Product Timeline: 2 Key Milestones for Windows 7

Microsoft appears to be preparing to release a beta of Windows 7 this month, and a senior executive has said that the product should be generally available in about a year.

Bill Veghte, senior vice president for Microsoft's Windows business, discussed Windows 7 in a presentation on Microsoft's business strategies for the Windows product line at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., in December. Most notable was Veghte's timetable for Microsoft's next operating system: "Our public comments have been to ... release to manufacturing the Windows 7 product by next January, and we're on track for that," he said, referring to January 2010.

Windows 7 will be available first as a beta, followed by the release candidate version and then release to manufacturing (RTM). Veghte didn't exactly specify when the beta would be released, but a Web page advertising Microsoft's MSDN Developer Conference provided a clue, explaining that attendees at the January 2009 MSDN event would receive the "Windows 7 beta 1 DVD."

Developers received a pre-beta of Windows 7 at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference 2008 in late October. Veghte said the application programming interfaces were complete with that release.

Microsoft expects that the Windows 7 beta will be compatible with existing systems running Windows Vista. When Microsoft first released Vista, the company made fundamental changes in security and graphics that tripped up some of the vendors writing drivers for the OS. However, with the release of Windows 7, "we don't have to change graphics drivers," Veghte said in December.

Microsoft has spent more than 250 hours talking with OEM partners on Windows 7, Veghte said. The company has gathered feedback from both hardware and software providers for the beta release.

Credit Suisse analyst Phil Winslow asked Veghte about Microsoft's up-selling strategy and how the company will structure its premium offerings with Windows 7, but Veghte provided no details beyond saying that that Microsoft would base pricing on its past Windows release experiences.

By the Numbers

7 Things Partners Should Know About Windows 7

  1. A beta is due out this month.
  2. Overall, the release will follow the usual Windows OS development cycle: betas, release candidates, release to manufacturing (RTM), general availability.
  3. General availability, or at least RTM, is expected by about January 2010.
  4. Substantial debate exists over whether Windows 7 is a major or minor update to Windows Vista. Microsoft calls it a major release. Some early reviews have described it as a refinement of Vista.
  5. Tighter security in Vista led to a lot of broken applications. The User Account Control (UAC) model is preserved for Windows 7. More user flexibility on the degree of UAC notifications means Windows 7 will undercut one of competitor Apple Inc.'s most devastating ads: Security guy: "You are coming to a sad realization, cancel or allow?" PC guy: "Allow."
  6. User interface improvements were among Vista's bright spots. Microsoft is continuing the UI tweaks in Windows 7 with a "Superbar" update to the Taskbar, a "Show Desktop" glass panel and a "Jump List."
  7. With a new UI called "Multi-Touch," Microsoft hopes to usher in a new class of touch-screen-based applications with Windows 7. These require an upgrade to pricey touch-screen monitors: ka-ching!

-Scott Bekker

In that context, the unacknowledged elephant in the room during the talk was the "Vista-capable" lawsuit, in which plaintiffs have accused Microsoft of false advertising. The suit is based on the fact that Microsoft offered a Vista Basic Edition of the operating system that couldn't run prominent features, such as its Aero graphics experience. That decision apparently caused confusion when customers at the low end of the price scale expected Aero to be part of the Vista Basic experience.

Asked about how virtualization would affect Microsoft's hold over its component products, Veghte responded that server-side virtualization would help customers consolidate their unused capacity. On the client side, Veghte described himself as excited about "our ability to continue to drive down the cost of deployment and deliver architectural advancements without [affecting] application capability."

When Winslow inquired about how Microsoft expects to continue pushing out margins in a recessionary environment, Veghte pointed to Microsoft's research and development accomplishments in rolling out the forthcoming Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8 products. Microsoft is also extending the Windows experience to the Web via its Live offerings, he added.

Veghte spoke extensively about Microsoft's marketing campaigns as ways for reaching customers. Windows has "almost 80 percent positive reception ... and yet we need to have a conversation about what Windows uniquely offers," he said.

Veghte also pointed to two notable features in Windows 7:

  • "Direct Access," a more convenient way for remote users to connect with their offices than the current virtual private network-type connections
  • The ability to divide a computer between different "states," such as "work" and "home," by setting up separate groups within Windows 7.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.