Microsoft Corp is betting its next Windows operating system will be faster and easier to use and avoid the missteps of Windows Vista that alienated many users of the software that powers 90 per cent of the world’s PCs.
Windows 7, which was previewed yesterday, is set to be introduced in a test version early next year with features including touchscreen technology and the ability to more easily personalise the system.
The company also adopted a ‘simple is better’ philosophy, looking to remove complexity from an operating system that incorporated 50 million lines of programming code in Vista.
Here’s looking inside the new features packed in Windows 7.
Microsoft plans to introduce more user-friendly features, such as a new taskbar that previews all the open windows from a single application by hovering over the programme’s icon.
The designers have removed redundant buttons that launch applications. When users roll over a programme’s icon in the taskbar, it will be easier to see how many documents are open, and switch between them.
Another new feature is called “Jump Lists,” which provides updated lists of recently worked-on documents or often visited websites without first having to open Microsoft Word or an Internet browser.
The new software will ditch some prominent features included in Vista including Calendar, Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Contacts and Photo Gallery, which will now be available for free download from the Microsoft website.
The forthcoming Windows 7 will let users choose to see fewer alerts and warnings from their computers. Rampant notifications alerting people to security risks in Vista are said to be a irk for many users.
“We had all the best intentions of helping to secure the PC platform even more, particularly for novice PC users who needed to be protected,” said Steven Sinofsky, a senior vice president in Microsoft’s Windows group.
But Sinofsky acknowledged that Microsoft needed to work more closely with outside companies to avoid a similar mess this time.
In Windows 7, Microsoft introduces a concept called Libraries, which automatically collects similar files scattered across PCs on a home network and displays them together in a single folder.
These Libraries are like virtual folders that can reside across multiple folders and even multiple networked PCs. The default Libraries are for Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos.
Microsoft has said that Windows 7 will be faster and need less memory to run. Vista generally needs costlier hardware configurations than the older Windows XP.
Sinofsky held up a “netbook” — a low-cost, low-power laptop that would have a hard time running Vista — and said it’s working with Windows 7.
Windows Vista was heavily criticised due to poor compatibility with devices and slow start speeds that it became the target of an effective marketing campaign by rival Apple Inc.
Windows 7 adds features to more easily connect personal computers to cameras, printers and home networks.
It’s new feature Device Stage will be a one-stop point to manage and gather information for devices from mobile phones to printers to digital music players.
The new feature will let people better personalise machines and set up networks that mesh capabilities of mobile telephones, printers, digital picture frames, computers and other Smart devices.
Among the innovations unveiled by Microsoft was a touchscreen capability that will allow users to select folders and control programmes without using a mouse.
The Operating System will also enable computers to respond to gestures, like the iPhone, whether a person uses a mouse or his finger, depending on the type of computer screen. Whenever a user presses his finger to the display, a ‘water drop’ appears, showing that the touch has been recognised, and the mouse cursor disappears, to avoid input confusion.
In Wondows 7, desktop Themes selector highlights the ability to change window borders’ Glass edge. Users have a choice of 18 tints for their glass, with accessibility themes also available, as well as more themes downloadable online.
The notification area or System Tray too has become less cluttered. Users can determine what events and applications can place icons in the tray and when they can pop up warning messages.
Windows 7 aims to keep hardware requirements in line with that of Vista so that companies do not need to buy special machines to run the new operating system.
Microsoft also showed off lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote software that work in Web browsers and look as they normally do, but don’t have to be installed on a PC. The new programmes were running “in the cloud” on the new Windows Azure system Microsoft unveiled, a move aimed at helping it catch up with Google and other nimbler Web companies. Azure lets Microsoft run software and store data in its own massive data centers around the world, instead of requiring people to install programs on their own PCs.
Office Web applications will be available for consumers on Office Live, though the company did not disclose whether it would be paid for by advertising or subscriptions. The Office Web programmes represent what Microsoft believes is a more polished take on what Google has tried.
Microsoft’s online Office programmes let people work on a document at the same time, and make it easier to publish charts and PowerPoint presentations to blogs with few clicks.
Microsoft’s early 2009 target for people to begin toying with Windows 7 is striking because the Redmond, Washington-based company promised deadlines it couldn’t keep when it was developing Vista.
Microsoft is trying hard to avoid a similar debacle this time. Sinofsky said there is no date yet for the next milestone, a “release to manufacturing” version of Windows 7, but reiterated that the system is set to go on sale in early 2010.