There are a growing number of clues that Windows 7 -- the next version of Windows about which Microsoft continues to remain mum -- could be available in pieces.
By "pieces," I mean a couple of different things:
1. Delivered in a role-based fashion, a la Windows Server.
Windows Server 2008 allows users to select which bits they want to install or ignore, based on a handful of predetermined "roles." Windows Server Core is the minimum configuration. Given that Windows client and server are built from the same code base, doesn't it make sense that the next version of client also will move to more of a roles-like system? Microsoft already allows OEMs to pick and choose among components using the OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK). So why not allow customers to do the same?
A user-selectable, role-based Windows client could help Microsoft's marketing folks from having to make the kinds of SKU choices that got Microsoft in legal hot water with Windows Vista. It wouldn't be Microsoft deciding what constitutes "Windows-7-capable." Instead, users would choose how much (or little) of Windows 7 they want on their systems.
2. Divided into complementary Software+Services elements.
Again, Microsoft has been foreshadowing, to an extent, what it is planning here. With Windows Vista, Microsoft showed that it could update components of Vista (example: the Windows Photo Gallery) via a Windows Live service (Windows Live Photo Gallery). One of my sources close to Microsoft recently told me that "major parts are being removed from Windows 7 (mail, photo, video)" but still will be available as user-selectable services. This plan, if it comes to pass, ought to help lessen the Windows attack surface that has been the target of various Microsoft competitors and antitrust regulators who've been critical of Microsoft bundling everything but the kitchen sink into Windows.
To be clear: Microsoft hasn't confirmed any of these theories. And doubters may claim that the first, early test build of Windows 7 that made it into certain testers' hands seemingly didn't provide indications that turning Windows 7 into a bunch of disparate parts is Microsoft's game plan.
(Too bad the Technical Committee affiliated with the U.S. Department of Justice isn't talking; the TC recently took delivery of an early Windows 7 build in order to give it a first sweep for potential areas of legal concern....)
At the same time, however, it's important to note that my concepts of a componentized Windows 7 aren't coming out of the blue. Microsoft has been working since the early part of this decade to try to untangle Windows and reduce the dependencies of various Windows subsystems on one another. By doing this, the Windows team is trying to make Windows less complex to test, fix and update.
And we do know that Microsoft -- last we heard -- had managed to create "MinWin" -- a stripped-down verion of the Windows kernel, that it is planning to make the heart of Windows 7 and its successors. It would seem feasible that the Softies would be able to use MinWin as the base upon which it could allow users to "add back" services and subsystems of their choosing.
Would you be in favor of Microsoft providing Windows 7, due in 2010, in pieces: Either in the form of user-selectable roles and/or by decoupling some of the integrated features and making them optional add-on services?