This past weekend, we had the chance to attend a day-long press tour of Microsoft’s next operating system. After having some very candid conversations with high-level Windows PMs at two cocktail events and watching them give detailed presentations and demos for six hours on Sunday, we walked away with the indelible impression that the team in Redmond wants reliability and performance, not drool-worthy UI effects, to be the hallmarks of Windows 7. Yes, the pre-beta we saw was loaded with new features that users will truly appreciate. But at its core, Windows 7 is evolutionary, not revolutionary. And from where we sit, that’s a very good thing. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Microsoft has wisely chosen to build upon the things it got right in Vista and tweak those it could have done better. Compatibility One of the biggest initial problems with Windows Vista was application and driver compatibility. While Microsoft may have been prepared to support Vista in January 2007, the larger world of vendors, OEMs, and software publishers—what Microsoft calls the “Windows ecosystem” was not prepared. Many devices had no Vista drivers at all or, worse still, buggy and unstable drivers for months after release. Similarly, plenty of applications didn’t work or wouldn’t work properly with Vista. With its upcoming OS, Microsoft is making a bold promise: If a device or program works in Vista, it will work at least as well in Windows 7, even if a manufacturer or developer doesn’t update. Even stubborn apps that refuse to run because they are programmed to detect the OS and launch only in Vista will be able to run. We even saw a demonstration of how the Windows 7 operating system learns from application crashes and attempts to correct them the second or third time you launch. “I don’t think it’s necessary to break everything to make a big change,” said Steven Sinofsky, SVP of Windows and Windows Live, during his presentation on the shift in Microsoft’s approach to developing its core product. In addition to providing all kinds of compatibility functions and keeping the driver model the same as Vista, Microsoft is working aggressively with its partners in the rest of the “ecosystem” to keep them up to speed on new Windows 7 specs as the development cycle progresses. The belief is that, this time around, hardware vendors and software publishers will have more than enough time and advance notice to take full advantage of the new OS’ features on day one. And even if they don’t lift a finger, their products should work. Performance After watching all the presentations on Sunday, and reading the Windows 7 Blog, it’s clear that Microsoft wants to make Windows boot significantly faster than Vista or even XP. During a presentation on performance, Gabriel Aul, group program manager of Windows Fundamentals, listed several steps Redmond is taking to speed start times:
During his presentation, Aul showed a boot drag race, where a Windows Vista machine and a Windows 7 machine booted side by side—the Windows 7 machine won by several seconds. The sample system Microsoft loaned us, a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 with Windows 7 pre-beta installed, boots very quickly, but to see the boot time difference, we’re looking forward to trying both Vista and Windows 7 on a few different systems to see how things compare. Aul also showed an intriguing memory test. On two different systems, he ran a script that opens dozens of different application windows in the span of a few seconds. On the Vista system, opening dozens of windows ate up a bulk of the memory, eventually forcing the system to turn off high-performance features like Aero glass, just to keep up. On the Windows 7 system, each window uses much less memory so those of us who end up with ten IE windows, five Outlook e-mails, three Photoshop graphics, and four IM chats open at the same time will not see a big slowdown. Battery Life Windows 7 is also supposed to increase notebook battery life in several ways, including:
Will Windows 7 really make a big difference in battery life? In the near future, we plan to run our battery tests on several different systems, under both Vista and Windows 7 so we can find out.