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Sunday, 19 October 2008 14:22

Ballmer's buzz on Windows 7

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Speaking at the final keynote of Gartner’s “Symposium ITxpo” in the US, Ballmer explained Microsoft’s stance on Windows 7, saying it’s “Vista but a lot better”, yet insisting Windows 7 is a major OS revision, and not a minor one, while criticising Google Apps. Oh, and yeah, it’s ok to wait if you want.

A ZDNet blog has details of answers Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, gave at the final keynote of the Gartner Symposium ITxpo ealier this week on Microsoft, Windows 7 and more.

Given that Windows 7 uses the Vista SP1 codebase and builds atop that, Ballmer saying that: “Windows 7 will be Vista, but a lot better,” and insisting that: “it’s not minor because it’s a lot more work than a minor release. It’s a major release” makes sense.

Vista has been optimised with SP1 and has had lots of new drivers written and made available since its business launch on November 30, 2006, and its consumer launch in late January, 2007, and Microsoft is even planning an SP2.

Vista SP2 will arrive before Windows 7, with those improvements likely enhancing Windows 7's code as well.

Existing screenshots of Windows 7 show a Vista-like interface with lots of little improvements to the user interface and menus, such as the Office 2007 ribbon toolbar making an appearance in programs such as Microsoft Paint and WordPad, while the little programs being upgraded, such as the calculator, among others.

Bigger improvements include better networking, an updated media center, a better security center called a ‘solutions center’, fewer installed apps, better user control for apps that are installed and headline features like ‘multitouch’. 

But as Windows 7 is expected to launch around the middle of 2009, it needs to start getting feedback on Windows 7 builds now, so a pre-beta copy will be given to all Professional Development Conference attendees in late October, with the first real beta due in December.

Once we’ve all had a chance to use Windows 7, we’ll know whether it truly is a major update, compared with just a facelift on Windows Vista, but given Vista’s performance improvements up to and since SP1, an OS that’s had couple more years work on it based on Vista should be even better, more efficient and Vista hardware driver compatible, as is being promised.

If Microsoft plans going gold in mid-2009 into a Q3 timeframe in time for computers loaded with Windows 7 to go on sale in late October or early November, it’s only got a few months left to finish upgrading existing features, adding new ones and getting beta tester feedback to keep or cut the final features.

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Because the testing teams are now supposed to be working with the feature teams and programmers, they’re having more input into making sure the feature is built right earlier in the process.

This is supposed to be delivering much more robust builds and adds fuel to the fire on rumours that Windows 7 will come out in mid to late 2009 after all, rather than stretching out into 2010 as Microsoft also warns could happen.

And while Ballmer is quoted telling Gartner keynote attendees that “it’s ok to wait” on replacing XP systems with Windows 7, and skipping Vista, he also noted that “IT buyers” do need to buy new models and do deploy the upgraded OS that is pre-loaded.

While Ballmer didn’t specifically mention it, it sounds like Ballmer is wanting to downplay the fact some companies and individuals choose to “downgrade” back to Windows XP, although Ballmer does say that Windows Vista adoption is ahead of Windows XP adoption in the same timeframe.

Microsoft is also going to talk more about its Windows Cloud OS at the Professional Developers Conference, clearly seeing Google turn the web into its own platform and wanting to do the same.

Microsoft’s mantra is software and services, merging the desktop and the cloud, not just the cloud itself, and while this is hardly surprising, it’s a combination that combines local storage and power with the benefits of the cloud as opposed to more emphasis on the cloud itself.

Ballmer criticised Google Apps as being primitive and claimed Open Office was a much bigger competitive threat to Microsoft Office, challenging Google to advance its tools and upgrade them to a new level of features and benefits.

On a totally separate note, it’d be interesting to see if Microsoft would give Windows Vista Ultimate users a rather “ultimate extra” of a free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate, or if Microsoft wants to be less Ultimate, it could give Vista Ultimate owners a free copy of Windows 7 Home Premium and a half-price upgrade to get 7 Ultimate instead.

How many Ultimate users are out there? Not too many, I’d wager, compared with the users of Vista Home Premium or Basic. Or Business.

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That’d be a pretty good “ultimate extra” for long suffering Windows Vista Ultimate users.

If a lot of Windows Vista computers are supposed to be powerful enough to run Windows 7, a free copy of Windows 7 strictly for ultimate users would undoubtedly make many Ultimate users very happy – although we’ll just have to see if that, or something like it, comes true.

The next few days should bring forth a lot more information about Windows 7, with the coming weeks and months set to see betas, release candidates, a Vista SP2 and then finally a Windows 7 launch.

There’s also been talk very recently of an “instant on” Windows 7 mode that, like the Asus  ExpressGate feature that is running a cut down version of Linux to run Firefox, Skype and other basic software for an instant-on appliance type of experience.

While Microsoft is not yet offering this feature, the idea is being investigated, so I can only hope they do it, or face the instant boot market ceded to Linux.

What happens between now and the launch dictates just how much of a wow Windows 7 will be, and how much of the “ow” of Vista’s original launch there isn’t, although so far, Windows 7 is looking pretty good.  

That last link takes you to Paul Thurrott’s excellent Windows 7 FAQ, with plenty of interesting screenshots, and I’m sure that the PDC will deliver plenty more, giving added hope that Windows 7 upon launch will actually be heaven, compared with Windows Vista’s launch, which was, for many, a lot closer to hell.

That said, a string of updates and performance enhancements leading up to Vista SP1 and beyond have transformed Vista today into what it should have been at launch, and if Windows 7 promises even better improvements, Windows 7 should prove a very interesting new OS indeed.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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