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Windows 7 borrows from OS X, avoids Vista

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PDC When it comes to Windows 7, Microsoft hasn't just learned from the mistakes of Windows Vista. It has picked up a thing or two from Apple's OS X, judging by first impressions.

The executive leading Windows 7 said Tuesday that Microsoft realized it shouldn't forge ahead on Windows 7 and deliver an operating system unsupported by partners' hardware or software.

Also, Microsoft has heard that Windows Vista was a resource hog. The company is scaling down the code base and tickling up performance to run on netbooks and existing PCs - so no need to buy a replacement machine.

Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, promised we'd start to see this with the first Windows 7 beta "early next year".

Microsoft is aiming for general availability (GA) "three years from the GA of Windows Vista". That puts Windows 7 down for release during 2010, if you count from Windows Vista's GA in January 2007. The word on the street, though, is to expect Windows 7 next year. Sinofsky told PDC the release date would be dictated by feedback during the beta phase.

They always say that.

As Sinofsky unveiled the Windows 7 interface to PDC delegates, though, it was hard to escape the feeling that Microsoft has not only learned what not to do based on Windows Vista. Windows 7 is also inspired by Apple's OS X.

Sinofsky and corporate vice president of Windows experience Julie Larson-Green showed off a cleaned-up interface, with revamped task bar and OS-X-style dock. Gone are the multiple locations for launching applications, including separate sidebar and task bar, and in comes a dock-style taskbar at the base of the screen.

In a nod to OS X, you will be able to drag and drop icons for your most-used apps into the doc to access them quickly. It'll be possible to open applications from the doc that are coded to support Windows 7.

In another clean-up measure, alerts in the Windows system tray can be hidden - so no more annoying pop-ups.

Microsoft has also borrowed from Apple on simplifying connection to multiple networks. Once you've set up a network, you will be able to carry the same Windows 7 machine and connect to home or a work printer network without the need for manual configuration.

With an eye to the iPhone, Windows 7 looks like it will capitalize on early advances in touch-based computing. Hewlett-Packard already has the TouchSmart PC running Windows Visa PC Home Premium. Larson-Green demonstrated the ability to scroll through and zoom into an Office Word document, saying mouse commands had been "repowered" for touch.

Larson-Green said Touch would work with applications that were designed for it, including Internet Explorer.

These are changes likely to leave the Mac faithful either fulminating or feeling smug. They are changes, though, that polish Windows Vista and capitalize on existing features like Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). They don't introduce the kind of foundational shift that came with Windows Vista and that helped cause so many problems.

Sinofsky promised that partners wouldn't get left behind and that Windows 7 would launch with more hardware and software support than Windows Vista because the hard work's already been done and the pain has been endured.

"With Windows Vista we changed a lot of things that required a lot of work by the [partner] ecosystem - we were ready at launch without the device coverage we needed," Sinofsky said. "Because Windows 7 is built on the same kernel as Windows Server and Windows Vista, there won't be a re-working of that ecosystem."

Sinofsky also promised hard work on performance. The goal is to make Windows 7 run not just on your existing hardware but also on small-footprint netbooks, a market where Windows is losing money.

Changes include a reduction in the overhead of the desktop Windows manager so you don't need to turn it off when developing, a "substantial" reduction in the disk I/O when reading from the registry, and an attempt to reduce the memory footprint of the core Windows 7 install. ®

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