LOS ANGELES -- Day two of Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference kicked off with the first public demonstration of Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista.
It's a key unveiling for Microsoft, not just because the company is quickly seeking to move on beyond the problems it encountered with Vista. To Ray Ozzie, chief software architect for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Windows 7 marks a part of its overall effort to better deliver what he described as one complete offering.
"If you take one thing away from what you see here today at PDC, it is that we can do our customers a great service by focusing how much we can give them for a combined value of their investments," Ozzie said. "Our objective to make the combination of PC, phone and the Web of more value than the sum of their parts."
Julie Larson-Green, vice president of Windows Experience, gave Windows 7's first public demonstration, focusing heavily on its touchscreen elements, such as how older applications can be touch-enabled without rewriting them.
Larson-Green also demonstrated Windows 7 support for connecting to a multitude of devices, including a Windows Mobile phone. Though a service called Device Stage, all devices on a network -- including desktop PCs, laptops, printers, attached storage and Windows Mobile phones -- can be viewed and accessed as readily as a hard disk partition on the computer.
Developers can embed their own links into the Device Stage screen that appears when accessing their specific device. As a result, a user can easily visit the driver download page for their printer, for instance.
In addition to new touch functionality and Device Stage, Larson-Green also demonstrated another nifty user-interface element that combines Quick Launch buttons and Taskbar icons. Moving the mouse over a Word icon shows thumbnails with all of the application's open documents, making it possible to jump to an open Word file with a single click.
Yet another change: The sidebar from Windows Vista that occupied the right side of the screen is gone. Under Windows 7, it's possible to place widgets anywhere on the desktop.
While this drew some polite applause, it was when Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live, got around to dealing with the issues that had plagued Vista that the audience become more enthusiastic.
'Fessing up on Vista
It was the admission of problems in Vista, and what they were doing to fix them, that worked up the crowd. "We got feedback on Vista from bloggers, the press, oh, and some commercials," Sinofsky said, to laughter.
For starters, he addressed the annoying User Access Control (UAC) security system, which asked people if they really wanted to perform a certain action even for the most basic of functions. In adding UAC to Vista, Sinofsky said Microsoft had meant well, but "we possibly went too far."
In Windows 7, users can specify the intrusiveness of notifications and confirmations Windows uses to alert the user to system changes. They can now control how much notification they desire using a slide bar, which enables them to choose from "Never notify me," "Only notify me when programs try to make changes," "Always notify" and "Notify and wait for my approval." UAC had offered only an all-or-nothing choice.
The change drew a fair amount of applause.
Sinofsky also addressed Vista's problems with drivers, many of which were not available until some time after the operating system had shipped. Because Windows 7 uses the same device driver model as Vista, which now has been on the market nearly two years, he did not see there being a similar snag when Windows 7 hits the market. Now, he said, the third-party market is fully involved in writing compatible drivers.
"With Vista, we really weren't ready at launch with the device coverage we need," he said.