Yesterday, ZDNet.co.uk received a press release from Microsoft.
That's not uncommon. What is uncommon is to get one unconnected with a product launch, an event or some major change in strategy. And this one... well, we're still not sure quite what it's about. It's titled "Windows 7 Information" but, of the 1,500 or so words in it, barely a couple of sentences would fully qualify as that.
So, we've decided to publish the press release in its entirety, to let you make your own mind up about what Microsoft is trying to say and why. Our best guess is beneath each paragraph in italics but, for the full effect, ignore those.
Microsoft has long been a key innovator in touch technology. The launch of its touch platform in the next version of Windows is a sign of Microsoft's continued commitment to investing in this technology. Microsoft has been incorporating touch features into its operating systems since the Tablet PC was introduced over five years ago, and is charting new paths not just in touch but in natural user interface broadly, as evidenced by Surface, Tellme and the TouchWall demo at CEO Summit. Microsoft has always had a very healthy attitude toward competition, knowing that it is good for customers. It spends a lot of time talking to its OEM and hardware partners, its retail partners and analysts on a regular basis and is confident that Windows Vista is the platform to enhance the individual digital lives of people around the world.
Jerry Kaplan might disagree with this. As the founder of Go Corporation, he produced one of the first pen-based operating systems, and signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Microsoft in 1988. According to page 93 of The Microsoft File, by Wendy Goldman Rohm: "About two years later, Microsoft showed its own version of a pen operating system in the marketplace, having copied from Go everything it could."
And, said John Markoff in The New York Times during his reporting of the 1994 Microsoft antitrust trial, emails revealed that Bill Gates wasn't shy about talking to Andy Grove at Intel about a potential investment in Go Corp: "'I guess I've made it very clear that we view an Intel investment in Go as an anti-Microsoft move, both because Go competes with our systems software and because we think it will weaken the 386 PC standard,' Mr Gates wrote. Shortly after the letter was written, according to Mr Kaplan, Intel reduced its planned investment in Go from $10m to $2m, and stipulated the investment be kept a secret."
Microsoft is working closely with OEMs, IHVs and ISVs to bring the best touch experiences to Windows PCs. Microsoft's focus is on providing amazing innovation that its partners can use to develop incredible applications that Microsoft can't even imagine. With Windows 7, Microsoft will be baking touch right into the OS and the Windows development platform so that software developers will have a standard way of adding touch to their applications. Customers are excited about the advent of touch on a PC. Based on customer research, Microsoft believes that touch technology will become more mainstream in the Windows 7 timeframe, with an expected increase in penetration of touch-enabled PCs. Microsoft is delivering an immersive experience of touch and Surface technologies into the hands of end users with Windows 7. Not only will Windows 7 support touch-enabled hardware, but the user interface is designed to make touch a natural part of the user experience, even on the smallest laptops.
Developers are complaining that Microsoft isn't saying much about Windows 7 at all yet, and we've yet to meet anyone capable of whipping up a state of mild interest, let alone excitement, about touch on PCs. And as for "even on the smallest laptops": given that touch interfaces only work well on mobile phones, this is a curious inversion of our experience.
Microsoft is investing in touch technology as a company: Windows and Surface are working together closely to deliver the best and most innovative touch experiences to customers. With touch, Microsoft is putting the power of your PC at your fingertips. Just as the mouse brought a new level of interaction with Windows programs, Microsoft is bringing the touch experience of Surface to future versions of Windows so that, through the power of the ecosystem, Windows and Windows applications will be even more interactive and immersive. Touch changes the way you work with your PC; it introduces new ways of interacting with your PC and makes it more efficient, immersive, interactive and fun to use.
This appears to be a reiteration of the previous paragraphs but, since it lacks...
...any detail or specifics, it's hard to know what it's saying apart from: "Touch — it's going to be great."
Windows 7 takes advantage of key investment areas in Windows Vista; therefore, Windows Vista is a logical step on the path to eventual deployment of Windows 7. Microsoft's current guidance to customers is to deploy Windows Vista now to take advantage of its existing benefits and that it will be the smoothest upgrade path to Windows 7 when it is available. With Windows 7, Microsoft plans to create end-to-end scenarios that were the basis for the development process. Windows 7 will include features and enhancements for consumers and businesses alike. Microsoft's goal looking forward is to focus on building optimised desktop infrastructures, including an OS versus single point-in-time OS releases.
This is the most gnomic and yet transparent paragraph so far. "Windows 7 will be like Vista, so please buy Vista now. But it'll be better than Vista, so please buy Vista now." It's unclear how "end-to-end scenarios" match the "focus [on] providing amazing innovation [Microsoft] partners will use to develop amazing innovations Microsoft can't even imagine". What's it going to be: end-to-end scenarios or asking partners to do the work? And can anyone tell us what "Microsoft's goal looking forward is to focus on building optimised desktop infrastructures, including an OS versus single point-in-time OS releases" actually means?
Microsoft is still on track to ship Windows 7 approximately three years after the general availability of Windows Vista (30 January, 2007). Microsoft will be releasing early builds of Windows 7 prior to its general availability as a means to gain tester feedback.
Nice to have it in writing.
In Windows 7, Microsoft is building on the advances made in Windows Vista to address emerging trends and technologies. For instance, one significant trend Microsoft sees is the need for organisations to balance users' flexibility needs with IT's requirement for a controlled desktop environment. Microsoft's investments in Windows 7 are designed to address these competing needs of the business by letting users access information anywhere, enabling businesses to improve security and compliance, and helping IT simplify PC management.
Since the first Apple II appeared on an office desk, the balance between user desires and management control has been a primary concern for everyone. If Windows 7 lets users access information anywhere, what on earth have we been doing for the past 10 years of web-based services?
Surface and Windows work collaboratively to bring Surface technology and applications to the Windows PC experience. The Windows and Surface teams are sharing technical insights, best practices and user-interface knowledge to ensure that the consumer experience of using natural gestures and touch is the same, whether on a Surface computer or Windows PC.
Well, it's good that the operating system and interface teams are talking to each other. Is this unusual? Don't suppose you're talking to the Windows Mobile team, who might be expected to benefit more than anyone else from this work?
Windows 7 will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit.
It'll probably support keyboards, screens, mice and hard disks too.
Microsoft absolutely recommends customers deploy Windows Vista today. It represents tremendous innovation for consumers and businesses alike, from security and online safety to instant search to cool new multimedia tools. The platform innovation introduced in Windows Vista will carry forward in Windows 7 when it ships. The goal with Windows 7 is that it will run on the same hardware as Windows Vista and that the applications and devices that work with Windows Vista will also be compatible with Windows 7. So customers will be able to fully leverage their Windows Vista investments in the future when Windows 7 ships.
Please buy Vista. Pretty please. We know we misled you, the industry and our partners over 'Vista Ready', but you can trust us now. So, please, buy Vista. Note that "fully leverage their Windows Vista investments" is unlikely to mean: "You'll get a free upgrade". That investment has been fully spent.
For further information and for a video of the touch capabilities in Windows 7 please visit the Windows Vista Team Blog.
Not the Windows 7 Team Blog?
It's good that Microsoft is trying to communicate more about Windows 7. It's not so good that it communicates in such a peculiar way, nor that the information it communicates is indistinguishable from marketing platitudes.
It's left to us to wonder whether the internal state of Windows 7 development, marketing and planning is accurately reflected by the content of this release, or whether there really is a coherent, convincing and plausible message to be told about the new operating system. If so, Microsoft would be doing itself and us an enormous favour by getting it out as soon as possible.