My Windows 7 wish list

Cynics see the new Engineering Windows 7 blog, which launched last week, as a pure PR play from Microsoft. Maybe. But in a 2000-word post yesterday, Windows boos Steven Sinofsky provided some more details about the development effort, including some clues as to what to expect in Windows 7. In his post, Sinofsky lists the 25 main "feature teams" working on the next version of Windows. I've rearranged that list into nine groups and outlined what I think are the main challenges facing each one.

Cynics see the new Engineering Windows 7 blog, which launched last week, as a pure PR play from Microsoft. Maybe it's just a matter of setting expectations properly. In a lengthy post (more than 2,100 words!) yesterday, Steven Sinofsky provided some more details about the development effort, including some clues as to what to expect in Windows 7. He also touches on the feedback to the first post (288 comments posted in the first four days).

There's a fair amount of information in this post, all of it from 30,000 feet or so. Most interesting to me was the breakdown of how the sprawling Windows development effort is divided into 25 feature teams:

A feature team represents those that own a specific part of Windows 7—the code, features, quality, and overall development. The feature teams represent the locus of work and coordination across the team. …

Windows 7’s feature teams sound a lot like parts of Windows with which you are familiar. Because of the platform elements of Windows we have many teams that have remained fairly constant over several releases, whereas some teams are brand new or represent relatively new areas composed of some new code and the code that formed the basis of the team. Some teams do lots of work for Server (such as the VM work) and some might have big deliverables outside of Windows 7 (such as Internet Explorer).

In general a feature team encompasses ownership of combination of architectural components and scenarios across Windows. “Feature” is always a tricky word since some folks think of feature as one element in the user-interface and others think of the feature as a traditional architectural component (say TCP/IP). Our approach is to balance across scenarios and architecture such that we have the right level of end-to-end coverage and the right parts of the architecture. One thing we do try to avoid is separating the “plumbing” from the “user interface” so that teams do have end-to-end ownership of work (as an example of that, “Find and Organize” builds both the indexer and the user interface for search).

Sinofsky’s list is alphabetical. I thought it might be interesting to arrange the feature teams into groups and discuss what I believe the real challenges of each group are. It’s important to remember that this development team is working on business, consumer, and server products, all of which will be built on the Windows 7 code base.

THE GUTS

Feature teams: Fundamentals; Kernel & VM; Security

Don’t be distracted by predictions that Windows 7 will have a new kernel. It’s going to be an evolution of the kernel shared by Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008. I’ll be especially interested to see whether some form of the Hyper-V virtualization platform appears in Windows 7. If it does, I expect it will be in the enterprise version. The security challenges for Windows 7 are well known as well: refining User Account Control and hardening the kernel against new forms of attack.

DEPLOYMENT AND MANAGEMENT

Feature teams: Deployment and Component Platform; Engineering System and Tools; Customer Engineering and Telemetry; Assistance and Support Technologies; International

Some of the most interesting advances in Windows Vista are here, in the new servicing stack and a massive change to the way system images are built and deployed. If you’re a consumer, you probably aren’t aware of these changes, but enterprise customers sure are. It would be nice to see these technologies leveraged so that any Windows user can build and save a custom image that includes only the features and updates they need, without having to use third-party tools.

HARDWARE

Feature teams: Devices and Media; Devices and Storage

The driver model for Windows 7 will essentially be identical to the one used in Windows Vista. That should mean the biggest headaches of the Vista launch, where immature drivers caused performance and stability problems, will not be repeated. We’ve probably already seen a preview of the handful of new features that will appear; see the Storage 1.0 feature pack for details. I don’t expect any other major changes here.

USER EXPERIENCE

Feature teams: Core User Experience; Desktop Graphics; Applets and Gadgets

You can sum up this group’s mission in two words: fit and finish. I can already see the reviews, which will compare the Windows 7 UI and its included tools with their Apple alternatives, such as iLife and MobileMe. Microsoft has been doing some exceptional UI innovation post-Vista, with its Zune software and its Windows Live tools, especially the Photo Gallery update. Tying that all together to create a consistent end-to-end experience is essential. This group has had two full years to address the usability complaints with Windows Vista, so there really is no room for excuses. I’ll be especially interested to see how Live Mesh and other cloud-based services fit into the picture.

ORGANIZATION

Feature teams: Documents and Printing; File System; Find and Organize

Several commenters on that initial “Welcome” post expressed hope that the WinFS file system, which was killed off during the infamous “Longhorn reset,” would be resurrected for Windows 7. Not gonna happen. Nor, frankly, is it necessary. One frustrating aspect of Windows Vista is the disconnect between its Windows Search architecture (excellent) and its search tools (weak). This is another area where reviewers are going to compare a Windows 7 feature to its Apple counterpart, Spotlight. Being able to win that comparison is essential.

NETWORKING

Feature teams: Networking – Core; Networking – Enterprise; Networking - Wireless

This group has a lot of work to do, both at the plumbing level and at the User Experience level. Making the Network and Sharing Center more accessible is what reviewers will focus on, but it’s equally important to iron out the remaining glitches in network performance (especially those that slow down file transfers while multimedia components are in operation).

DEVELOPER SUPPORT

Feature teams: User Interface Platform; Windows App Platform

Because I’m not a developer, I haven’t been paying much attention to this space lately. So, I’ll throw this category open to my dev-centric readers. What do you expect to see here?

INTERNET

Feature team: Internet Explorer (including IE 8 down-level)

Internet Explorer 8 is just about ready to go into a second beta and is probably feature-complete at this point. Although it’s integrated into the operating system, its development effort follows a parallel track and it should be done well before the rest of the OS is ready to ship. The biggest challenge for the IE group is to erase the perception that Microsoft’s browser is fundamentally less secure than its competitors. Tightening up the ActiveX security model should go a long way in that respect. I’ll have much more to say about IE8 when the next milestone release is available.

MEDIA CENTER

Feature team: Media Center

The Media Center team owns one of the highest-profile consumer features in the product. Their challenge is walking the tightrope between satisfying the demands of a passionate and vocal enthusiast community and building a set of platform components that are stable enough to work like an appliance. As the controversy over the recent Media Center TV Feature Pack (previously codenamed “Fiji”) attests, there’s still plenty of work to do here.

Did I miss anything? Hit the Talkback button and let me know.

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