It's a difficult and strange time for many in the IT industry. It seems most people from home consumers to students, IT professionals and governments have rejected Windows Vista, and many have their reservations about Windows 7. Will it be another disaster like Vista? Or will it be something we can finally use without it crashing every few hours?
I personally have no problem with Vista, besides a couple of flaws here and there. My colleagues have been reporting like no other on the events, sights and sounds of the PDC, and now restrictions and embargoes have been lifted, I point you gratuitously in the direction of screenshot galleries and the breaking news coming out of the PDC.
This is the new Start menu and taskbar
taken from the Reviewers Documentation, from Windows 7 build 6933, which is being demoed at the PDC in LA. It's important to note, the Windows 7 build which is being given away today does have this user interface, but cannot be turned on unless you're on the Microsoft corporate network - in a "phoning home" scenario, so a bit useless to ordinary peeps like me and you. It will also be an older version than the one being demoed by Sinofsky. Now, as I'm not at the PDC and don't have a copy, but I'm sure it can be hacked by somebody out there.
My slant on Windows 7 is this; there are some things which we students need to look out for - things that will either make our current careers seem like chalk-on-slate jobs, and some which will benefit us as consumers and users.
The new user interface: the new interface is rumoured, and from what I've seen, will be similar to Vista in terms of the glass. The glass will remain for a while to come yet, probably through to Windows 8, because of the effort that went into it. It's not going to appear too different to Vista, in terms of layout and usability either. Suffice to say, the new user interface will be simpler, better laid out, shinier and a little gentler.
It's going to start appealing to the user a little more; more things where you want them, when you want them, more content on your computer which you can easily go back to, and better customisation of where you want these things to appear. Folders, icons, pinning things to places, the ability to rearrange your applications in your taskbar - that sort of thing.
The multi-touch features will come through also, because the Ribbon which has been implemented seems quite vital in making this work. Although no direct proof of this, I'd say this logical, estimated guess could well be a rather accurate forecast. With the menus in applications given now, in the breadcrumb "File, Edit, View" menu, opening those options on a tablet device isn't easy.
Having the Ribbon there with thicker, chunkier buttons, which also happen to save space in applications which have more options you can throw a stick at, will also enable touch screen users a better hands-on experience. Were they thinking about user functionality in Windows 7 when they were developing Office 2007?
Tablet and multi-touch: sure, we've already heard of the multi-touch being brought to laptops, surfaces and devices which support it; but there will be multi-Tablet as well and natural gesture recognition, allowing "flicking of the newspaper pages" in electronic documents. Not sure if these will be revealed tomorrow, but will find out soon enough and update if that's the case.
Windows Azure: pronounced "as you're" (thanks to Tim Sneath, Microsoft) who pointed that out). It'll be a platform between .NET in the cloud, SQL in the cloud, SharePoint and Dynamics in the cloud, the Live Services such as Mesh in the cloud, and Windows 7 which'll run on the desktop. It's not limited to Windows 7, but you can all but guarantee it'll play a huge part in the new operating system. Mary-Jo has all of this de-confused for those who can't get their head around it all.
Could this be the "Windows Vista and Windows Live integration" we had when Vista first rolled out? Regardless, this will be a powerful platform for students to develop on to, and free as far as I can see. Most people won't even be aware of Azure as such - as Ed Bott puts it, "it should just allow apps to work", but as the developer behind it, you'll see the bare naked lot of it.
Printing over the Interwebs: there has been a time for everyone where you're hitting the deadline by minutes to spare. There's an age old saying:
"If it wasn't for the last minute, we wouldn't get anything done."
It's true though. Windows 7 will come with Internet printing, which is exactly that - printing over the Internet. You can be in the luxury of your depressing student house within minutes to spare to get your essay into the hands of your professor. Instead of throwing on some clothes, hailing a taxi, bombing it up to campus, you'll be able to print directly to your professor's desk - in theory.
Security will be a big issue, using usernames and passwords on the print server to authenticate who you are. But if you're connected to a virtual private network, or even have access to your work or university network, this will be easy enough to do. It'll work just as if you were really there, except you won't have to be. Any drivers that need to be installed will be installed for you, and the print server will notify you once the print has completed. This is genius.
A new .NET: the next version, .NET Framework 4.0, will appear in Windows 7, and it's going to be the most powerful framework for developers to date. There will be two kinds of .NET to look out for: .NET in the cloud, codenamed "Zurich", and will be the main underlying platform for running Azure; and there's the .NET Framework 4.0 which will run on local client machines for application building.
For students at university and those who are close to entering the industry, this will be a very important set of tools to develop with. With new expanded built-in activities with PowerShell, databasing and messaging, seamless integration between Workflow Foundation and Windows Communications Foundation, entire applications being built in XAML, and Parallel Extensions, these skills could be vital to your career.
But there will be more and more over the coming weeks - this is just a mere glimpse of stuff after the first day of many at the PDC. By this time tomorrow, Mary-Jo and Ed will both have screenshot galleries up no doubt; Long and Paul and the rest of the Live Blog lot will have stuff up. With a beta only around the corner, we'll just have to wait and see. But for the time being, students are close to getting some pretty damn cool stuff with a better opportunity to take advantage of these things.
Please, let me know what you think. Although transparency of the entire Windows 7 development process has been somewhat desired, with some of the things in store already confirmed, it seems Microsoft do listen after all.