Microsoft leaks Windows 7 details

One new feature, Driver Protection, blacklists drivers known to be unstable, and prevents them from loading.

Hours before Microsoft executives trotted out Windows 7 at the company's developer conference, officials leaked some details about the impending alpha edition on Microsoft's own Web site.

In an extensive privacy statement devoted to Windows 7, the successor to the problem-plagued Windows Vista that Microsoft is touting this week at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC), the company revealed several facts about the upcoming operating system.

Among the disclosures in the "Windows 7 Pre-release (M3) Privacy Supplement" were:

Apparently, Windows 7 will come in multiple versions, as did Vista. In the section devoted to BitLocker, the all-disk encryption feature that debuted in Vista, Windows 7 will be available in both Enterprise and Ultimate editions.

Driver Protection, a new feature, blacklists drivers known to be unstable, and prevents them from loading. Microsoft will refresh the driver blacklist through Windows Update.

Product activation will still be required. The activation process, which Microsoft first included with Windows XP, is designed to limit casual copying by tying a copy of the operating system to a specific PC. The privacy supplement did not spell out any differences between Windows 7 activation and the company's current practices.

Customers will be able to do an in-place upgrade to a brawnier edition of Windows 7 with "Windows Anytime Upgrade," another tool that debuted in Vista.

Long Zheng, who writes the "istartedsomething" blog, was the first to notice the privacy supplement.

Microsoft will hand out what it has dubbed a "pre-beta" build of Windows 7 to developers attending PDC. The company has said attendees will receive a 160GB external USB hard drive containing all the bits from the conference, including the alpha version of Windows 7.

Windows 7, which is expected to ship in late 2009 or early 2010, has been termed a "major" release by some Microsoft executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer. But company managers have also repeatedly stressed that the next operating system will use Vista's driver model and retain compatibility with all applications that run on Vista.

Two weeks ago, in fact, Ballmer called Windows 7 "Windows Vista, a lot better" during a question-and-answer at a conference sponsored by research firm Gartner.

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