Good news: the next version of Microsoft's Windows OS appears to be less of a resource hog than Windows Vista.
Microsoft announced Wednesday that a beta version of Windows 7 will be available for the general public to download and try out on Friday. At the same time, it provided a list of the minimum system requirements it recommends for people who run the beta.
They call for a 1GHz processor (32- or 64-bit), 1GB of main memory, 16GB of available disk space, support for DX9 graphics with 128MB of memory (for the Aero interface), and a DVD-R/W drive.
Those are very similar to the recommended requirements for Windows Vista -- even though PC hardware will have advanced by as much as three years by the time the finished version of Windows 7 ships.
Microsoft noted that the Windows 7 requirements are for the beta version only and subject to change. But it has also said the beta is "feature complete," suggesting the requirements will not increase by much if the beta tests go smoothly.
Microsoft had indicated previously that one of its design goals for Windows 7 is to give it the same system requirements as for Vista.
When Vista shipped it was seen as too resource hungry for the systems some customers were trying to run it on, resulting in sluggish performance. Indeed, Microsoft had to extend the life of Windows XP for small netbook computers because system makers said Vista would barely run on those devices at all.
Microsoft has now learned its lesson for Windows 7.
"We are working very hard to provide comparable capabilities from a hardware consumption perspective -- memory and processor -- to what you saw in Windows Vista, and I think we may even be able to do a little bit better," said Bill Veghte, Microsoft's senior vice president in charge of Windows, in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show Wednesday.
"I don't want to make commitments on where we'll be at RTM (release to manufacturing, when the OS is complete), but at beta right now we look very comparable to the hardware requirements that Windows Vista had when it came out, and the hardware has moved on. I am very optimistic," he said.
Windows 7 will also be able to run on netbooks, he said.
"Doing a great job in Windows 7 around that class of devices is important and we're committed to providing support for them," Veghte said.
Microsoft's official target for the completed version of Windows 7 is early next year, although Veghte suggested the company would release the OS earlier than that if the beta tests go very smoothly.