When Steve Sinofsky took the stage on Tuesday at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference, the senior vice president was willing to confess some past sins with Vista. His presentation was the first public demonstration of the new Windows 7 user interface, and showed how Microsoft intends to change Windows 7 to fix the problems that exist in Vista, and indeed in earlier versions of Windows.
Even Microsoft canâ€™t hide or ignore the cold reception that Vista has received. Sinofsky identified a few key things that caused problems. First, the Windows â€œecosystemâ€, the third-party software, hardware, and user training, wasnâ€™t ready for the extensive changes that came in Vista. The driver model changed, which caused lots of hardware headaches at launch. The User Account Control (UAC) feature broke applications and frustrated users who hadnâ€™t seen the behavior in XP. Windows 7 doesnâ€™t make any changes to the ecosystem, and provides additional ways that users can reduce the number of UAC prompts without turning it off completely.
Sinofsky introduced Julie Larson-Green, who demonstrated some of the most visible changes in the Windows 7 user interface. Thereâ€™s a new taskbar that combines icons for running programs, non-running programs, and recently-used programs. Itâ€™s similar in some ways to the Apple dock, but has a few other features such as window preview. The taskbar now lets you drag and drop icons to reorder them to suit your taste, rather than being grouped by type or in left-to-right order based on when you started them. Users now have a lot more control over the notification area, those annoying little icons next to the clock at the right side of the tray. You can now select not only whether the icon itself appears, but how and whether its message balloons pop up.
Vista got a reputation for being bloated and slow. Sinofsky says Microsoft is addressing that by focusing on fundamentals. The development group is working to decrease memory usage, disk I/O, and power consumption, and to increase boot speed, responsiveness, and CPU scalability. He held up a tiny netbook with a 1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM, and said that the current Windows 7 beta runs well on that hardware using only about half the available RAM.
At this point, Microsoft still canâ€™t be nailed down on release dates. A pre-beta will be handed out to PDC attendees, but Sinofsky wouldnâ€™t go any further than to say that the feature-complete public beta will be available â€œearly next yearâ€ and the final product will be shipped â€œapproximately three years after the general availability of Windows Vista.â€ That would put the ship date in late 2009 or early 2010, although a ship date any later than about September of this year would mean Microsoft would again miss the critical holiday sales season, just like they did with Vista.