By Ian Cutler
Out of character for Microsoft, Redmond has been less than quiet on its next operating system. In the past Microsoft has kept details of current in development products close to its chest. It appears not to be the case with Windows 7.
News began to leak onto the Internet in 2007 with screen shots of the new look for Windows 7 appearing in the final quarter of 2008 and a Beta version available to download in January 2009. The speed with which Windows 7 has been developed seems surprising considering the development time Microsoft took with Windows Vista. Microsoft has always tried to stick to its self imposed 3-year development cycle and has usually managed to. The PR disaster that was Windows Vista has made the development of Windows 7 look supersonic.
Microsoft is still trying to squeeze every last bit of life out of Vista though and, if Vista had taken off in the way Microsoft anticipated and in the same way Windows XP did, maybe Windows 7 might not have come round so quickly or looked the way it does. Vista has become very much maligned, some criticism justified, and with XP still going strong many users have been reluctant to make the change. Maybe a new improved Windows operating system is just what Microsoft needs to win back some plaudits and to get users to finally let go of Windows XP.
Mainstream support for Windows XP ended on 14/04/2009 with updates and paid support available until 2014, Microsoft is killing off XP for good. With Vista seemingly not a viable option for most people and to stop users giving up on Windows altogether and adopting Linux or Mac, this is where Windows 7 comes in.
Windows 7 isn’t a brand new operating system. Underneath, it is basically Windows Vista with a new look and some enhancements. In essence Microsoft is putting right what users perceive is wrong with Vista and passing these corrections off as a new operating system. That’s not to say that this is a bad idea. The more cynical among us would suggest Microsoft could have corrected these issues properly in a Service Pack and still have included the new look. This may have been the case, but ultimately Microsoft has decided on a new product which could look more of a marketing move than anything else. The adage here is “if it looks new, it probably is."
Most of the bugs and major complaints with the early Vista release such as it being slow to boot and shutdown, hogging system resources were mostly dealt with in Service Pack 1. Windows Server 2007, which became Server 2008, also runs on the same underlying kernel as Vista; the release of which was delayed by a year and evidently tweaked and honed so much so that some beta users adopted Server 2008 as an improved desktop operating system to Vista.
On top of speed and performance improvements Windows 7 has a Start-up Repair and diagnostic tool which automatically loads on reboot if it fails to start up first time.
Windows 7 hosts a new look desktop, just to make sure you know it's not Vista. The new Windows 7 desktop is not a major leap away from previous Windows desktops but is more 'Mac' like in the way you can 'dock' application launchers into it. Other well known Windows applications such Paint and Calc get a face-lift. Paint gaining the Ribbon interface used in Microsoft Office 2007.
The Vista sidebar has been removed. The Gadgets can still be used but placed on the desktop rather than in the resource crippling sidebar.
Other improvements are the scaling down of the despised User Account Control (UAC). If you don't know UAC or have not been affected by it, UAC is a very intrusive security measure in Vista, which irritated so much it got turned off by many users. Disabling UAC soothed nerves but made the Vista desktop security vulnerable but who wants to be asked 15 times for authorisation whilst changing the wallpaper?! In Windows 7 the UAC has a slider to adjusted the level of security/intrusion the user prefers.
Applications that require Administrator access to the system to run have also been scaled down by Microsoft. This obviously reduces the number of pop-ups and security warnings the user will be subjected to. These are welcome revisions and proof that Microsoft does sometimes take on board what its customers are saying.
One of the most interesting additions to Windows 7 is the XP Mode. XP Mode will run in Virtual PC and does require a dual-core 64-bit CPU minimum, most recent machines will meet this specification quite easily. This is the clincher which Microsoft has added to try to prise users away from their beloved XP machines. The user will be able to run older XP applications in Windows 7 without any compatibility issues. A nice inclusion and it really doesn't leave any excuses not to upgrade.
Microsoft have set October 22, 2009 as the date for a Worldwide release of Windows 7. As with Vista there a few different versions to choose from: Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Starter Edition, which is aimed at the Netbook market. The Starter Edition was going to be locked to only allow the user to run 3 applications simultaneously, excluding Explorer and Anti-virus software, but Microsoft has since removed this restriction. All, except Starter Edition, will be available in 32 and 64-bit.
Pricing is expected to be £149.99 for Home Premium, £219.99 for Professional and £229.99 for Ultimate. Pricing for the retail version of Windows 7 Starter Edition has not been announced but is rumoured to be around the £50 mark. More about Windows 7 pricing can be read here: http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/0,1000000121,39667236,00.htm.
Having used Windows 7 since beta and into Release Candidate I can say Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 7 and made significant strides in repairing some of the damage to their reputation caused by Vista. Even in pre-release versions the operating system crashed rarely if it all, installed easily and without compatibility or driver issues on various hardware platforms and was much more intuitive and comfortable to use than Vista. Windows 7 is probably what Vista should have been and only time will tell if users flock en masse to adopt Microsoft's new operating system/marketing ploy, however I do think Microsoft have got it right... this time.