Some details about Windows 7 and Windows 7 Server features have already dribbled out of Redmond. By next week, IT managers should have a clearer picture of what Microsoft's next-generation operating system will look like.
At the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week, the company will release an alpha version of Windows 7, and offer more than 20 sessions focused on Windows 7 features. Based on session descriptions, coupled with some public statements made by Microsoft product managers and executives, Windows 7 will address complaints about the current OS, Vista.
For example, in the client, Microsoft will reduce the number of User Account Control (UAC) prompts in Windows 7.
Windows 7, which is expected to be generally available in 2009, will also do away with such applications as mail, calendar, movie maker and photo gallery that were part of Vista. Instead, these applications will be available as downloads from Windows Live.
The kernel will remain the same, which will help avoid the multitude of compatibility problems IT shops and third-party vendors ran into with Vista.
One IT executive would love to see Windows 7 drop digital rights management (DRM). "I am hoping that they get rid of [DRM altogether], but I doubt that will happen," said Arch Willingham, vice president and director of IT with T.U. Parks Construction Co. out of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Willingham also said he believes Windows 7 needs to be simplified for the user's sake. "I've loaded Vista on a couple machines and it has so many settings in general that take a lot of getting used to and ones that there is just no business need for," he said.
In general, he would like to see Windows 7 become more XP-like, so that once the OS is patched it works, he said. "We are going toward Linux in a lot more ways and areas because of Vista," Willingham said.
Bob Williamson, IT manager with Eisenhower & Carlson PLLC out of Tacoma, Wash., would also like a client makeover. "There are so many features that just don't need to be there," he said. Instead of focusing on the OS, his law firm is developing a "mini cloud" using technology developed by VMware Inc.
"You can see how cloud computing is coming, there's no doubt," Williamson said. "What will have to be overcome are questions of privacy and security if data is in this nebulous environment versus people making their own clouds internally."
Some other expected Windows 7 features are reduced application installation time, less custom code development, plus improvements to the task bar, start menu and new networking and multi-touch gesture APIs.
Windows 7 Server
Windows Server 2008 R2, also known as Windows 7 Server, will be a minor release compared to the client. The 64-bit-only version is due sometime in 2010 and will have a live migration capability that lets IT shops switch up virtual machine workloads on the fly while the machines are running.
"Live migration is a big deal for Microsoft to [include]," said Shane Archiquette, a senior solutions consultant with a large technology company in the southwest. "There are people rooting for Microsoft to get as feature rich with virtualization as VMware is now. [Microsoft] needs to offer the same functionality at least, so people won't have to use VMware and Microsoft."
As for server management, Archiquette wants Microsoft to improve its Remote Desktop interface and wants more built-in updating tools.
"You have to do a lot of things to make Remote Desktop work right," he said. "The management of multiple servers through this interface is not streamlined."
The PDC's dismal track record
Although the PDC is a venue for Microsoft to present its next-generation technologies to developers, it's fitting to remember that what Microsoft introduces there often does not materialize, at least not in the way it is presented at the PDC.
At PDC 2003, for example, Microsoft discussed Longhorn. The product as it was presented on that day bore little resemblance to Vista and Windows Server 2008 when they were finally released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Microsoft dropped the WinFS file system and ported some of its other technologies, Indigo and Avalon, to XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003 SP1, for example.