We've got one of the first copies of Windows 7 in the world -- and the screenshots and juicy tech details to prove it.
We all know that Windows 7 is looming on the horizon, but until now Microsoft have kept tight-lipped about specifics. We can now bring you all the juicy details.
On Sunday 26th October, APC attended a Windows 7 Reviewer’s Workshop in Los Angeles. This was the first event at which Microsoft has publically talked about and demonstrated the successor to Windows Vista — Windows 7.
So far Microsoft has kept an iron-cast seal on any and all communication about Windows 7. Apart from the official releases which have come to us via the Windows 7 Engineering Blog, all the information which has surfaced about Windows 7 has remained pure speculation — unconfirmed by Microsoft. But — now it’s out there and now we can talk about it.
First impressions of Windows 7 is that it takes the software architecture and underlying structure of Windows Vista and improves upon it in several key areas. Steven Sinofsky, Senior Vice President of the Windows and Windows Live Engineering group, admitted that the ecosystem into which Windows Vista was launched was not as ready for the product as Microsoft had hoped, so Windows 7 has been purposefully designed to minimise the compatibility problems which plagued Vista’s early days.
This is the main reason why the version number of Windows 7 is actually 6.1 rather than 7.0. 3rd-party application installers and all other executables which had hard-coded OS version checks couldn’t handle a major change to the OS build number, and Microsoft is obviously very reluctant to travel down that path again. In fact, according to Gabriel Aul, the design tenets which guided Windows 7 development are:
- Any application or device on Vista should run on Windows 7
- A system which runs Vista should run faster with Windows 7
- Notebooks should get better battery life on Windows 7
- Windows 7 should be more stable than Windows Vista from day one
- Windows 7 should be the most secure version of Windows yet
Of course, the word “should” in this context means “this is what we’re aiming for”, rather than “we think it will behave like this but we don’t really know”.
The important thing to realise is that Windows 7 isn’t Windows Vista “as it should have been” (or other nasty ways of describing Vista), but rather the next step in the evolution of Windows, building on what has been introduced in Vista and taking it to the next level. Here’s a list of some of the major changes, enhancements and improvements you can expect to see:
Less annoying UAC Control — You can now dial down the prompt mechanism in UAC without disabling it, resulting in a far better experience for admins and power users without compromising system security
Home Group Networking — the Windows 7 home group concept is a network of home computers which can seamlessly find and connect to each other, sharing resources and media. Corporate machines which are also members of a home group do not have sensitive company data exposed to other machines
Advanced Content Previewing and Windows Interaction — the preview function of windows minimised to the task bar has been improved. The preview windows itself is much larger, and you can now shut down windows from within the preview function.
Jump Lists — right-clicking on any application minimised to the task bar or pinned to the Start Menu generates a jump list of recently-opened documents and other application-specific tasks like opening new documents. Jump lists are also available for the Bluetooth and Wireless Network icons in the system tray, to make wireless connections easier
Desktop Peek — a small new hover section has been added to the task bar just by the system tray. Hovering over this makes all windows transparent so that you can see the desktop behind, which is very useful for checking desktop gadgets without having to minimise all windows.
Touch Input — it’s been known for a while that Windows 7 will incorporate touch technology, and this was finally demonstrated at the workshop. The technology currently supports dual-finger touch (which needs the supporting hardware) and the UI has been tweaked to recognise when touch input is being used. For example, the jump lists are 25% bigger when they are opened with touch rather than the mouse, to facilitate easier touch usage. Navigational gestures have also been introduced and work across all Windows applications, even those like Office which don’t natively recognise touch input
Libraries — Windows 7 can now collate documents and media across disparate physical storage locations into one contiguous library, which you can easily navigate and search from within Windows Explorer. The concept is very similar to watching folders in Media Player, except that now that functionality has been fully extended. You can also create Home Group-specific libraries which are searchable by any connected computer
Window Placement — you can now automatically snap windows side-by-side for easier viewing and maximise any window simply by dragging it to the top of the screen
Desktop Gadgets — gadgets can now be hosted directly on the desktop without having to use Windows Sidebar
System Tray Enhancements — Instead of having to manually specify which icons appear in the system tray, there is now an overflow section for all icons, and you can simply pick and choose which ones you want to see. You can also turn off notifications from individual icons, to reduce the overall “noise” from this part of the UI.
Action Center — instead of the user being constantly prompted to take action when there is a security or maintenance alert (often prompting users to disable alerts), these messages are now placed in the Action Center, which is like a message queue for system prompts which the user can deal with in their own time.
Media Playback Enhancements — Windows 7 now integrates with networked media players, so you can “send” media files to a remote device rather than playing it back through the PC. Windows 7 also now supports iTunes media files, you can incorporate an iTunes library into a Windows 7 media library. Media Player also now supports AC3, H.264, DivX and Xvid natively, along with some proprietary HD camcorders. It does not support FairPlay DRM-encoded content, however
Device Stage — this is allows a vendor to embed services into its driver manifest, so that users can access all features of their device when it’s connected. For example, for a multifunction printer you can now, from one window, access all print, scan and fax functions, change default Windows programs and purchase supplies. The information contained within the page is rendered via XML, so it can automatically update and present the user with the latest product information, without the user having to update the driver. Device Stage now supports mobile phones natively.
Enhancements for IT Pros — Windows 7 leverages strongly off integrated PowerShell scripts and reporting to facilitate better troubleshooting and reduced support costs. It also has a more streamlined deployment methodology.
Windows Live Integration — Windows 7 leverages strongly off Windows Live technology to provide a more seamless and integrated user experience with the cloud. The latest wave of Live applications are currently in public beta, and you can check them out here.
We’ll look at all these features in more detail shortly, but as a summary list of changes it’s quite impressive. My overall impressions of Windows 7 is that a huge amount of work has gone into overhauling the UI, which now seems a lot more intuitive, bringing context-sensitive information to users quickly and giving them are a far more visually tactile experience.
We’ll bring you all the news on Windows 7 as it breaks, and also give you run downs on all aspects of the new technologies which mark Windows 7 as the next major OS from Microsoft.
But of course, the moment you've all been waiting for... the first batch of screenshots...