By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 6:58 pm
When will Windows 7 arrive? Maybe sooner than just about anybody expected. All About Microsoft’s Mary Jo Foley has an interesting post over at ZDNet in which she sees signs that the next version of Windows could arrive as soon as mid-2009. Given that the company hasn’t released any beta versions of Windows 7 yet, that would leave a small window (pun unavodiable) for the company to test the OS widely, receive feedback, fix problems, and get the product out the door.
Evidence is starting to suggest that Windows 7 may not be a radically different operating system from Windows Vista in terms of features, functionality, and overall goals. Yes, Steve Ballmer maintains that it’s a “major” release of Windows, but he’s also describing it as “Vista, only a lot better.” Microsoft is keeping its hype machine under control and doing doing mundane but sensible things like stripping out Vista’s photo and video editing tools. You get the feeling that W7 might end up being a do-over–a chance for Microsoft to release a Windows that catches up with initial claims for Vista and fixes the biggest problems with it.
And that would be okay. Actually, it might be great.
For as long as I’ve covered new versions of Windows–and, I’m guessing, since version 2.0–part of the game has been to try and classify each new version as a major or minor upgrade. Hence Ballmer’s insistence that W7 will be a “major” release. The more striking the changes to Windows’ interface and/or technical underpinnings, the more major the release.
But “major” versions of Windows are usually disappointing. Microsoft’s biggest changes to Windows’ look and feel often involving moving things around and renaming them in ways that don’t clearly add value. And when it makes fundamental changes to Windows under the skin, it creates software incompatibilities and breaks drivers.
It’s the versions of Windows that focus on fit, finish, and minor polishing–the allegedly “minor” ones–that are the most pleasing, and the most worth investing time and money in. Windows 3.1 for Workgroups had a name that sounded like a modest update aimed at what was then a niche audience of networked professionals, but it was fabulous–arguably more useful than the original version of Windows 95, the OS that replaced it. Windows 98 was mostly a cleaned-up Windows 95. For a long time I thought that Windows 2000, which mostly put a Windows 95-style UI on top of Windows NT 4.0, was the best OS that Microsoft ever shipped. And Windows XP Service Pack 2 is so basically solid in its own unglamorous way that Microsoft has had a devil of a time convincing hundreds of millions of people to give it up.
So if Windows 7–whenever it shows up–turns out to be a low-key upgrade that represents no sweeping changes to the OS, I’ll take it as good news. We should know a lot more about all this next week, when Microsoft holds its Professional Developers’ Conference, the first event at which it’ll talk about W7 in much detail. I’ll be there, and will let you know what I learn as soon as I learn it…