Connecting the dots on Windows 7

What will Windows 7, the next full version of the Windows client operating system, bring to the table? Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been dropping a few hints lately.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

What will Windows 7, the next full version of the Windows client operating system, bring to the table?

Even though Windows Vista just made it out the door, it doesn't seem to early for the speculation on its successor to begin. And Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has become one of the main sources of Windows 7 hints.

In early January, Gates told a group of bloggers with whom he held a private audience at the Consumer Electronics Show to expect the next version of Windows to feature more speech and digital-ink functionality and to take better advantage of 64-bit processing power. He said the next release of Windows was between two and four years away from shipping.

At the Vista launch in New York last week, Gates went further in a surprisingly cantankerous interview with Newsweek's Steven Levy. (Maybe Gates didn't like the subject of Levy's latest book.)

Q: So can you give us an indication of what the next Windows will be like?

Gates: Well, it will be more user-centric.

Q: What does that mean?

Gates: That means that right now when you move from one PC to another, you've got to install apps on each one, do upgrades on each one. Moving information between them is very painful. We can use Live Services [a way to connect to Microsoft via the Internet] to know what you're interested in. So even if you drop by a [public] kiosk or somebody else's PC, we can bring down your home page, your files, your fonts, your favorites and those things. So that's kind of the user-centric thing that Live Services can enable....

I would have asked one more follow up: Was Gates hinting that Microsoft will build more of its currently standalone Windows Live services right into the operating system? Or was he simply talking about LiveDrive, Microsoft's still-unannounced storage service?

I asked Chris Overd, a Windows Live expert with LiveSide.net, for his take on Gates' comment.

"It seems that Gates is reading from the (Chief Software Architect) Ray Ozzie book on Live, with the ultimate aim of allowing a user to store their Windows settings in the cloud, for use on any device, anywhere, anytime," Overd said. "To some extent the very basics of this is happening already, with Windows Live Messenger 8.1 adding in roaming support. While taking your name and display picture is only a small step, it gives some clues to the direction Microsoft is heading in the next few years."

What do users want from Windows 7? The answers there are many and varied. One reader, Bob Harvie from Houston, Texas, recently sent me his thoughts on what he'd like to see next. Harvie said he wants the little things: Quicker on/off switching and better reliability.

"I would like to see an OS (operating system) where the last thing you actually notice is the OS," Harvie said. "I don't open my refrigerator wondering about the composition of the refrigerant or the material the door handle is made out of. I buy it, it's efficient, it looks okay and it cools my food. Fifteen years on, we part. I am asking for an OS that behaves and looks like a car, or maybe a fridge."

Any other suggestions for Gates & Co., re: Windows 7?

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