How much do you need to know about Windows 7 today?

How much do you need to know about Windows 7 today?

Summary: My colleague Mary Jo Foley and I have our ears to the ground in Redmond, listening for news of Windows 7, and we're hearing ... nothing. If this were like previous Windows development cycles, we would have already been buried in hype and white papers, but new Windows boss Steven Sinofsky has imposed an information lockdown. Is that a bad thing? With Vista, Microsoft overpromised and underdelivered. Will a "talk less, ship more" philosophy produce a better product?

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My colleague Mary Jo Foley has her ear to the ground in Redmond, and when it comes to Windows 7 she's hearing ... nothing. Under new Windows boss Steven Sinofsky, she notes, the information lockdown is nearly airtight, and some customers are starting to complain:

I’m hearing increasing dissatisfaction from Microsoft customers, testers and other sources typically in the insider track that Microsoft still hasn’t shared any Windows 7 information. The silence is deafening — and disconcerting — they say.... [T]he worry is that Microsoft is moving full-steam-ahead to build a Windows 7 that won’t have a whole lot of input from outsiders. After the compatibility and marketing nightmares that have plagued Vista, one would think Microsoft might be interested in letting its users have more sway on what they really want from a new version of Windows.

For what it's worth, I'm hearing almost nothing about Windows 7, either. My usual official and unofficial sources at Microsoft just smile or change the subject when the topic of Windows 7 comes up, and outsiders who historically have had advance access to upcoming Windows releases tell me they're similarly frozen out.

If this were like previous Windows development cycles, we would have already been treated to at least one developers' conference, two rounds of dog-and-pony shows for the press and analysts, and a stack of white papers three feet high. Early releases would already be in the hands of outside testers, and a much larger community would be gearing up for official beta releases. This time around, things are different. Sinofsky's goal is obviously to move the dial in the other direction. Talk less, ship more. Underpromise, overdeliver. But has he gone too far?

Maybe. The nature of the Windows ecosystem means that Microsoft can never deliver a Steve Jobs-style surprise, so eventually that information lockdown has to relax. But I think there's something healthy about undoing some of the old assumptions about how Windows should be developed. Here are three of those assumptions I won't miss:

Long beta cycles make better products. Oh really? If you count the infamous "Longhorn reset," Windows Vista had arguably the longest beta cycle in the history of software development, with tens of thousands of outside testers. And look how well that worked out. Getting advance access to new Windows releases might make some outsiders feel like insiders, but it doesn't make for a better product. The overwhelming majority of customers buy a new release of Windows with a new PC, and the quality of their experience is driven by the decisions that the OEM makes. Beta testers can't duplicate that experience. 

Customers need lots of advance information to make buying decisions. Which customers are we talking about here? And how much advance information do they need? Corporate customers can start their testing before release (and smart ones do just that), but they invariably need 12 to 18 months of testing with the official release to verify compatibility with in-house applications before they begin actual deployments of a new OS. Meanwhile, consumers had years of information about Longhorn/Vista in advance of its release. Did all that information really help anyone make better buying decisions in early 2007?

Users need time to give feedback about design decisions. Microsoft is getting plenty of feedback about the design decisions it made with Windows Vista. I don't think there's been any shortage of suggestions on what needs to be fixed in Vista, do you? Presumably, that feedback is being incorporated into components and features of Windows 7, including User Account Control, Windows Explorer, the Network and Sharing Center, and Internet Explorer. But there's a cold, hard reality with all those design decisions: You can't please everyone. One of the weaknesses of the Vista beta cycle was that the UI designers kept changing things up until the very last minute. For Windows 7, they need to get the design right (or nearly so) the first time.

Ultimately, what customers want to know now about the next version of Windows is simple. Corporate Windows users want Microsoft to provide a road map they can use to make decisions. Tell us what you plan to concentrate on in this release and how you intend to reduce the pain of deploying and managing Windows systems. Software and hardware developers want a platform that they can count on so they can have solid code ready on the day Windows 7 ships. Consumers want fewer marketing buzzwords and more concrete reasons to believe that the experience of using Windows 7 is going to be dramatically better than what they got with Vista.

More than anything else, we want you to tell us what you're going to do, and then do it.

Go ahead, surprise us.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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74 comments
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  • You would think they learned.

    By the mistakes of ALL products they have released in the last year plus. It appears they are headed down a path of further customer complaints about a product that if they would just ask what works they could design the products to use instead of design to what they think it should be (Windows, Office, SQL Server (DBA Wise). Personally I don't think this company is headed in the right direction for any of their products. They are sure to continue to loose marketshare if they continue to develop the same as they have.
    redtrain65
    • RE:You would think they learned

      "I don't think this company is headed in the right direction for any of their products. They are sure to continue to loose marketshare if they continue to develop the same as they have. "

      Then you don't know a lot of their products, do you ?
      Their professional aimed product such as SQL Server, Visual Studio, SharePoint,etc... are sure headed in the right direction as each new version is far superior to its predecessor.
      Moreover several of these products have free counterparts even though these free versions are less powerful.
      Windows Server is also clearly headed in the right direction and could become far superior than Unix in a close future.
      Windows client is headed in a right direction(more modern design,higher security,etc...) though unfortunately this is hidden by all the FUD spread on the web and some politic errors from Microsoft.
      Even Zune is headed(although far too slowly) in the right direction.
      In fact their only product which is clearly not headed in the right direction is Xbox.
      timiteh
  • A Microsoft user since 1991 and, after the mess of Vista, never again

    After the mess of Vista, I'm never buying Microsoft again.
    Skinnercm
    • I get it

      After I got burned by 2 iBooks and their logicboard problems, I'll never buy a Mac again. The good thing about Vista (for me) is it has improved to the point of being faster and more stable than my remaining XP machines including my dual boot Lenovo which came with XP.
      marks055
    • What 'mess of Vista'?

      My notebook with Vista on it has worked since the day I got it, no problems at all except ones that I was stupid enough to create myself by poking in places I shouldn't have ventured into (Windows directory, ProgramData directory).

      I don't understand why people keep on whining about Vista... and I don't understand why they try running Vista on some of the machines I have seen them try to run it on!
      Single core, 7 year old bargain basement machines.
      OLDER machines than that...... it's gotten to be a big joke what these people are expecting of a very new, very powerful operating system.
      They are basically expecting it to run on machines that even WINDOWS XP would have problems running on.
      Lerianis
      • vista?Whats wrong? I think nothing

        I agree nothing at all wrong with vista. we have thre vista computers which all run flawlessly no Blue screens No crashes , all software runs flawlessly even older softwarwe. just like a car f you try to get a model t to run on unleaded gas IT won't run. You have to put in A different Engine. Upgrade Your Systems people. Linux and untubu are not the answer, There is Nothing at all wrong with Vista, No Crashes whatsoever in one year.I think Micosoft Bashers are on this site. If it wasn't for gates You would still be running DOS, get real folks quit whining
        wmjzyrk9
      • Vista will be with me a long time

        I didn't try to make it conform to my special needs and it works great. I have two computers w/winxp-ubuntu8.04, which is working out great! And I have a new portable with Vista. All are a go and great!I'm set for a long time, and won't be thinking about win7 for at least three years.
        craiglarry
        • May i suggest...

          ...to wait for Windows 7's actual feature list to decide that?

          As much as i share your positive impression of Vista, I'm sure that we shouldn't start the (inevitable) "Windows 7 is unnecessary/sucks, stay with Vista" movement before Windows 7 arrives.
          cgdams
      • Re: What 'mess of Vista'?

        good for you Lerianis.. Microsoft/Intel needs people like you to sustain business.. I'm sure you'll upgrade to a 8 core machine with 4GB RAM so that you'll meet the *minimum* requirements of the next *very new*, *very powerful* MS Windows version..
        wolfie2x
        • You're right, 4gb of ram

          is asking way too much of the consumer. What the heck is MS and Intel thinking? With 4GB of PC2-800 costing at least $50.00, it's hard to imagine how anyone can afford it.

          Personally, I'm sticking with Dos. 4MB of ram and it runs like a champ. I can play state of the art games like Wing Comamnder without any problems, and I don't need any of these new fangled CPUs to play them, much less the overpriced do nothing Graphics Cards that people are buying to play bloated games with graphics that are barely better than an old Infocom game.

          My grandfather used to tell me that when he was a kid, he didn't need no computer. He had an abacus to do the math and a deck of cards to play games. I think he's right. The problem with Windows is it requires a computer. Why can't it run on an abacus?
          notsofast
    • That's boneheaded

      What Vista mess? If you installed Vista over an XP system, then what were you thinking?

      Having built systems, installed nearly every MS OS that's been made. I don't do it unless I have a reason to, and the only reason I could see changing is if you want the media center functions. Otherwise why would you update?

      If you have Vista on a new machine ( I have a Vista laptop), then you should complain to the hardware manufacturer not MS. My Gateway has been fine from day 1, only problems are with software that I have added and primarily with secondary software (freeware etc.).

      Stop the FUD!
      stano360
  • Maybe they simply don't know yet

    They've gotten burned in the past by promising features then leaving them out when they weren't completed in time (or at all). They still get lambasted for not delivering WinFS. So better to wait a while and be sure of what they can include and what they can't before spilling the beans.
    Michael Kelly
    • Likely

      I think the Windows 7 release will be as un-Vista-like as possible, which would be very wise. I'll take MS' current stance as a tacit recognition that the Vista release was a disaster, which it was.
      John L. Ries
    • About WinFS

      Well from what i know some parts of WINFS technology will be made available from both SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008.
      And seriously do you really think that a SQL Server version built-in the O.S would really have no impact on the performance ?
      timiteh
  • You missed the most critcal need, developers.

    Developers need ALL THE LEAD TIME they can get. You her people complain about buggy drivers in Vista, the reason (or a big part of it) was not having enough time to work through the changes required.

    Yes, there was info about Longhorn but when MS did the reset everyting you learned abltu Longhorn was a waste of time and effort. (Vista is NOT Longhorn.)

    One thing you can be certain of with the next version of Windows, it will have new APIs that must be learned, and it will kill off exsiting APIs and coders must find solutions for it. The more time they have to do that, the better chance of having apps, drivers, plug-ins, etc. ready to go day one.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • RE:You missed the most critcal need, developers

      For some reason i think that Windows 7 will be an optimised version of Vista(probably based on the better base code of Windows 2008 Server) with perhaps some new features related to Live MESH, better backward compatibility and a different/improved U.I.
      I don't think that developpers would need to learn a lot of new things or that good drivers for Vista would need any serious tuning to work with this new O.S.
      timiteh
      • I agree with you about it being an optimized version of Vista.

        However I have to disagree with you about Windows 2008 Server being a better code base. Windows 2008 Server and Vista share the same code base. Therefore if your of the opinion Vista is poor than you have to be of the opinion 2008 Server is equally as poor. Likewise if your of the opinion 2008 Server is good than you have to be of the opinion Vista is equally as good.
        ye
    • In theory this makes perfect sense.

      [i]Developers need ALL THE LEAD TIME they can get.[/i]

      However in practice it appears few developers bothered when it came to working with Vista. Maybe they (the developers) learned their lesson?
      ye
    • I mentioned developers

      In the conclusion:

      "Software and hardware developers want a platform that they can count on so they can have solid code ready on the day Windows 7 ships."

      I think we agree!
      Ed Bott
      • You mentioned Developers...

        ...and so has Ballmer...repeatedly. hahahaha.
        bricar2