Feeds

First Windows 7 beta puts fresh face on Vista

More polish so you don't spit

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

Review Microsoft has officially released the first Windows 7 beta. While it's been one of the web's worst kept secrets, Microsoft was still keeping quiet about the details and timing of the final release at the time of writing.

Everyone expects release later this year. A leaked briefing paper for OEM vendors suggests that the date when buyers of Windows Vista machines qualify for a free upgrade begins "for planning purposes" on July 1, 2009.

Vista's free upgrade period began in October 2006, and the operating system was completed in November, so we can speculate that Windows 7 may be done in August or thereabouts, though PCs for sale will not include it until a few months later.

Such assumptions are strengthened by the high quality of the beta that Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer announced Wednesday evening at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fully operational

Build 7000, which has been widely leaked online, seems fully usable and feels faster than Windows Vista on the same hardware. I installed it on a virtual machine and on two laptops, a two-year old Toshiba Portege and a more recent Dell XPS M1330 loaned by Microsoft for the purpose, and had few issues.

In truth it is not greatly changed from the build shown at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) late last year, though more user interface features that were unavailable to us at the time have now been enabled. Drivers designed for Windows Vista seem to work fine, though this may not be true in every case, confirming Microsoft's statement that the core architecture is the same.

This raises the question that I put to John Curran, head of the Windows client group in the UK, during a Windows 7 briefing. Since under the covers it is so similar to Windows Vista, how does Microsoft justify calling it a full new version? Curran responded by mentioning new features: Digital Living Room Network Alliance (DLNA) compliance in Windows Media Player (WMP) for easier media sharing, Bitlocker to Go for encrypting USB storage devices, Direct Access for network access without VPN, and new support for sensors and devices that will enable location-aware laptops.

Wndows 7 taskbar

Thumbnail previews simplify navigation in the new taskbar

Fair enough I suppose, though distinguishing between applications and the core operating system is a matter of debate. That said, Curran did not nail the two things that matter most in Windows 7. The first is the changes to the shell, by which I mean the taskbar, desktop and Explorer. The second is less tangible, but it is the countless minor changes Microsoft says it has made to make Windows faster, smoother and less annoying.

Let's start with the taskbar. In Windows 7, this is a combined tool for both launching and switching applications, and the Quick Launch toolbar has been retired. The Start menu still exists, but if you pin an application to the taskbar it appears there whether or not it is running. It makes sense, because from the user's perspective launching or switching to an application is not much different, though the two states look confusingly similar in the beta.

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Google extends app refund window to two hours
You now have 120 minutes to finish that game instead of 15
Intel: Hey, enterprises, drop everything and DO HADOOP
Big Data analytics projected to run on more servers than any other app
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.