Windows 7: Seven developments you should know about

Microsoft Windows 7 is a couple of years away, but features and directions are emerging

4. Features. There are a few solids here, but speculation is clearly up and churning. In May, Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer gave the first Windows 7 demonstration, showing off multi-touch screen technology. Gates also said before his retirement in July that synchronization between Microsoft's Live Services and Windows 7 would figure prominently, as would digital ink and speech features. There are hints of a more modular operating system, much like Windows Server 2008 Server Core, and performance boosts. Recent screen shots from the Milestone 3 beta show the Ribbon toolbar in Wordpad and Paint. There is also evidence of new quick-install features. The glaring omission for IT is a dive into features that might make their lives easier.

5. Server version. While the client operating system is being touted as a major release (with minor revisions to the base Vista code), the server version is a minor release. Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 will actually be what was originally planned as Windows Server 2008 R2. A few weeks ago, Microsoft confirmed that R2 would bring live migration to its virtualization platform and that the server was on-target to ship in early 2010, which would align release dates once again with the client operating system.

6. Users. Ship dates will be important. For Vista users with Software Assurance maintenance contracts, Windows 7 is already paid for as along as it ships within the length of the contract. Users who are still buying XP via downgrade rights through Vista Business and Ultimate will have mainstream XP support until April 14, 2009. Mainstream support includes such options as no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support. If Windows 7 ships in mid-2009, April could offer a tidy migration point to begin getting the upgrade cycle cranked up.

7. Stay tuned. Microsoft has launched a Web site called "Engineering Windows 7" that is hosted by Sinofsky and his senior engineering management colleague Jon DeVaan. The blog has provided little in-depth information about Windows 7's features, but Sinofsky did say a major team goal is to "promise and deliver." Promises are what helped make Vista feel like a consolation prize. But so far the blog has only turned up tidbits like this: "Our goal is about building an awesome release of Windows 7."

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