Windows 7 to use touch-screen interface; new OS due in late '09, Ballmer says

Successor to Vista to incorporate technology from Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer

The operating system that introduced the graphical user interface to the masses may also be the first to bring touch-screen technology to PCs.

Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista, will incorporate touch technology from Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer, according to an announcement posted last night to a Microsoft blog. A video demonstration of Windows 7's multitouch capabilities is also available for viewing on the blog.

According to demos, Windows 7's multitouch software can enable desktop and laptop PC users to use their fingers to draw pictures on-screen, zoom in and out of photos, zip quickly through slideshows, search and skim maps, and even play an on-screen piano. The multitouch features will be available via Windows 7, as well as on third-party software.

A live demonstration was given last night at The Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference in the San Diego suburb of Carlsbad (transcript here) during an on-stage interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates.

During that interview, Ballmer also said Windows 7 will arrive in late 2009, according to accounts from the All Things Digital conference, including from CNET's News.com and Reuters. The reports appear to confirm speculation earlier this spring stemming from comments by Gates that the operating system would be scheduled to ship late next year, or about three years after the Vista operating system was released to manufacturing in November 2006.

Meanwhile, Windows development chief Steven Sinofsky, in an interview with CNET News.com, said the operating system would be generally available in January 2010.

Windows 7's multitouch technology is similar to the touch-screen features of Apple's hot-selling iPhone.

Apple has also already started shipping multitouch features this year via its MacBook Air laptop and other MacBook Pro laptops. Those computers use a trackpad, not the screen itself, however.

At the conference, Gates, who is scheduled to officially retire June 30, also reportedly said he plans to spend 20% of his post-retirement time working at Microsoft and the rest at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At Microsoft, he will work on future versions of Microsoft Office, search technology and interface technologies such as speech input and handwriting recognition.

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