Industry Inside – I have been lucky enough to get an early peek at Microsoft's next operating system, Windows 7. But if you were expecting dramatic visual changes and a departure from Vista, Milestone 1 truly disappoints. But then, M1 has a different purpose, it is not intended to provide eye candy. Here's what you could expect from M1 - in the very unlikely case you'd come across the installation DVD.
No matter how you slice it, Microsoft surely has an interesting ride with Vista. It is this OS that has cost several billion dollars to develop and was intended to revolutionize the way we work with computers. It didn't quite happen and Vista probably has drawn more criticism than any other of the firm's OSs before. But, of course, it isn't quite what you would call a failure, since more than 100 million copies have been sold in a year or so.
I am wondering: Where does Microsoft go from here? Vista SP1 is the traditional one-year check-up and patch for OS, but are Vista's ideas here to stay? The talk about 7 is already beginning to gain traction – and of course I was interested in what ideas Microsoft has for the Vista successor. Lucky me, I am in the right spot to actually take such early software for a test drive. And here's my impression.
I was able to obtain a Windows 7 M1 DVD image (2.7 GB in size) to create the disk necessary for install. This M1 version actually is not a standalone Windows version, but requires Vista as a foundation. To be exact, Vista isn't enough, you will need Vista SP1, which you will be able to get in mid-March, but which has been available to Microsoft's partners for several weeks now. On my standard Core 2 Duo-based PC, M1 actually installed on top of Vista Ultimate SP1 without any problems.
The install itself looks very similar to a regular Vista install routine, indicating that Microsoft hasn't spent any time on this part of the software yet. What is interesting however, that this M1 could only be configured to match the Vista SP1 version: Accordingly, I ended up with a "Windows 7 Ultimate".
After getting Aero back up running (you will have to adjust the Windows Experience Index manually), you really start wondering what is actually different here. I have been poking around in the Windows 7 system and it simply is running piggy-back with Windows Vista in this stage. All icons are the same, the overall look is the same, and most of the functionality is the same - minus a few crashes and incompatibilities here and there due to the early code.
M1 includes an automatic dual-boot install, which I found out later. The system I loaded the upgrade on has become a dual-boot system, which I was never given the option to select. Yes, I admit I did not read the EULA and I did not scan the fine print (and who really does, especially in such an early version) as it installed. So, my system has the option to either boot to Windows 7 or boot to Windows Vista Ultimate when it is turned on.
You can dig around more in the technicalities of Windows 7, but I was not able to discover anything especially interesting here either. The system feels slightly faster than the regular Vista – memory usage is at about 500 MB with no other software running in the background. Overall, the potentially new and much leaner kernel isn't there yet.
It isn't difficult to conclude that there is no way that this is what Windows 7 will look like. What is happening here is that new code is using Windows Vista as a cover. The simple purpose of M1 is to get a first idea how stable and compatible the code is with certain hardware and applications. If Vista wasn't there, you'd only see raw code and a basic UI. This is how early we are in the development of Windows 7. Of course, as time goes by, it would not surprise me a bit, if the GUI changes. Each release will have something new. This is how it was in the past and there is no reason to change that approach now.
So, when will we see Windows 7 in stores?
Microsoft said that it will be at least another three years until the release, which would put it into the 2010/2011 timeframe. And we still remember the Vista delays. So 2011 should be a good guess. What strikes me however, is that the source I was receiving M1 from, as well as Microsoft M1 documentation, point to a much earlier release date. Right now, we are looking at Q3 or Q4 2009 for sure, possibly earlier.