Windows 7: A First Look

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on October 28, 2008

win7_logo.jpg
In sharp contrast to past development efforts, Microsoft has kept its plans for the next version of Windows, now officially designated Windows 7, under tight wraps. At its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles this week, Microsoft finally went public and showed off a surprisingly polished product the promises to be a significant improvement on Vista, though it avoids any radical departures from the design of its much-maligned predecessor.

I’m nowhere near ready to offer a review of the Windows 7 “pre-beta” distributed at PDC. The features in this review are as described by Microsoft since I have not had an opportunity to test them. I am running Windows 7 on a Dell XPS M1330 laptop supplied by Microsoft and will be reporting on how well the features live up to their promise as I learn more by using the new software.

For those of you with long technology memories, Windows 7 is conceptually a bit like Windows 98. Windows 95 was a revolutionary overhaul of Windows 3 but was badly flawed. Win 98 did not change 95 dramatically, but made it work far better.

Win 7 is designed to avoid two problems that made the 2007 launch of Vista a mess. First, in the years and months leading up to the release of Vista, Microsoft had talked freely about features, including a completely new file system, that it was ultimately unable to deliver (The rule, says Senior Vice-President Steven Sinofsky, who heads the Windows development effort, was “think it, say it.”) As a result, reviewers such as myself and other folks who followed the progress of Vista closely were disappointed when the product finally came out and reacted negatively. By saying almost nothing until developers were sure which features would make the final cut, Microsoft has avoided this raising and dashing of expectations.

Second, and more substantively, Microsoft desperately wants to avoid the situation faced by early adopters of Vista when they discovered that large numbers of programs and devices that worked just fine with Windows XP failed with the new software. This time, the mantra is “if it works with Vista it will work with 7.”

There is risk in this dedication to compatibility. Windows carries a burden of legacies that stretches all the way back to DOS. It is one reason why the code is so huge and complex. It is why there always seem to be three or more ways of doing anything in Windows. And it helps explain the persistence of annoyances and, worse, security flaws, in version after version, despite dedicated efforts to get rid of them. One reason that Apple’s OS X is cleaner, simpler, and more reliable than Windows is that Apple has to aversion to changes every few years that render large chunks of the installed base of hardware and software obsolete. For better or worse, Microsoft doesn’t work that way and is more reluctant than ever to break sharply with the past after the unhappy experience of Vista.

W7_Desktop.jpg

As a result, don’t look for a lot that is dramatically new in Windows 7. The user interface is very similar to Vista, but somewhat simpler and cleaner. One nice feature to help keep it clean is a tool that lets you control the display of icons in the “systray,” the area at the right end of the task bar at the bottom of the screen. It seems that just about every program you install wants to put something in the systray and usually there is no way to hide them without disabling the services they represent. Windows 7 gives you control over the clutter.

W7_Taskbar Previews.png

Users will also gain control over the sorts of messages that programs represented in the systray are allowed to pop onto the screen. Maybe I’ll finally get Windows to stop telling me that my USB mouse could somehow perform faster. Similarly, Windows 7 includes finer control over those User Account Control popups that ask you permission before performing the most mundane of tasks. Under Vista, your only choice is to put up with the nagging or turn it off entirely, possibly suppressing a warning about something truly dangerous that might happen. The windows 7 version of UAC is designed to give much finer-grained control over when permission is required.

A major point of emphasis in Windows 7 is much simplified support for home networks, an area where Microsoft has lagged far behind Apple. Home networks have long been a bit of an afterthought in Windows and setting one up and using it effectively has required most of the skill of a trained network administrator. My guess is that while most multi-computer homes have networks of some sort, relatively few of them are used for anything beyond the sharing of an Internet connection.

The new notion in Windows 7 is the HomeGroup which is supposed to make it much easier to share resources on different computers within a household. For example, Windows 7 can automatically search across all the computers within a HomeGroup. A completely redesigned Windows Media Player will be able to consolidate a library from music stored on different machines around the house (of course iTunes users have been able to do that for several years, but we’ll take progress where it comes). In addition a computer used both in the office and at home will be able to log into a Windows domain at work and, when it come homes, connect to a HomeGroup and pull such tricks as automatically switching default printers from those in the office to one at home.

HomeGroup may be the most promising feature of Windows 7, but at this point I have more questions about it than answers. For example, it is not at all clear whether, or how, computers running Vista or even XP will be able to participate in a HomeGroup. This is critical because a lot of households are likely to comprise a mix of software for some time to come. A key test for me will be how easy HomeGroup makes it to install and use a networked printer, particularly one connected directly to the network through an Ethernet or wireless link; this has long been a daunting challenge on home networks.

One area where Microsoft is maintaining its reticence about Windows 7 is in the timing of its release. The only thing it has said officially is that it plans that the new OS would be out within three years of the release of the last version. Since Vista officially shipped in January, 2007, that would point to an early 2010 release. There have been rumors, however, that work is sufficiently ahead of schedule that a 2009 release is possible.

The next key milestone will be the more widespread availability of a beta version; Microsoft has not yet said whether it will follow the vista precedent of making the beta available to anyone brave enough to try it or whether it will limit distribution to a large but controlled group. I expect to see a beta early next year, perhaps in the first quarter. How well that beta goes, particularly the sorts of compatibility problems that arise as testers try Windows 7 on a myriad of software and hardware configurations, will determine the final release date.

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Reader Comments

charles

October 28, 2008 01:29 PM

no one can convince me to install an OS to get emergency updates before it can even get released. and as far as i know windows has always been modular. untill the DLLs are gone i won't even consider touching another windows OS on any systems i use or manage now or in the future. Redmond really needs to wake up to their user's needs instead of how to convince us to line their pockets with cash. replacing balmer as CEO would barely be a tipping of their iceberg problems.

Michael

October 28, 2008 01:33 PM

As an owner of a Data Processing company and an avid user of Windows and Unix, I would greatly appreciate it if the ability to join a domain was included in all versions of windows. This would sell more computers when I need a computer fast I could buy one at BestBuy rather than ordering online and having to wait weeks.

econguy

October 28, 2008 01:36 PM

Another safe statement you make about any Windows releases at a pre-beta stage like this is that Microsoft will focus on new features and changes that no one really asked for while leaving in place those endemic problems that could have been cleaned up many versions ago. That is a safe statement to make.

Bruce

October 28, 2008 02:42 PM

Until Microsoft acknowledges the fact that they need to rewrite Windows and completely part with the past, like Apple did, Windows will remain the buggiest and most insecure operating system of all time and all of us will continue having to live and work with an inferior product.

Henry

October 28, 2008 02:44 PM

The mantra should be "If it works with Windows XP, it should work with Windows 7". With Vista I cannot scan nor transfer pictures to a CD (as I could with XP without any problem).

Bitcrazed

October 28, 2008 03:02 PM

@Econguy:

It's always dangerous to make absolute statements and predictions about things that will happen in the future over which you have no influence or control.

Rest assured, Microsoft has paid particular attention to all the commentary, feedback, support calls, customer and partner interactions etc. over the last several years, and particularly with the Vista era.

This feedback as a whole has very much directed the entire development process for Win7. If you're interested in how Microsoft is building Win7, rather than blindly spouting ill-informed rhetoric, please visit http://blogs.msdn.com/e7. There you will learn about the many issues and trade-offs that govern the building of Win7.

Serge

October 28, 2008 03:09 PM

Windows catches up
So what's new? I already have these features and a better look in KDE4

Steve Wildstrom

October 28, 2008 03:36 PM

@Bitcrazed--I just want to second Bitcrazed's recommendation of Microsoft's Windows 7 blog for nitty-gritty details on the Win 7 development process. The information there has been a bit sketchy until now, but I suspect it will become a lot more informative now that they have taken the wraps off.

Steve Wildstrom

October 28, 2008 03:40 PM

@Henry--Microsoft means something very specific by "if it works with Vista, it will work with Windows 7." Vista introduced lots of architectural changes that broke many applications and device drivers. Those are exactly the sorts of changes that Win 7 is avoiding. Microsoft is trying to assure customers, independent software vendors, and hardware OEMs that if they have done the work to make their products compatible with Vista, they don't have to worry about Windows 7. (The one exception, as always, is software that has to operate at very low levels of the system, particularly antivirus software and some other security products.)

sadlkfj

October 28, 2008 03:56 PM

The monster is gotten so big, its not able to carry its own weight.

Squeezebox

October 28, 2008 03:58 PM

Will Win 7 be a memory hog? I'd rather spend my gigs on programs than OS's. I can remember when computers used to only have 64K of memory. That enforced a tight discipline on programmers not seen today.

michael

October 28, 2008 04:01 PM

So much has been invested with XP - and review of Vista so poor - our business did not want to even consider changing to Vista.

IF windows 7 can work with xp equipment without looking everywhere for drivers, this could be something special. But as with all Microsoft OEM's - they shove it out and fix it later - reason Apple has done so well.

Juan

October 28, 2008 04:07 PM

The Interface or GUI its a Copy of KDE 4.1, so look mandriva 2009...Windows...Worst

Robert

October 28, 2008 04:27 PM

So will all my Vista apps not work with Windows 7? Does anyone at Microsoft ever have to buy software for their personal use?

Does MS expect me to pay $400 every 2 years for the privilege of using their operating system?

Where is the value? Where is the benefit for the cost?

Bobby

October 28, 2008 04:41 PM

I think it might be worth it wait for Windows Azure, unless of course you switch to a Mac. Either way, XP works and there's no need to switch. Microsoft suffers from their success and XP was "good enough" for most consumers.

Andrew

October 28, 2008 04:51 PM

If car manufacturers followed the Microsoft model for "new" products, they would simply repaint an old car, change the wheels, add a sunroof, put in a new radio with tons of gadgets that the owner would never use, and ignore the facts that the transmission and engine are old and leak oil.

If businesses and governments were smart, they would band together and launch a class action lawsuit against Microsoft for lost employee time, lost productivity and loss of data due to cumbersome, flawed programs with huge, unrepaired security holes.

Microsoft; give consumers what they want: a simple, easy to use, FIXED operating system that just operates the computer. Get rid of the thousands of useless features that just take up hard drive space and reduce system resources.

What a radical concept!

Not a Fanboy

October 28, 2008 05:02 PM

Steve, so the same Microsoft that will save us from our evil .mp3 using ways will fix all problems, at least as they define them.

Yes, they said this before. And before that. In fact, they've said the same thing for nearly 30 years.

Be one with the MS and enjoy it Steve, I'll stay independent capable. and by independent, I mean totally independent, and not relying on any one OS vendor.

Jazz

October 28, 2008 05:30 PM

Just buy a Mac, why people pay money for this junk i have no idea... perhaps it's just pride... get over it and switch to the best OS there is OSX!

Mark F

October 28, 2008 05:52 PM

Robert - from the article:

"This time, the mantra is “if it works with Vista it will work with 7.”"

Steve Wildstrom

October 28, 2008 05:53 PM

@Robert--What Microsoft says is that all Vista apps will work with Windows 7.

m.r.

October 28, 2008 06:20 PM

since many details of Win 7 have been revealed it would be wise of MSFT to release downloads of beta to non tech PC
users to be installed in folders or burned to a CD. thus ordinary users could contribute to the development of Win 7 and help MSFT avoid another Vista
litany of complaints.
Win 7 is no great secret since it is supposed to be stripped down Vista.
but...my suggestion makes too much sense.
so...MSFT will play hide games and introduce a first copy that many will
hate( and not buy).
so.. my plan is to stick with XP. and
switch to Mac with XP bootcamp.
somehow I get the feeling that Windows is becoming less relavent to PC users.

maverick

October 28, 2008 06:53 PM

"This time, the mantra is “if it works with Vista it will work with 7.”
" Does it mean, "if it doesn't work with Vista, it will not work with 7?"

Matt

October 28, 2008 06:56 PM

Looks interesting. Glad I identified Vista for the "ME" that it was.

hi there

October 28, 2008 08:27 PM

why anyone would pay for an operating system or proprietary hardware i have no idea. install ubuntu. don't look back.

Joe

October 28, 2008 09:08 PM

I've been running Vista Ultimate on several desktops and laptops (some older, some with new hardware) and just love it.

I've had zero problems with any of the apps I've installed, and have done virtually no customization of the OS.

Plus, all my files across multiple computers stay synced using microsoft live mesh.

As for viruses - not a single one. But I do fun the free AVG antivirus just in case.

Another tech writer

October 28, 2008 09:41 PM

@Steve
Dude, get a copyeditor. It's BusinessWeek, not the weekly LD newsletter.

Nick Savage

October 28, 2008 10:01 PM

I know that Vista has problems, does not Windows know these operating systems cost anywhere from 100 to 200 bucks, Why dont they just implement this in Vista to make vista better so people do not have to upgrade.
Because we all know they quit supporting win98 and beyond and they will do the same with xp and vista.
Grrrrrrrrr Bill gates needs to eat, Nevermind.

Steve Wildstrom

October 28, 2008 10:23 PM

@m.r.--Microsoft has not made it clear yet how extensive the "public" beta will be. It's a delicate balancing act of getting enough configurations tested while keeping it focused. For Vista, they gave the beta code to anyone who wanted it. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the result because they felt that much of the feedback was diffuse and largely useless. I think they'll decide within the next few weeks.

RF

October 28, 2008 11:41 PM

Microsoft was 6 years behind Apple when it released Windows 3.0 in 1990. Apple Macs was running fine since 1984. Now Microsoft Windows 7 is trying to get close to MacOS released in 1999 (that is 10 years behind).

Zing

October 29, 2008 05:29 AM

Windows 7? Who really cares.. its just an o/s and o/s's are just so boring these days.

Beheld

October 29, 2008 06:00 AM

Windows 7.. who needs "flashy Mac OS wannabe effects" that slow down a perfectly ok piece of hardware?

The best OS that Windows has put out was Win 2000 NT.

I just switched to OSX, and yes it was partly because of Vista. I am not a Mac fan, I never was. I despise keynote talks where every second word is "fantastic, fabulous, amazing.." and I dislike the recent gay Mac PC commercials! There are values of Apple brand that prevent me from pulling a Mac out in public. I definitely didn't go for Apple because of peer pressure :)

In the consumer OS market the OSX leads the way. I would run it on my old IBM if it was possible :)

After the switch all I can say is "I have never seen Windows XP run faster then on Mac (with bootcamp)"

Danielle

October 29, 2008 07:41 AM

I use Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard so I don't have to deal with any of the slow and annoying Vista stuff.

Lord XP

October 29, 2008 11:25 AM

Why Windows 7? Here are some funny reasons (No offence meant to Microsoft, these are just for fun) :

- It boots 7 times before prompting for a mandatory service pack download

- Limited multi-tasking: You can only open 7 windows at a time, the 8th one starts blinking

- It takes 7 people to use it

- James Bond used it and gave two zeroes in the feedback (007 - 00 = 7)

- It will take Microsoft's users to the 7th heaven

- Attempt#7 to finally make a piece of software that works without crashing!

- It's 7 times worse as compared to Vista

Feel free to add more!

Mario

October 29, 2008 12:33 PM

I use Mac OS X and Windows XP with iMac Core 2 Duo. That's more than I need for the next years. No Vista or Windows 7.

Dumbiste

October 29, 2008 02:49 PM

Looks a lot like... Apple. Now apple had to make transitions too; from OS9 to OSX. It did not break OSX. It also made the transition from OSX PowerPC to OSX Intel. It did not break OSX. I am not an Apple fanboy, in my home I have Linux (primary), WinXP, Vista, OSX. I think that W7 is going to be just a new face and a new name for Vista. MS is trying to get rid of Vista the way it did with WinME. Who's with me?

tayfun ozisik

October 29, 2008 03:21 PM

Windows operating system is still cluttered
with redundancy in its system core.It won't compete with OS X in anyways, people will still wait for rebooting the computer for minutes after Vista bloating itself lol.

David Gerard

October 29, 2008 04:10 PM

I am so excited about $NEXT_VERSION of Windows. It will go beyond just solving all of the problems with $CURRENT_VERSION, it will be an entirely new paradigm. Forget about security problems, those are all fixed in $NEXT_VERSION. And they're finally ridding themselves of $ANCIENT_LEGACY_STUFF.

Also, there'll be $DATABASE_FILESYSTEM. It'll be awesome!

I wonder how $NEXT_VERSION will compare to $NEXT_NEXT_VERSION.

I do believe I've read the precise same article about the next version of Windows in the computer press every year since 1994. Blog rant: http://tinyurl.com/6bc6gu

m.r.

October 29, 2008 06:59 PM

p.s. instead of wasting lots of money on stupid ads that promote Vista, MSFT should hire demonstrators(like Apple)
for stores and malls, to show prospective buyers of Win7 how it works.
money better spent! if MSFT thinks that
the unwashed masses will buy Win7 without a good look, they are mistaken.
Win7 will be a hard sell! if I buy it, it may be a year after introduction that I do so, maybe. I am a sceptic!

Gaétan Fortin

October 30, 2008 10:23 AM

The existing Sidebar is far superior to
MacOSX's similar feature. I hope MS
does not use the OSX-like feature
shown on this page. Ot at least that
one can chose between sidepar and full
scree displays.

Gaétan Fortin

October 30, 2008 10:28 AM

I wish to add to my previous post, that
I own both a MAX and a PC with Vista and like both. Except for the relative scarcity of software for my MAC.
It's improving, but so slowly.

And I do like Vista much. More than XP

Steve Wildstrom

October 30, 2008 01:47 PM

@Gaetan Fortin--The Windows 7 gadgets are different from either Vista or OS X. Unlike vista, they can be placed anywhere on the desktop. But if you want a Sidebar-like look, they will snap to the edge of the screen.

The handling of windows in general is quite different in Windows 7. It's one of the things I will be experimenting with and writing about as time goes on.

Steve Wildstrom

October 30, 2008 04:41 PM

@Gaetan Fortin--The Windows 7 gadgets are different from either Vista or OS X. Unlike vista, they can be placed anywhere on the desktop. But if you want a Sidebar-like look, they will snap to the edge of the screen.

The handling of windows in general is quite different in Windows 7. It's one of the things I will be experimenting with and writing about as time goes on.

Jon

November 3, 2008 02:28 PM

Windows will remain highly vulnerable and the age old problems in previous versions will continue to show their face. You can download a highly stable, long term support version of a Linux Distribution along with proper software packages to make it compatible and successfully run virtually anything a Windows-based computer can. Or if you aren't that smart, you can reload Windows and continue to purchase upgrades to make it look better than actually run better.

Ed Straker

November 4, 2008 12:51 PM

@ Econguy

Completely agree. Too many versions rolled over the years that tacked on bloat from the prior. Why didn't they ever focus on the core features and make Windows boot and run fast in less RAM? Create a Professional version that presumes the user is not a novice and does not need to prefix every folder with My: My Documents, My Music, My Videos, My Goodness.

Nexus

November 8, 2008 03:29 AM

Microsoft ‘suffers’ from being a monopolistic company with related revenue streams – what do they care about the consumer? Where are consumers going to go? Where are hardware suppliers going to go? They (MS) can release what they want, at a time they decide and you have to put up with what you are given, etc. This has strangled innovation in the OS space. The lack of innovation and MS’s desire to protect their monopolistic revenue stream has frustrated the take up of the Internet and related technologies – with many MS products marketing hype exceeds the value they deliver. It's just an OS.

Alphadog

November 13, 2008 11:47 AM

Do not wait for Win7, just go ahead and make the switch. OS X or Linux if your are being battered by those Wall Street gangsters. I am very pleased with my OS X MBA. TOshiba, Sony, HP et al are great HW but they all lack a good OS. For all those in need of Windows, just use the reliable XP SP2 using Sun's VirtualBox.

Toby Hinloopen

January 11, 2009 09:08 PM

Actually, i am posting this comment while using windows 7.

It's working great so far.

A little add-on for the win-XP lovers and vista haters:
-try to compare the wireless manager and stability of the wireless network betreen vista and XP. XP's wireless is INSTABLE en SLOW.

-win vista supports DX10, which is great for high-end gamers.

-win vista is just as fast as XP, if you just have enough RAM.

comments to the windows-haters and mac-lovers:
-Some people don't want to spend 1000's of dollars to buy a simple working PC.
-Try to use DirectX on a mac.
-There is nowhere near as much free software for download as for windows.
-Try to mod your apple.
-Try to install apple's OS on a PC you like, not limited to their hardware. (yes, its possible, but requires a lot of hacks)
-Windows vista can boot FASTER than an equal intel mac with same CPU and HDD speed/size, if you just don't put any useless crap on your vista/xp.

A lot of people are complaining about slow vista/XP. So one word to the complainers: IT IS NOT SLOW BY DEFAULT. The user is the cause. The only difference between mac and windows is that it is less likely to have useless crap on a mac, simply because THERE IS NO USELESS CRAP for a mac. All small free applications are build for a windows.

Windows (and linux) and Nvidia also supports another feature which if think holds the future: CUDA.
a technique used to use the GPU's power for use in complex calculations. The modern GPU's will easly outperform any CPU.
Too bad it is NOT supported on mac OS. (or not YET, who knows?)

CUDA will easly run massive calculation like game graphics, physics (example: physx by nvidia), etc which is impossible to calculate on the CPU at the same speed.

Nice sideeffect is that SLi will become useless: think of using the 1st GPU to calculate graphics with an custom-build-CUDA-based graphics API, together with the second GPU?
performance will be much better than SLi and two equal graphics cards is NOT required.

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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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