Microsoft Sends Up Trial Balloons for Windows 7

Windows Vista hasn't fared so well since its debut. Its generally low reputation among customers has led one Forrester analyst to dub Microsoft's latest OS "the New Coke of tech," while some studies have suggested that nearly a third of customers who buy a PC with Vista pre-installed may actually be downgrading those machines to XP.

Still other customers seem to wish the whole thing will just go away. They don't want to hear about Vista at all -- they'd rather hear about Windows 7, the upcoming OS from Microsoft that will be Vista's successor. And given the dismal consumer reaction to its latest attempts to market Vista, Microsoft seems willing to oblige. The sketchy early reports of Windows 7 have lately grown into a steady trickle of hints and rumors. The catch is, not all of it sounds particularly encouraging.

Perhaps because of the beatings it so often receives from the press, Microsoft seems to want you to get your Windows 7 news from the horse's mouth as much as possible. To that end, the Windows team has launched a new blog to chronicle the Windows 7 engineering efforts in detail. Senior Windows 7 product managers Jon DeVaan and Steven Sinofsky promise to "post, comment, and participate" regularly.

Among the factoids revealed in the blog so far: The workforce tasked with assembling the forthcoming OS is immense, and it's dense with middle managers. As many as 2,000 developers may be involved, according to reports. That sounds like a truly Herculean project-management undertaking -- and indeed, if the figures quoted in the Windows 7 blog are to be believed, Microsoft has staffed up with one manager for every four developers. It's enough to make one wonder how Windows 7 will avoid the implementation failures and missed deadlines that plagued Vista's launch.

The engineering blog isn't the only evidence of Microsoft's recent lip-loosening, either. Elsewhere this week we learned even more interesting information. We've known for a while now that Windows 7 is expected to build on the Vista code base, rather than reinventing any substantial portion of the Windows kernel. As it turns out, however, the next version of Windows may be even closer to the current one than we expect.

According to Microsoft spokespeople, the server version of Windows 7 will be considered a minor update, rather than a high-profile new product. In fact, it's expected to ship under the name Windows Server 2008 R2 -- a designation that suggests it will offer few features that aren't already available in the current shipping version of Microsoft's server OS.

As tantalizing as these tidbits of information may be, however, hard facts about Windows 7 remain scarce. At this stage, any talk about the forthcoming product counts as little more than free marketing. As long as we all keep talking about Windows in some form or another, the less likely we are to jump ship to Mac OS X or (heaven forbid) Linux.

According to Microsoft, however, developers can expect to get their first in-depth look at the new OS at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) conference in October, and further information will be revealed at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) the following week. Until then, expect the rumor mill to remain in full force.

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