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FAQ: What we know about Windows 7

May 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

One session, says the current list, will focus on battery life -- presumably batteries in notebooks first of all, but also for other mobile devices Microsoft hopes to get Windows 7 into.

"Windows 7 provides advances for building energy-efficient applications," says the write-up. "In this session we will discuss how to leverage new Windows infrastructure to reduce application power consumption and efficiently schedule background tasks and services."

Other sessions at the conference will tackle such Windows 7 topics as "Graphics Advances," "Touch Computing" (but we already knew that), and "Web Services in Native Code." That last sounds intriguing, considering Microsoft's push-push-push on its "Software + Services" concept.

The operating system, says Microsoft, will include a new networking API (application programming interface) to support building SOAP-based Web services in native code. "This session will discuss the programming model, interoperability aspects with other implementations of WS-* protocols and demonstrate various services and applications built using this API."

Will Windows 7 sport a new kernel? Nope.

Last October, a Microsoft engineer revealed that the company had 200 programmers working on slimming down the Windows kernel for Windows 7; he dubbed it "MinWin" and said it would sport a memory footprint less than one-sixth that of Windows Vista's kernel.

Yesterday, though, Flores and Sinofsky both said Windows 7 won't sport a new kernel. "Contrary to some speculation, Microsoft is not creating a new kernel for Windows 7," Flores said.

Sinofsky put it differently. "The key there is that the kernel in Windows Server 2008 is an evolution of the kernel in Windows Vista, and then Windows 7 will be a further evolution of that kernel as well," he said.

Will Windows 7 be a major or a minor release? The parsing of these adjectives is important because post-Vista, Microsoft said it was planning to update its operating systems on an alternating major-minor basis, with the major upgrades -- think XP to Vista -- every four years, with minor ones in between. A good example of a minor upgrade would be Windows XP SP2, which though called a "service pack," was unlike any other SP in the new features and capabilities it added to the previous operating system.

Trouble is, Windows 7 sounds like a minor upgrade, but Flores and Sinofsky called it the opposite. "Another question we often get asked is whether Windows 7 is a major release," said Flores. "The answer is 'yes'."

Sinofsky used the adjective "major" six times during the interview with News.com, as in "major undertaking," "major release," and "major and significant release."

Another clue: Windows 7 will use the same device driver model as Vista. That operating system, remember, required new drivers for all hardware -- a disruption that even company executives struggled with, as some said in internal e-mails released earlier this year as part of a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft.

The mixed message -- is it major or is it minor? -- confused at least one analyst. Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft. "To me, a 'major' update means major changes to the core functionality of the operating system." With Microsoft saying it was going to build atop Vista, not start from scratch, Cherry said he wasn't getting the impression that core functional would significantly change.

Why is Microsoft playing it so close to the vest on Windows 7? Good question.

Microsoft essentially said it learned a lesson from Vista, when it promised features -- such as a retooled storage subsystem called WinFS -- that it ended up yanking from the operating system as development dragged and deadlines grew near.

"We can significantly impact our partners and our customers if we broadly share information that later changes," said Flores in a separate entry on a Microsoft blog Tuesday.

Analysts, including Directions' Cherry and Gartner's Silver, said much the same. "They talked more publicly about Vista, but in the end that didn't make them a lot of friends," noted Silver earlier this week.

So, is Microsoft dumping Vista? No. Company executives, including its CEO, came to praise Windows Vista, not bury it, even as they touted its replacement.

Steve Ballmer defended Vista Tuesday when he talked at the All Things Digital conference. "Vista is not a failure, and it's not a mistake" Ballmer said in response to a question. Nor is Microsoft throwing in the Vista towel. "Are there things that we will continue to modify and improve going forward? Sure," Ballmer added.

Flores, meanwhile, trumpeted Vista's sales numbers. "As of March 31, we had sold more than 140 million Windows Vista licenses," he said.

Read more about Windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.



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