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Why Does Windows 7 Think It's Windows 6.1?

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on October 29, 2008


Microsoft is a bit schizoid about Windows 7. On the one hand, it of course wants to promote it as something new and different. But it is also making a big deal of its continuity with Vista.

This dissonance shows up in a curious way. The internal version number of Windows 7 is 6.1, or to be precise, 6.1.6801 in the Milestone 3 version I am testing. Vista with Service Pack 1 is version 6.0.6001.

Microsoft developers have a ready explanation for the phenomenon. Many programs check the version number of the operating system and will not install if the number falls outside a specified range. Microsoft insists that virtually all programs that run on Vista will run without alteration of Windows 7 and it doesn't want installations to bomb just because of a failed version number check. So what is officially known as the "major version number" was kept at 6.

Of course, this bit of version number legerdemain suggestions that the difference between Vista and Windows 7 really is only skin deep. But most of the problems that have plagued Vista are also only skin deep and can be fixed without tearing out the heart of the code. Still, ity does raise the question of whether Windows 7 might better be called Vista Second Edition (remember Windows 98 SE?) were Microsoft less anxious to shed itself of the tainted Vista brand.

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Reader Comments

Robert McLaws

October 30, 2008 01:47 AM

It's actually more like the difference between Windows 95 and Windows 98 than Windows 98 and SE. And seriously, this is what you have to talk about? Did you not actually get a copy, and felt you had to do a "me too" post to make yourself feel important? If you had spent any time with it at all, you might have found something more substantial to say.

Robert McLaws


October 30, 2008 02:09 AM

Keeping the version 6 has nothing to do with programs that check the version number. It DOES, however, indicate that the OS is a minor revision of the base 6.0 version, and as such most applications built for 6.0 should run on 6.1 with no change.
I do agree that calling it 7 is just trying to shed the Vista brand.


October 30, 2008 04:27 AM

Of course people will draw all kinds of silly conclusions from this. But at the end of the day, program names and version numbers are completely arbitrary - at the whim of the coders. Microsoft could increment the internal version number to 7 million (7,000,000) tomorrow, and it wouldn't mean a thing other than that someone manually typed those 7 digits into the compiler options that day.

Rajesh Kumar

October 30, 2008 05:32 AM

Upto now, Microsoft never cared about installations failing due to 'Winmajor' changing from 4 to 5 or 5 to 6. Suddenly it does. There is more than meets the eye.

Bob Harvey

October 30, 2008 06:27 AM

I am very dissapointed in W7. Microsoft started an open blog about engineering it but it quickly became apparant that the decisions had already been made and the only reaction to comments was defensive.

People were asking for root-and-branch changes, like modularisation, removing the registry, separating the windowing code from the kernel. What we got was the realisation that W7 was going to be "vista with knobs on".

The underlying OS will not change at all. All we will get is more eye candy.

Vista with knobs on. Hardly a reasoned reaction to all the criticisims of vista to date: more a sort of carry-on-regardless attitude.


October 30, 2008 09:52 AM

I agree with Bob. Windows 7 seems to be dong more of the same thing Vista did, just mucking around with the interface. I wanted a crucial core components updating and streamlining. This is just more eye candy, which, if you a power user, you most likely have that turned off.

Same crap different bucket.


November 4, 2008 03:40 PM

Maybe Microsoft has some agreement that they will not release a new major version of Windows for a certain number of years after Vista.

Peché Africa

November 10, 2008 02:06 PM

Linux is more like an embedded OS then an OS like windows. If you got hardware that is already supported by linux, then the hardware works great, but is never actually used to its full potential.

A good example of this is sound cards with 7.1 channels of sound. On Windows you get all 7.1 channels, on linux you get only 2.

But if your hardware isn't supported by the kernel that Ubuntu is using, the manufacturer can't release a binary kernel module because Linux doesn't keep it's api/abi layer compatible between different versions. So a module that is for kernel version 2.6.27 won't work on 2.6.28. And so instead it is relying on the community to reverse engineer the hardware to make the driver, which then isn't as good to the windows version. The linux community takes this stance because they want the driver to be open source, but not every manufacturer wants to do that. And the result is then this. This reasoning is purely political and has nothing to do with software engineering.

And that is why every netbook out there that runs linux is treated like an embedded piece of hardware.


January 26, 2009 05:49 AM

"Of course, this bit of version number legerdemain suggestions that the difference between Vista and Windows 7 really is only skin deep."

Of course?

Then what is the explanation for XP's 5.1 version number? Does anyone think that the differences between Win2K and WinXP were only skin deep? Or is it more likely that one of the (many) things that MS learned from the Vista disaster was that a certain percentage of apps get all confused when they don't recognize the major version number?


February 26, 2009 07:54 PM

Vista was the worst product ever been created by mankind. I think they would want to move past Vista ASAP and as much as possible by bumping the version number to 7. Who will ever buy Windows 7 if they know it's only a minor improvement over Vista. Man, no wonder their stock is going down everyday.


April 26, 2009 04:27 AM

"Then what is the explanation for XP's 5.1 version number? Does anyone think that the differences between Win2K and WinXP were only skin deep?"

Yes. At a system level, anyway. New versions of DirectX, IE, and patches all rolled in, but nothing revolutionary at all. Luna *looked* different, sure, but it was nothing that windowblinds wasn't capable of before. XP and 2000, skin deep.


May 28, 2009 07:00 PM

Lets all face the truth, after many years windows eventually began to work when xp was released, Microsoft couldn't leave well alone so had to do something radical or nobody would upgrade - which is where they make their Bucks, unfortunately they didn't realise soon enough that teletubby styling isn't what made xp work as the first thing you do with all upgrades is make it look like '95!!!


June 10, 2009 06:54 AM

"Yes. At a system level, anyway. New versions of DirectX, IE, and patches all rolled in, but nothing revolutionary at all. Luna *looked* different, sure, but it was nothing that windowblinds wasn't capable of before. XP and 2000, skin deep."

I agree with you here. But, in addition to that, there are a variety of programs that install on XP but not on 2000, despite their major version number being the same (5).

Plus, I can't believe it would be difficult for programmers to code installation programs to check if the major version number is "greater than or equal to" rather than "equal to". After all, in theory ANY Windows system after any given version should be able to run all software that can run on that version.


July 1, 2009 05:21 PM

I blame Bill (now MS) for extreme greed. Not much would have been required to allow ANY prior X86 application to run just fine in XP, Vista, 7, etc. It's just that Bill (now MS) would not get residuals from application manufacturers laughing all the way to the bank because everyone has to upgrade to run on Vista or whatever.

I agree with the XP vs. 2000 scenario, 2000 could have been upgraded with, most importantly, driver compatabilities, to make it just as useful as XP. When I upgraded to XP, some things started to work better, but the interface slowed way down. My Vista machines simply won't run many "old" programs...disgusting.

A good OS should load programs and get the heck out of the way. ...And not try to be everything to everyone and own the world.

Drew from Dover

September 30, 2009 05:08 PM

This reminds me of when Windows 97 was delayed so long that because it was to be released in 1998 they changed the name. If this is a course correction for Vista they should release it as Windows 6 or Windows 6.1 as it's departure from Vista (and other too cute names) and return to Windows basics (Windows 3.11 or NT 4.0) will set it apart as an improved yet "Get Back" operating system. As always, IMHO YMMV. ;-)

Nameo Surnami

October 27, 2009 09:05 PM

I think Windows 7 aka 6.1. is great. It boot much faster than Vista.

I must say that one feature - Sleep - is a bit rubbish, I let it sleep and 7 hours later i have to push the button to make it work - with vista I can just move my mouse.

Everything else is GREAT!!


October 28, 2009 04:36 PM

Windows 7 is not Windows 6.1, or 5.1, or anything radically new. It's just VMS -- oops! I mean "NT" -- with more spaghetti code piled on top. As Bob Harvey above points out, none of the fundamental flaws of Windows have been fixed. You just forget they're there because you're so happy it boots faster.

Mike Scobie

November 11, 2009 01:10 PM

Version 6.0 to 6.1 ?? We should all apply for our free minor upgrade !! ;-)


November 11, 2009 09:26 PM

I call it Snow Vista.

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