Microsoft has named the date for the next version of Windows, and the woman behind the Office 2007 interface is in charge of an all bets are off UI refresh for Windows too.
The post-Vista edition of Windows doesn't yet have a name, but it's got a date - 2010 - and it's getting a fresh look.
The former was revealed at Microsoft's Global Exchange sales conference in Orlando last week, according to Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley. Foley cites a PowerPoint presentation indicating that "Microsoft is anticipating it will take at least three years from now to get the next version of Windows client out the door." A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to Foley that " Microsoft is scoping Windows ‘7' development to a three-year timeframe, and then the specific release date will ultimately be determined by meeting the quality bar."
If you're wondering what happened to the codenames of Vienna, and before that Blackcomb, which were originally attached to the OS, Windows senior VP Steven Sinofsky has banished those ciphers name as a sign of his desire to refocus the team on the steak rather than the sizzle. It's in keeping with Sinofsky's previous reign over Office 2000, XP/2002, 2003 and 2007 - all of which were known only by their internal version numbers (such as Office 2007 being ‘Office 12') before being christened with a marketing label.
|"No fancy codenames for you!": Windows veep Steven Sinofsky goes back to basics with 'Windows 7'
The next edition of Windows will technically be the seventh generation of the Windows NT codebase which is now the foundation for the client OS (the clock starts at Windows NT 3.1; this was followed by NT 4, while Windows 2000 was also ‘Windows NT 5' and XP a mere 5.1, until Vista clicked the meter over to Windows version 6).
And as he did with Office 2007, Sinofsky has declared that all bets are off when it comes to the UI of Windows 7. He's hired Julie Larson-Green, who lead the Office 2007 user interface team under Sinofsky's watch, as VP in charge of the "the Windows User Experience" or UX program.
Larson-Green was pivotal in the dramatic redesign of Office 2007, which ditched the long-established model of menus and toolbars - which had grown cluttered and out of control over two decades of development - for that single integrated and context-morphing ‘ribbon'. Few could argue that Windows isn't in need of a similar cleanup job - the iconic overload of Vista's Control Panel is a prime example of a once-friendly UI turned ferral.
Jensen Harris, who was program manager for the Office 2007 UX team and now fills Larsen-Green's role in fine-tuning the face of Office 14 (not wishing to tempt fate, they're skipping 13!) recalls that it was Sinofsky who drove the suite's radical interfacelift.
"It originated with Steven Sinofsky" Harris told APC in a recent interview. "Steven had certainly noticed, like we all had, the growing interface clutter around the core Office apps, and he thought we should put a set of people together and at least think about this. But I sometimes think that he didn't really expect us to actually replace the entire UI!
"Maybe Steven asked for a lot so we would deliver more than just a little, because it would take a lot to budge people from the way things had been for 20 years. Perhaps his thinking was to ask for a mile in order to get just 200 feet. But we ended giving him the whole mile, and then some".
|Julie Larsen-Green: she changed the way Office 2007 looks and works, and now she's got the same job on the Windows 7 team
Harris recalls that Larsen-Green was a staunch advocate for rethinking the way Office worked and, more importantly, that way users wanted it to work. "She recruited me to do something bold to change the UI of Office. I was very sceptical at first - my feeling was that we would never be bold enough to actually make a real change, that really what we were talking about was doing some other incremental bandaid on top of the way things used to work. (But) Julie really sold me on the idea that she was really serious about trying to understand the problems with the UI, and if we can understand it and can come up with the idea, that we can go and do it."
Of her new role in the Windows team, Harris observes "Julie is definitely a champion of building great user experiences, and I know that in Windows she'll be looking to do the same types of things that she did in Office, which espouse great design values. Whether or not that means we'll see such a radical overhaul of the UI in Windows 7, I think it's too early to say".
Two things are certain: Sinofsky is a serious agent of change for the Windows OS, and Larsen-Green hasn't been brought into the Windows 7 UX team to keep things the way they are.