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    Microsoft’s Windows 7 could be showing Vista the door

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver November 25-December 1, 2008; issue 996

    High Tech Office column

    Despite millions and millions of copies of Vista sold, that version of Windows has become the operating system whose name shall not be spoken aloud. Neither Microsoft’s TV commercials pairing Bill Gates with Jerry Seinfeld nor their recent “I’m a PC” ads mention Vista, for example.

    And in late October, the company’s professional developer’s conference wheeled out what will be called Windows 7. While Windows 7 isn’t yet even available as a pre-release version, the company is claiming that the features of this pre-beta (i.e. pre-pre-release) version are fixed in stone.

    The goal: simplify Vista, while paying attention to data Microsoft has gathered on how real users use their computers. As demonstrated at PDC, Win 7 includes perhaps the largest set of user interface changes since Windows 95.

    Among the changes:

    •easier ways to connect to a wireless network, to manage plugged-in devices and to organize music collections; and

    •an icon-only taskbar that allows space for frequently used applications – much like the Mac OS X dock.

    Not copied from the Mac: “jump lists” – right click on a dock (oops! taskbar) icon and a list of typical tasks, including recent documents, pops up.

    Snap a window to the top of the screen to maximize it, drag it down to restore it. Snap it to the side to fill half the screen. Easily turn file previewing on and off. Vista’s sidebar is no more; now gadgets can be moved anywhere on the desktop. The clutter of little icons in the lower right-corner tray is reduced by hiding most of them.

    Vista’s nagging user account control features have been tamed. Now users can turn off warnings when renaming a desktop icon while still keeping alerts about potentially dangerous program installations. A program compatibility troubleshooter should help programs that refuse to run because they’re looking for an older version of Windows. Encryption and backups have been improved. Microsoft also promises better boot times and its system’s ability to run well on the increasingly popular low-powered netbooks.

    Many of the applets (low-powered programs previously bundled with Windows) will be replaced with optional “Windows Live” downloads, hopefully reducing some of the confusion with three different Microsoft instant messaging programs, competing photo organizers and more. And unlike in Vista, the power button icon in Win 7’s start menu shuts it down.

    While what’s visible to the user shows lots of improvements, what’s under the hood hasn’t undergone the drastic shift that occurred between Windows XP and Vista. Many of the problems people experienced moving to Vista resulted from the new display layer, requirements for hardware device drivers and its security model. These are basically unchanged from Vista to Windows 7. The result: hardware and software that work with Vista should run fine in the new version. However, any devices or programs that work under XP but had problems with Vista will continue to have problems with Win 7.

    The result: the version of Windows 7 Microsoft showed off promises a cleaned-up version of Vista with a more polished user experience, faster boot times and somewhat better performance. And users shouldn’t experience anywhere near the level of breakage that occurred in the shift from XP to Vista.

    But users and organizations that are holding back from moving to Vista hoping that Windows 7 will let them continue to use their older XP-capable hardware and software will be disappointed. Windows 7 will be Vista under the hood, but with a sleeker body. InfoWorld’s Randall Kennedy suggested that it will be “just as slow as Vista, just as consumer-focused as Vista and just as confusing as Vista.”

    While showing off Windows 7 at its PDC, Microsoft kept some details close to its chest: no release date, no pricing information and no mention of the range of versions were announced. By keeping a less ambitious product than Vista, the company likely will be able to release it sometime in 2009-10.

    But in demonstrating Win 7 now, the company may have given users and organizations more reasons than ever to avoid Windows Vista. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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