What Will Windows 7 Be?

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on June 02, 2008

Microsoft has always been very open about its plans for Windows. With Vista, the openness bit back when many planned features were dropped late in development and what was shipped fell far short of what was promised. With the development of the next version of Windows, though, Microsoft has become positively Apple-ish, saying next to nothing about the features planned for Windows 7.

CEO Steve Ballmer opened the kimono a tiny bit at the D conference last week when he showed of a new multi-touch interface and gave a glimpse at a new task bar. While I think multi-touch is a very important technology, its effective use is going to require the development of new classes of hardware, and that will be a long time coming. In the meanwhile, what will be the key mainstream features of Windows 7?

I suspect it is going to be a rather modest effort, more like Vista 1.1 than a full-blown OS release. From a marketing point of view, the most important thing about it is that it will be called something other than Vista, a brand that never raised much enthusiasm among either consumers or corporate IT buyers and one that has been subjected to relentless mockery in a highly successful Apple ad campaign. (It won't be called Windows 7 either; that's a development code name.

Microsoft has made, and announced, three critical architectural decisions. Windows 7 will use the core code, or "kernel" of Windows Server 2008, which is very similar to the Vista kernel. It will continue to be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. And it will not require the rewriting of any "drivers," the critical bits of software required to make hardware such as printers, scanners, communications devices, and storage systems work.

These decisions should guarantee that windows 7 avoids the compatibility problems that have plagued Vista, but I think the decisuion to offer a 32-bit version is a mistake. Assuming that Windows 7 is released early in 2010--Microsoft's official target--it will come nearly four years after Intel and AMD both substantially completed their transition to 64-bit processors. That means that just about any system that could be considered for an upgrade to Windows 7 is 64-bit capable.

The biggest advantage to users of a 64-bit operating system is that it ends to 3 GB memory limitation that has become a real problem in 32-bit Vista. But more significantly, 64-bit standardization would both greatly simplify the Windows product line and signal that Microsoft was willing to make a technological leap, even if it meant leaving some old equipment and some old software in the dust. After all, Apple's OS X has been all 64-bit, first on PowerPC chips and then on Intel, since it was introduced in 2001.

One intriguing possibility for Windows 7 is that Microsoft could revive a radically new file system called WinFS, which turns data storage into a true database. WinFS was originally planned for Vista but was dropped when it became clear that it could not be finished in time for Vista to be completed in late 2006. Microsoft originally said it would ship WinFS later as a Vista add-on, but that never happened. While development was moved to the back burner, the project never went away. Still, given the generally very conservative approach Microsoft is taking to Windows 7, I think a departure as big as WinFS is very unlikely.

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Reader Comments

Ramil

June 3, 2008 03:29 AM

I would like to use from it

m.r.

June 3, 2008 01:20 PM

I know it is very difficult to write a very good OS, but then why does MAC 10.5
get loads of praise!
initial offering should be lean and mean! and able to work on 64 bit chips.
home and business able. later add the fancy stuff...like media,etc.
in the meantime Vista should be tweaked and stripped to please the computerati.
perhaps its time for OS 8 to be built on a better platform..like OS10.5.

m.r.

June 3, 2008 04:58 PM

P.S. if MS/OS 8 were built on a new platform could not dual OS via virtualization allow older software to work on a new system?????
I think MS is chasing ghosts by trying to be all things to all people. in time
MS will be inferior in many things.

PNW Trojan

June 3, 2008 07:29 PM

Whatever it is, it WILL be 1. LATE! 2. OVER-HYPED!! 3.Missing key 'promises'... as usual!!! 4. Still, a petri-dish of noxious grief for users. 5. Paying Ph.D.s in computer/software engineering, to tout "It's WONDERFUL...it's MARVELOUS..."it's yet another load of MSFT B.S.

Steve Wildstrom

June 3, 2008 08:50 PM

@M.r--I didn't want to get too technical, but yes, I think a pure 64-bit operating system with a 32-bit virtual environment for 32-bit apps and, especially, 32-bit device drivers, is the solution. That's how Apple handled the transition from OS 9 to OS X and later the transition from 64-bit PowerPC to 64-bit Intel. It wasn't flawless, but it worked pretty well.

joshooi

June 7, 2008 02:25 AM

I believe that huge bulky OS is going to go away in the next five years. Most application are going to be internet base and only need a thin client like linux to run a web browser. This is going to be the future instead of wasting so much power on a single desktop. Wasting in a sense that we only use about 5% of the power and capability our desktop computer has except for GAMERS. If we are going to go GREEN then we have to think in this direction.

m.r.

June 9, 2008 04:11 PM

P.S.S. users and developers of software should be bombarding MS with
suggestions for Win 7!
set up Vista for a friend and could not get Outlook Express mail! hot/live mail
is inferior(in my opinion) to OE!
hotmail is ad/revenue maker for MS! not better.
if many MS users shout then the MS ivory tower will quake.
its only a matter of time that Mac
offers a lower price configurable/customize PC. Mac may want the business sector, now.
on the other hand, a new/ better OS may emerge from nowhere and dominate. you never know.

John

June 27, 2008 11:30 PM

I highly doubt the bulky OS is going to go away in the next five years. The browser will not be the computing standard in that time frame and linux won't be the OS running it for the masses. "Cloud" computing will have some significance but will not replace the desktop for many reasons. First, cloud computing is built on the idea that there is a huge bandwidth pipe and with the current plans of the telecommunications companies like Time Warner, AT&T and Comcast we won't be seeing that anytime soon. Their current plans to put everyone's current plans at 5GB bandwidth caps and charge per GB after that should squelch realistic network driven multimedia applications (unless you triple what you pay currently for unlimited and as Verizon has shown us, they can put limits on "unlimited").

Plus, there are too many businesses tethered to client applications at the moment to transition that quickly. Isn't going to happen in the next 5 years.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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