FAQ: What we know about Windows 7

Microsoft's talking -- a little -- about Vista's replacement

Will Windows 7 be a major or a minor release?

The parsing of these adjectives is important because post-Vista, Microsoft said it was planning to update its operating systems on an alternating major-minor basis, with the major upgrades -- think XP to Vista -- every four years, with minor ones in between. A good example of a minor upgrade would be Windows XP SP2, which though called a "Service Pack," was unlike any other SP in the new features and capabilities it added to the previous OS.

Trouble is, Windows 7 sounds like a minor upgrade, but Flores and Sinofsky called it the opposite. "Another question we often get asked is whether Windows 7 is a major release," said Flores. "The answer is 'yes'."

Sinofsky used the adjective "major" six times during the interview with News.com, as in "major undertaking," "major release," and "major and significant release."

Another clue: Windows 7 will use the same device driver model as Vista. That OS, remember, required new drivers for all hardware -- a disruption that even company executives struggled with, as some said in internal e-mails released earlier this year as part of a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft.

The mixed message -- is it major or is it minor? -- confused at least one analyst. Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft. "To me, a 'major' update means major changes to the core functionality of the operating system." With Microsoft saying it was going to build atop Vista, not start from scratch, Cherry said he wasn't getting the impression that core functional would significantly change.

Why is Microsoft playing it so close to the vest on Windows 7?

Good question.

Microsoft essentially said it learned a lesson from Vista, when it promised features -- such as a retooled storage subsystem called WinFS -- that it ended up yanking from the operating system as development dragged and deadlines grew near.

"We can significantly impact our partners and our customers if we broadly share information that later changes," said Flores in a separate entry on a Microsoft blog Tuesday.

Analysts, including Directions' Cherry and Gartner's Silver, said much the same. "They talked more publicly about Vista, but in the end that didn't make them a lot of friends," noted Silver earlier this week.

So, is Microsoft dumping Vista?

No. Company executives, including its CEO, came to praise Windows Vista, not bury it, even as they touted its replacement.

Steve Ballmer defended Vista Tuesday when he talked at the All Things Digital conference. "Vista is not a failure, and it's not a mistake" Ballmer said in response to a question. Nor is Microsoft throwing in the Vista towel. "Are there things that we will continue to modify and improve going forward? Sure," Ballmer added.

Flores, meanwhile, trumpeted Vista's sales numbers. "As of March 31, we had sold more than 140 million Windows Vista licenses," he said.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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