Reading the Tea Leaves on 'Windows 7'

The massive Microsoft Tech-Ed 2008 show in Orlando this month, with its dual tracks for IT professionals and developers, might seem like an ideal opportunity for Microsoft to give its technical community some insights into "Windows 7," the code name for the next version of its Windows operating system.

But Microsoft will most likely pass on that chance for a variety of reasons. For one thing, releasing details too early created problems for Windows Vista, with the company generating buzz, followed by disappointment, when it removed anticipated features such as WinFS. For another, the company is still trying to build momentum behind Vista and pry users off Windows XP.

But regardless of how much Microsoft is saying publicly, the company is hard at work on Windows 7 -- and it will happen despite all the industry rumblings about Vista's launch representing the last of the huge Microsoft OS rollouts. Several details have emerged recently, providing a broad outline about what Microsoft has been doing.

Conventional Wisdom
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has said that even though he'll step back from day-to-day involvement with Microsoft starting in July, he will remain involved with Windows 7 development. Gates told an audience in April that a new version of Windows would be coming in the next year or so. Company spokespeople quickly issued clarifications saying that Gates was referring to beta, or possibly even alpha, code. For now, conventional wisdom is that the OS will release to manufacturing in the second half of 2009 or in 2010. Take that for what it's worth, given the monumental size of OS projects.

Windows 7's Code-Name Shuffle
"Windows 7" is the current code name for the next version of the Windows client operating system. But Microsoft has cycled the product through several code names since 2000:

Blackcomb: The original code name for the post-XP version of Windows. It's named for the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. The Blackcomb name was dropped after Microsoft released an interim version code-named "Longhorn" (what is now known as Windows Vista).

Vienna: Briefly a code name for what is now Windows 7.

Windows Seven: Another former brief code name for Windows 7.

Windows 7: Based on the fact that it's the 7.0 version of the Windows NT client code base. This isn't the official name.

Internal memos published by Microsoft blogger (and sister pub Redmond magazine columnist) Mary Jo Foley in late April indicate that Microsoft is developing the next wave of Windows Live applications specifically for Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8. A new set of services is supposed to "light up" Windows 7, in the words of the executives who wrote the memos. One possible example: the ability to store Internet Explorer settings in a Windows Live account, making it possible to browse the Web from any computer, using all your saved preferences.

More Developments
Among the most interesting features in development for Windows 7 is MinWin, a stripped-down OS kernel that runs without a graphical user interface; it reportedly consumes only 25MB of disk space and works from about 40MB of memory. Should Microsoft successfully ship MinWin and implement it well, the approach could go a long way toward addressing complaints that Windows has become a resource hog.

Other interesting Windows 7 tidbits:

  • Microsoft is working on integrating touch-screen technology into the OS.
  • The Gadgets introduced in Vista are expected to be much more integrated into core OS services.
  • There are rumors of a 10-minute install process.
  • New versions of Paint, WordPad and Calculator are in progress.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.