Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The Windows 7 Silence

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Whenever I make a comment to a Windows fanboy (yep, they do exist) about the lack of information flowing out of Redmond about the next version of Windows (currently known as Windows 7), I usually get a story about how Microsoft has learned its lesson from Longhorn/Vista and has decided to take a “under-promise and over-deliver” approach to the next version.

Well, as much as I like to remain optimistic about Windows 7, under-promise doesn’t automatically lead to over-deliver.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why the Windows team is being careful regarding what they say. After all, back when Vista was still being called Longhorn, there was an awful lot of blue-sky stuff being talked about, as if its inclusion in the RTM release was a firm guarantee.

I remember feature after feature, no matter how crazy or experimental, being talked about by Microsoft engineers as though it was a done deal. This not only created a huge media frenzy (of the likes that only Apple can top) but it also built up unrealistic expectations among future users of that OS. When a large number of these features fell by the wayside, as happens when any large project gets the reality check of a deadline (even a stretch deadline …), people naturally felt that the new version of Windows was a lot less than it could/should/might have been. So this time around, rather than be open about the next version of Windows, Microsoft is choosing to play its cards close to its chest and telling us very little about it.

Is this a good thing? Well, for Microsoft, it at least allows it privacy to indulge in some blue-sky thinking and planning, and then abandon ideas that don’t make the grade, aren’t feasible, or will take too long to implement. That way no one is disappointed when some speculative feature that is overhyped by the media is later dropped. Without the over promise, Microsoft can’t be accused of under delivering.

Or can it?

See, the problem as I see it is that because Windows 7 won’t be a major release of Windows, this means that what’s at the core of Vista will be at the core of Windows 7. Sure, Microsoft might be able to get the system requirements down a little, there will be new features, new eye candy, and different (hopefully better) ways of doing the things that you do with Windows now. But Windows 7 will still be Windows Vista MKII, or Vista 2.0. That’s now inescapable.

At the heart of Windows 7 will be the Windows Vista kernel, and that means that all those claims of Vista being too bloated, having too monolithic a kernel, and of requiring too much computer power to deliver a decent user experience will still hold true for Windows 7. Whenever a non-major release of Windows comes around, the under deliver is automatically built into the deal.

(Side thought: When it comes to the system requirements of Windows 7, time is on Microsoft’s side. Even if Windows 7’s system requirements are identical to those of Vista, they won’t seem anywhere near as lavish come 2009 as they did when Vista was released in 2006. Also, the passing years will mean the demise of a lot of old systems that had trouble running Vista.)

One advantage of looking at Windows 7 as an OS that will under deliver no matter what is that it gives Microsoft a chance to concentrate on the small stuff, such as UI inconsistencies, and some have been quick to realize this.

One is Windows blogger Long Zheng. He has put together an unofficial Windows UX Taskforce with the express purpose of highlighting Windows Vista user experience quirks in the hope that Microsoft will make Windows 7 a better experience for all users.

Whether Microsoft will take any notice of Zheng’s efforts remains to be seen (so far there’s been no response from Microsoft). But I for one hope the company does, as these user interface inconsistencies seem to be getting worse and worse with every version of Windows. These are a minor things at best, but I think that many would appreciate seeing the interface tidied up.

But even with the best user interface possible, Windows 7 will still be Vista, albeit sporting a facelift and an updated wardrobe. The bottom line is this – if you don’t like Vista, then chances are you’re not going to be all that thrilled by Windows 7.

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