant interaction with all areas of the OS, with Paint being the most obvious. Tools such as photo galleries are expected to benefit from touch controls for moving pictures around a desktop, à la Surface, and to zoom in on pictures by pinching two fingers across the screen.
Whether touch will do for Windows what it did for the iPhone is uncertain, and might depend on the price premium for the screens, which could be as little as $50. “The mouse and keyboard are very strong input devices, and it’s hard to see a killer app for this on desktops, but it might be more appealing on laptops,” said Pete Gamby, research director at DisplayCast. VERDICT A racing certainty, given that Microsoft rolled out both Gates and Ballmer to demonstrate the interface earlier this year.