Feeds

Windows 95 to Windows 7: How Microsoft lost its vision

Behind the taskbar

The essential guide to IT transformation

Comment Much better than Vista, and the best Windows yet. That seems to be the consensus view on Windows 7, and after two and a half months with the final build, I more or less agree - despite the niggling voice that says behind the new taskbar it is not really so different from Windows Vista.

Nevertheless, Windows 7 on its launch today is a better experience than Windows Vista was when released in early 2007, thanks to a UI polish, faster hardware, better drivers, and new features that users actually enjoy - Taskbar, Libraries, Aero Peek - rather than features that were detrimental to usability and compatibility even if there were good reasons for them. Yes, User Account Control, I'm thinking of you.

It is a good effort from the Windows 7 team, though its task was easier than that facing the Windows Vista crew. Windows 7 is a refinement of Windows Vista, whereas Vista was meant to be revolutionary.

Windows 7

Essentials of the Windows 95 user interface remain in Windows 7

The interesting questions about Windows Vista concern not what was delivered, but what was omitted. I attended Microsoft's 2003 Professional Developers Conference (PDC), where we heard about the now-notorious "three pillars of Longhorn": Avalon, later called Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF); Indigo, later called Windows Communication Foundation; and WinFS, still called WinFS, still not shipped.

WinFS was the relational file system that was itself a delayed variation of the Object File System promised for the Cairo project originally talked about in 1991. Making it work sensibly, though, proved too difficult. With two of three pillars removed, no wonder Windows Vista tottered.

Ah, but surely Avalon was left in? It is true that WPF did ship with Windows Vista, but Avalon as originally conceived did not survive the July 2005 reset, when work on Windows Vista was scrapped and restarted based on the Windows Server 2003 code base. In 2003, Microsoft Group vice president Jim Allchin described Avalon as "the graphics subsystem in Windows Longhorn and a foundation for the Windows Longhorn shell".

That may have been true of the glacial but fascinating technical preview given out at that PDC, but it was not true of what eventually became Vista, carefully analyzed by Richard Grimes and found to include minimal .NET code. There will be a little more .NET in Windows 7, with things like the PowerShell scripting environment, but it remains predominantly native code.

As presented at PDC 2003, Longhorn was visionary. Code access security in .NET was going to solve Windows security problems. XAML hosted in the browser would unite the Internet and the desktop. WinFS was going to liberate data from application silos.

What we got was Windows Vista, and now there's Windows 7. Neither is remotely visionary, even though the latter is a very competent desktop operating system.

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Next page: From 3.1 to 95

More from The Register

next story
BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV
Pureed-carrot-in-ice cream C++ surprise
China: You, Microsoft. Office-Windows 'compatibility'. You have 20 days to explain
Told to cough up more details as antitrust probe goes deeper
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.