Attendees at Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference next month are in for a treat: everyone going will get a 160GB hard disk with a copy of all the software on show, including Windows 7. “Software + Services” is the company’s big idea at this PDC, and, as previously announced, Microsoft will be showing off—and giving out—a new cloud computing framework.
Though there’s sure to be interest in the cloud computing software, the software giveaway just got a whole lot more exciting with the news that attendees will receive a “pre-beta” build of Windows 7. Mindful of the lukewarm reception that Windows Vista received on its eventual release, Microsoft has thus far kept quiet about the next version of Windows; this time around, the company wants to make sure that expectations match with the software that will actually be released.
Past demos have shown off the OS’s new multitouch features, and it has been confirmed that many built-in applications will be removed and replaced with “Windows Live”-branded downloads. More speculatively, it’s likely that there will be improvements to the taskbar, greater resolution independence, faster booting (and generally better performance), and an improved installation experience. PDC will be the first time developers get to see Windows 7 in its entirety and this is sure to be a highlight of the event.
One issue that MS has remained quiet about is the all-important question, “When will 7 be released?” Some time in 2009 has been widely assumed (thanks in no small part to some loose words by Bill Gates), but more official statements are “three years after Vista,” where “three years” means anything from “three years and zero months” to “three years and eleven months.” Vista went RTM at the end of November 2006 and was made generally available at the end of January 2007, so that pushes 7 to the end of 2009 or, more likely, to 2010.Although the 2009 claim has been made often, it seems rather optimistic if past Windows releases are anything to go by. Microsoft’s ambitions for Windows 7 are more modest than they were for Windows Vista. Indeed, its server counterpart has already been named “Windows Server 2008 R2?, which gives a sense of the scale Microsoft is aiming for; if it weren’t for the stigma attached to the Vista name, I doubt anyone would even be talking of “Windows 7.” This release will be “Vista R2? in all but name. Microsoft’s last release with this kind of scale was Windows XP. As such, a comparison with XP’s development seems appropriate.
An alpha of “Windows Neptune” (a home-oriented update to Windows 2000) was made in December 1999, with a later beta release in April 2000. Neptune was then combined with “Windows Odyssey” (a minor update to Windows 2000 for business users) to create Windows Whistler—the codename that XP used during its development. The first Whistler beta shipped at PDC 2000, on July 13th. Beta 1 was released in October 2000, beta 2 in March 2001, Release Candidates 1 and 2 both in July 2001, with the final build in August of 2001. This gives between 12.5 and 14.5 months from first beta to final software.
To finish in 2009, therefore, would require Windows 7 to go from “pre-beta” to RTM within the same timeframe as it took XP to go from beta to RTM. This isn’t impossible, but it doesn’t leave much room to maneuver. To get into stores for the holiday season would leave even less time; given the two month lag between RTM and retail availability, 7 would have to be finished less than a year from now.
Windows 7 has already been in development for a couple of years (if not more), of course, which might give it an advantage over XP, but in practice I don’t think that this will allow MS to significantly condense the beta period. Real user testing takes time, and there’s not much that can be done about that. Further, in spite of its longer development, Windows 7 will be at a slightly less advanced stage than XP was on its first public outing (pre-beta, whatever that may imply, versus beta). It wouldn’t be surprising if we had to wait another few weeks to get a true beta.
After the missteps of Vista, Windows 7 has got to hit the ball out the park; Microsoft needs this release to win back the mindshare that it has lost in the time since Vista’s release. The company can’t afford to let quality slip just to attain a release date. Putting it all together, I wouldn’t expect to see Windows 7 before early 2010. 2009 just seems too far, too fast.