Feeds

First Windows 7 beta puts fresh face on Vista

More polish so you don't spit

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Do YOU work at Microsoft? Um. Are you SURE about that?
Nokia and marketing types first to get the bullet, says report
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
Big Blue Apple: IBM to sell iPads, iPhones to enterprises
iOS/2 gear loaded with apps for big biz ... uh oh BlackBerry
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.