I think we can safely say that Windows Vista was a flop. The only one that doesn't seem to know it is Microsoft. Or does it? This week at WinHEC, the company introduced a series of capabilities in Windows 7 that it says will "make it easier for hardware partners to create new experiences for Windows PC customers." The move is intended to "rally hardware engineers to begin development and testing" for its nascent operating system. According to a recent report on downloadsquad.com, Windows 7 could be available as soon as soon as the middle of next year, but Microsoft's original promise in 2007 included that of a three-year timetable that "will ultimately be determined by meeting the quality bar."
From all appearances, development of Windows 7 is pretty well along. Everyone in attendance at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) was given a pre-beta of Windows 7 (as well as one of Windows Server 2008 R2). In a Nov. 5 statement, Microsoft referred to Windows 7 as API-complete, including touch-sensitivity and simplified WiFi configuration. “We’ve done a great deal of work in Windows 7 to enable new scenarios with our hardware partners, and we are excited by the partner innovation we have shown today,” said Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of the Windows Core Operating System Division at Microsoft. “Windows 7 presents tremendous opportunities for hardware developers. This innovation will enable our hardware partners to provide customers with even greater choice in rich computing experiences.”
Helping to afford those opportunities (Microsoft hopes) is a new component called Devices and Printers, which reportedly presents a combined browser for files, devices and settings. "Devices can be connected to the PC using USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi," said the statement, making no of devices connected via serial, parallel, SCSI, FireWire, IDE, PS/2, PCI or SATA. The module also provides Wizards. Oh yippie.
Claiming to simplify connections to the Internet while mobile, Microsoft has broadened the "View Available Networks" feature to include mobile broadband. Personally I've never has much luck with that particular Microsoft feature, preferring instead to use the ones included with my WiFi card, which actually worked. But that's just me. For makers of specialized or highly custom devices, Microsoft provides Device Stage, which "provides information on the device status and runs common tasks in a single window customized by the device manufacturer." In other words, if your device doesn't behave like everyone else's, you're on your own.
If you've seen those clever commercials for Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart PC, which at first I would have sworn were for some new iMac, you know that a touch-based interface for Windows is already here and quite good-looking. "The Start menu, Windows Taskbar and Windows Explorer are touch-ready," in Windows 7, says Microsoft, thanks to Windows Touch. Looks like HP's got you beat, MS, which said Windows 7 will enable touch-based screen controls such as "zooming in, zooming out and rotating images with their fingers." Hmmm. Kinda sounds like what the iPhone has been doing for more than a year now.