Over the past six months, many individuals have downloaded early, unauthorized Windows 7 test builds that have leaked from Microsoft since late last year (the 6519 series). They've been looking for clues -- any clues -- about some of the new bits that will be part of the next version of Windows client, expected out in late 2009 or so.
But one potential new Windows 7 feature about which I haven't seen a whole lot of speculation is something called "Windows Sensors." (See the screen shot above from an early Windows 7 build sent to me by a tester who asked not to be identified.)
What are these mysterious Windows Sensors mentioned under the "Hardware and Sound" category in the Windows 7 Control Panel -- alongside Windows SideShow, Tablet PC settings and game controllers? Are they the kinds of sensors that will enable the new and improved multi-touch/gesture recognition that Microsoft has confirmed will be one of the new features in Windows 7? (Monitor vendor Albatron recently demonstrated a forthcoming LCD monitor that incorporates sensors required for multi-touch.)
Makes sense (no pun intended), but perhaps there's something more in the works. Look at screen shot above. This is a "Learn About Using Windows Sensors" screen from the same early Windows 7 build. "Programs on your computer can communicate with your Windows-compatible sensors," it says. It calls out "Windows Media Player" and "Inbox -- Windows Mail" as sub-categories here. And it offers users the option of being notified "when compatible programs and sensors are installed." Does this simply mean that Windows Media Player and Windows Mail are examples of applets that will be able to take advantage of multi-touch?
Perhaps there's more going on here and Windows Sensors will be the next version of Plug and Play -- a way for Windows to automatically "sense" what kinds of peripherals or devices can/should be automatically connected and synced. Sensors are also key to home-automation systems. Could Windows 7 be the control hub for users' fridges, stoves and home-security systems, via Windows Sensors?
I've also heard rumblings that Microsoft's Windows team is attempting to make Windows 7 more context- and location-aware -- being able to "sense" when a room is dim so as to be able to brighten a screen automatically, for example. Might Windows Sensors play into these kinds of scenarios somehow?
Yes, there are a lot more questions than answers in this post. Microsoft's Windows team, as we know, isn't talking about Windows 7 features at this point. But that doesn't mean we are under a gag order. Let the educated (and non-educated) guesses begin.... What do you think Windows Sensors will bring to Windows 7?
Update: Another possibility? Windows 7's Windows Sensors will recognize and sync with the sensors in mobile phones and/or provide the same kind of recognition of one's surroundings as future cell phones ....