As I mentioned earlier, Windows 7 is the product of Microsoft's missed expectations with Windows Vista and reaction to Apple's negative campaign against it. The combination motivated Microsoft in a way we haven't seen since IBM and the OS/2 wars. It created something to send a strong message to Apple and other critics, summed up in one word: "enough."
Let's talk about the content of Windows 7, with a blended emphasis on both corporate and consumer needs, because none of us work or play all the time. This product should roll out before this time next year, possibly well before given how solid the pre-beta offering appears. It is interesting to note that the product was distributed to a large number of reporters and analysts, which Microsoft generally doesn't do unless it's confident those users will have a good experience.
It's being showcased at the Professional Developers Conference with an audience largely focused on the plumbing of the product. I'll try to drill through that here and talk about the key benefits to you and your users.
The demo for this capability used Autodesk, but it probably should have shown that what can be done on the iPhone can be done with more power and capability on a Windows 7 PC. This will directly improve modeling, graphical analysis (think of the things we've been seeing during the elections), presentations (particularly when you have access to touch-screen presentation displays) and object manipulation. Objects can be pictures, documents, files or representations of devices.
There is a huge push here to get the developers to use touch, which also points to the benefits of this product coming to hardware that doesn't yet exist in corporate laptops and desktops. Those who have HP TouchSmart PCs will see this in the consumer segment first, but I don't expect touch-capable corporate products until after mid-2009.
High DPI, Dual Monitor, Projector
Few things are more annoying than having a beautiful multi-screen, high-resolution monitor that you can't adjust properly, align properly with a projector or see the application that launches on a remote machine.
Microsoft has fixed all that. Now you can adjust monitors the way you want them, you can hit Windows Key + P and quickly connect to an external projector -- without having to look for the special key that every notebook maker takes great pleasure in hiding -- and you can view all the screens on your remote desktop.
Security in Vista was better, yet incredibly annoying. I've used Vista as my default for nearly two years now. After a while, most of us had to find creative ways to either ignore the notifications or, if we could remember where the settings are, turn the User Access Control off.
Using VPNs also was incredibly annoying and I'll bet few of us actually clicked on the links while remote.
Now you can use whatever parts of User Access Control make sense to you and turn off the rest. Links that require a secure VPN connection will auto-launch the secure connection, which will only remain up while it is needed. This doesn't eliminate the traditional hit the user will get while using the VPN into the site, which is to prevent someone from using the PC as a bridge into the enterprise, but it should make linking into these secure resources vastly easier and increase the likelihood that they will be used.
It also allows IT to connect attributes that force encryption to documents. If an employee wants to copy a secure document to a non-encrypted device such as a flash drive, it won't allow the transfer until the device is first encrypted and the file protected. This seems less draconian than simply preventing external storage devices.
It's not that Windows 7 is more secure than Vista. It's that its security is more intelligently applied and used in ways that better assure that stuff is actually secured as opposed to potentially secured, which is another way of saying not really secured at all.
64 Bit - It's About Time
On the long-term road map, Vista was supposed to be the 64-bit transition product for Windows and Windows 7 should have been 64-bit only. Its server counterpart is 64-bit only, which suggests that code will offer the best experience in terms of performance, stability and security. Regardless of when and if you move to Windows 7, it would be wise to start thinking about moving, if only to get a sense for how long it will take and to ensure you aren't developing 32-bit applications that should be 64-bit.
Think of Windows 7 as a 64-bit operating system with a good 32-bit compatibility mode -- with every compatibility-mode application will come the typical reliability and security risks that, no matter how good the emulator is, you'll wish you didn't have to worry about.
Windows 7 is being developed at the same time as Windows Azure, the cloud platform announced earlier this week. Just as Windows 95 shifted to the initial Web, Windows 7 will shift to the cloud, allowing the user to transition between environments seamlessly -- if the interface is done right.
With the online grocer Tesco, the demo used an application on the HP TouchSmart that connected back to its services and transformed the desktop into a front end for those services. Using touch, users could manage their grocery needs with a cloud service that kept the impression of a desktop application. Users could even use the PC camera to scan the bar code on products they needed to reorder. And since this a pre-beta application, not doubt it will improve sharply before it launches next year.
I left the UI for last because it will probably go through some changes and because this is something you really need to see. Words just don't do it justice. Needless to say, it is vastly improved. While Vista's Aero interface was certainly pretty, it was also a resource hog and did little to improve productivity. Windows 7 uses far less resources and the task bar now pulls multiple duties. Once you learn it, it makes launching and managing applications faster and easier.
It's pretty and productive. Gadgets move from toys locked to the right -- there will still be toys -- to real utilities that can be placed wherever you want them. Beauty fades if it gets in the way of getting real work done, and Windows 7 is clearly designed to get work done.
You rarely see a vendor as complex as Microsoft deliver on a promise like it has with this early look at Windows 7. Launch is still a long way off, but this is arguably the best I've ever seen Microsoft do this early since Windows 95. The goals, initial representation and execution on Windows 7 appear solid. If it can deliver on the promises made this week, the result will deliver the intended message to Apple and others.