MICROSOFT’S much maligned Windows Vista operating system is just weeks away from celebrating its second birthday. But its third anniversary, will, most likely, be its last.The American tech giant is already well into development of its next operating system, Windows 7 and, though details are universally scant, what we do know points to significant changes in the way the next version of the worlds most popular operating system will look, feel and act.What’s new?
Microsoft gave the world a fleeting glimpse of the features that may be included in its next generation operating system in May. But they have officially revealed just a single feature of Windows 7 publicly multi-touch navigation, which lets users manipulate objects such as resizing images or even playing the keys on a virtual piano using not just one finger, but multiple keys at the same time.
It is a surprising and bold addition, not unlike the functionality available on Apples iPhone.
Multi-touch moves users away from a conventional point-and-click mouse-based world, but will also necessitate hardware upgrades, since youll only be able to use the multi-touch features with a touch sensitive screen.
Windows 7 will also include a new version of Internet Explorer and though Microsoft wont commit to revealing more features, the company has said Windows 7 will be easier to use with improved search capabilities and improved security.
If the latest crop of screenshots that appeared online this week alleging to have been taken from a Windows 7 beta are to be believed, the new operating system will also feature an automated ability to patch PC-based games.
It will, likely, function much like the automatic update feature on Microsoft’s gaming console, the Xbox.
The screenshots quickly disappeared, but not before eagle-eyed Windows users spotted several things including revamped interfaces for Windows Paint and WordPad, as well as updated versions of Windows Media Player and even the ever-useful calculator application.
Though the screenshots have a distinctly Vista-like feel, the code is still very much in beta stages and there is still plenty of time to tweak the interface, which is unlikely to remain identical to the current Vista interface.
But other images, also purporting to be from a beta build of Windows 7, feature a vastly streamlined interface offering big changes akin to those seen when the vastly revamped version of Office for Vista was released.
Expect cluttered menus and toolbars to disappear in favour of a streamlined, interactive ribbon that offers new options depending on what tasks you are performing.
When will it be available?
There is no confirmation on when Windows 7 will be available but Microsoft has stated that its goal is to start selling Windows 7 about three years after the launch of Windows Vista. That translates, roughly to a January 2010 launch.
Also, though it is being referred to as Windows 7 (and codenamed Blackcomb, then Vienna before that), if the past is any indication, Microsoft will likely change the Windows 7 name shortly before the final operating system is release.
Several programs that used to be bundled with Windows will no longer be available as automatic installs with Windows. Applications such as Windows Mail (formerly known as Outlook Express), photo editing and video editing will be detached from the Windows bundle and be offered separately, still for free, as part of Microsoft’s Live software suite. Its all part of Microsoft’s shift to cloud computing, a concept that involves moving non-core applications into the cloud that is the internet where, should a user want them, they are available for download on demand.
This notion of cloud computing also means that rather than having to set up your most used applications on every computer you visit, they’re available in the clouds, so no matter what machine you access, you will always have access to your core applications via the Net.
Aside from reducing the increasingly bloated install size of Windows, the absence of these applications means anyone who prefers to use another program, such as Thunderbird for email, can do so without installing the software twice.
The minimum hardware specs required to use Windows rarely suffice. You always need more than stated on the box in order for the system to fly.
However, though its likely well need to upgrade our hardware to take advantage of Windows 7s previewed multi-touch technology, the fact is by the time it is released, 4GB RAM and quad-core processors will likely be the norm.
Will my old software work with Windows 7?
Early feedback suggests Windows 7 will be backwards compatible with past Windows software, including Vista via virtualisation which runs mini versions of past operating systems within the new environment.
Much more about the Windows 7 feature set will be revealed during developer conferences in October, but it wont be until the beta version is released, possibly in November, that users will get their first hands-on play with the new operating system.