ArsTechnica covers the unveiling of “Windows 7.”

The folks over at attended Windows PDC and got a good look at the next version of Windows:

At PDC today, Microsoft gave the first public demonstration of Windows 7. Until now, the company has been uncharacteristically secretive about its new OS; over the past few months MS has let on that the taskbar will undergo a number of changes, and that many bundled applications would be unbundled and shipped with Windows Live instead. There have also been occasional screenshots of some of the new applets like Calculator and Paint. Now that the covers are finally off, the scale of the new OS becomes clear. The user interface has undergone the most radical overhaul and update since the introduction of Windows 95 thirteen years ago.

First, however, it’s important to note what Windows 7 isn’t. Windows 7 will not contain anything like the kind of far-reaching architectural modifications that Microsoft made with Windows Vista. Vista brought a new display layer and vastly improved security, but that came at a cost: a significant number of (badly-written) applications had difficulty running on Vista. Applications expecting to run with Administrator access were still widespread when Vista was released, and though many software vendors do a great job, there are still those that haven’t updated or fixed their software. Similarly, at its launch many hardware vendors did not have drivers that worked with the new sound or video subsystems, leaving many users frustrated.

While windows 7 doesn’t undo these architectural changes—they were essential for the long-term health of the platform—it equally hasn’t made any more. Any hardware or software that works with Windows Vista should also work correctly with Windows 7, so unlike the transition from XP to Vista, the transition from Vista to 7 won’t show any regressions; nothing that used to work will stop working.

Which should do a lot to ease concerns about whether or not one should upgrade if you’re already running Vista. So what is changing? The user experience itself:

The biggest visible result of all this is the taskbar. The taskbar in Windows 7 is worlds apart from the taskbar we’ve known and loved ever since the days of Chicago.

Text descriptions on the buttons are gone, in favor of big icons. The icons can—finally—be rearranged; no longer will restarting an application put all your taskbar icons in the wrong order. The navigation between windows is now two-level; mousing over an icon shows a set of window thumbnails, and clicking the thumbnail switches windows.

Right clicking the icons shows a new UI device that MS calls “Jump Lists”.

[…] Jump lists provide quick access to application features. Applications that use the system API for their Most Recently Used list (the list of recently-used filenames that many apps have in their File menus) will automatically acquire a Jump List containing their most recently used files. There’s also an API to allow applications to add custom entries; Media Player, for example, includes special options to control playback.

That’s just one of many major changes to how the desktop works and, frankly, I think a lot of the changes are going to be very popular. They have several screenshots in the article so it’s worth a read just to see what’s changing. The ability to “peek” at windows and the desktop is very cool and I can already see it being useful when I blog.

18 thoughts on “ArsTechnica covers the unveiling of “Windows 7.”

  1. Gave the article a once over and while WIN7 does look good, I for one, wont be updating from Vista.

    While I can’t prove it I suspect that a great many people with Vista will feel the same way.

    PS Did you notice how they sneaked a pic of Palin in there?

  2. The icons can—finally—be rearranged; no longer will restarting an application put all your taskbar icons in the wrong order.

    Do they mean the taskbar at the bottom of the desktop?  I’m still running XP and I can already rearrange my taskbar.  Did they take that feature out in Vista?

  3. I’m still running XP and I can already rearrange my taskbar.

    Out of curiosity—how? I must be having an extended senior moment, but I can’t figure out how to rearrange the icons for running programs.

    Not that such a feature would make me go and give Micro$oft money.

  4. I can’t figure out how to rearrange the icons for running programs.

    My mistake.  I didn’t know they meant already running apps.  I was thinking of my quick-launch taskbar.  All I have to do with that is drag them.  I can’t rearrange apps that are started, but I don’t know why I would want to.

    Like you said… it’s not a big deal one way or the other.  Who out there is saying “Well I wasn’t going to buy Windows 7… but now that I can rearrange my taskbar….”  ?

  5. It’s a big deal for me because I’m a creature of habit thanks to my ADD. I always start my Thunderbird mail client first and then my browser and then whatever else I may be working on, but I expect those two to be first and second on my task bar and have been known to close out and open programs back up to preserve the order.

    It’s a quirk I admit, but I’ll be glad to be able to reorder running applications on the task bar as I see fit.

  6. I couldn’t even care less about Vista and forget about the upgrade path from Vista onwards.

    Les, I can feel your pain—I really do, but it’s not a big deal for me. Chances that ALT TAB will get me places faster than picking up the mouse in any case.

  7. Maybe they’ll finally allow you to be able to make a window active without having it pop to the top of my desktop.  Every time I click on a window, it pops to the front.  I don’t want it to do that when I can already see the part of the window I want to access.

    I had this ability on my old Amiga 3000, and I’ve been waiting for Windows to catch up.  I liked being able to layer my windows and put them where I want them, not resizing and arranging them all the time like some stupid game of tetris.

  8. I can understand why it’s important to Les, but the question we should be asking is: Why does ArsTechnica think it’s that important?

  9. Why does ArsTechnica think it’s that important?

    My feelings exactly.

    There are no pending technical innovations to run Firefox and all that’s left for M$ is to turn the DRM screws and to frob with the user interface. The latter isn’t worth a paid upgrade.

    I suppose they want a part of the cloud and the web, but this is an instance where abstinence only makes perfect sense wink

  10. Other people have pointed it out on other sites, but I’ll say it here: I feel like I’m looking at KDE 4.x, seriously…

  11. Not switching over to Linux in our household is more of an issue of inertia than feasibility. With the exception of our older daughter’s gaming PC (she has the most powerful box of us all, go figure), all the apps we use either have native Linux versions, run just fine under wine (and thank you Codeweavers for giving out free supported versions of CrossOver Office the other day), or can run in a Win2K VM in a pinch.

  12. Which is interesting, Engels, because I’ve tried out KDE 4.x here in the office and found it annoying. That was back when it first came out, though, and I should probably try it again to see if it has improved.

    There’s been some additional articles on ArsTechnica about the other changes to the OS that are worth a read. There’s more to it than just a new UI.

  13. This my be a good place to ask for free advice from the geeks: I just bought an Asus eee 1000H, which came with XP installed.  I use it mostly for reading and writing, and fooling around with photos.  XP seems to run fine on it, but I find Windows hard to get around- it seems that everything requires twice as many clicks as Mac OS X.

    Question: there’s a version of Ubuntu I’ve already downloaded tweaked for the Asus.  Should I partition the harddisc (160 Gb) and install it?  If so, how much space should I allot to each system?  Or should I just wipe the windows and go with Linux?  Or should I try to get Leopard to run on it (supposedly possible, but requires lots of tweaking in BIOS)?  Thanks, and I’ll cook you all a good Viennese meal when you come to visit…

  14. That’s the only thing I really hate about the whole MS/Linux fight.  Compatibility.  I shouldn’t have to pick my OS because of the apps I want to run.  I should be able to pick my OS based on stability and the features it has.  There are certain hardware issues that will influence my decision, but for the most part, they’re nobody’s fault, but I shouldn’t have to be thinking of my apps when I’m looking for an OS.  MS does that on purpose, and only because they don’t want their customers straying.  There is no honest reason why you would make contracts so that developers can’t port their apps to any other platform.  The only thing that does is piss off people who already use a different OS.  Microsofts business practices upset me more than their OS itself does.

    Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that I enjoy PC games, I’d really never touch a Windows box.  Everything else I need done, I can do better with Linux.  Everything, and that’s saying a lot.  Is Linux as easy to use as Windows?  No.  Anyone who tells you different is simply wrong, and despite what the fanboys think, that IS a legitimate reason not to switch from Windows, but I’m speaking just about me.  For me, the trade-off is more than worth it.

  15. Zilch, I am not a fan of dual-boot systems, but I can tolerate running emulators or virtual machines if I absolutely have to. Having said that, my advice is to try the live version of Ubuntu first (or do a wubi install or whatever they call it in 8.10) and if you like it, go whole hog and ditch XP. Well, okay, make sure that you have or can acquire all the necessary media in case you change your mind later.

    As long as all the applications you need run in whatever OS you pick, you’ll be fine.

    Swordsbane, until such time as all operating systems support a universal API (yeah, right), you’ll just have to live with apps written for a specific OS. The biggest threat to M$ are web-centric applications (and not Linux) and AJAX for all its security nightmares is a major force multiplier. How ironic that M$ itself pioneered the technology and didn’t figure out what they did until Google told them. Web apps do make the OS largely irrelevant.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the web version of Office will play out. It cannibalizes two cash cows at once—Windows and Office shrinkwrap.

    I hear you with regards to games. I hardly play anymore these days so it’s not a dealbreaker. Give me Firefox, Thunderbird (or better yet, Evolution), a media player, and a few other standard apps and I’m all set.

    It’s about time to tackle my laptop’s bit rot in any case and this time around I may just go cold turkey and run Linux.

  16. I don’t need an API standard.  MS still signs developers to exclusive contracts (especially game developers) so that they can’t port their software to other platforms.  If they stopped doing that, that would solve half the problem.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the web version of Office will play out. It cannibalizes two cash cows at once—Windows and Office shrinkwrap.

    Oh, you can bet those aren’t going away.  MS has always suffered from bundling.  This is just another way for them to keep people from straying.  You still can’t uninstall MSIE.  All you can do is deactivate it,  which under XP means that a system call can still cause an IE window to open.  They don’t want people using the Windows platform without all the other apps.  They will no doubt use a stripped down version of Office for the web and tell you constantly how much better it would be if you got the “real” thing (which will cost you money)  They did the same thing with Outlook express.  You get a free version with a sales pitch to let you know what you’re missing out on by not buying Outlook.

  17. I don’t need an API standard.  MS still signs developers to exclusive contracts (especially game developers) so that they can’t port their software to other platforms.  If they stopped doing that, that would solve half the problem.

    Outside of one or two developers (Bungie say) that’s not something Microsoft does on a regular basis. They don’t have to as most game developers have no intent of developing a Linux version of their software. I’m pulling a number out of my ass, but I’d guess that upwards of 90% of game developers have no plans to develop Linux versions of their games as the market for it is even smaller than the Mac games market.

    There’s a handful of developers who have put out Linux versions of their games such as id Software, Epic Games, Bioware, and Croteam, but most of the commercial Linux ports have been done by Loki Software which went out of business in 2002 due to bankruptcy.

    There’s nothing stopping most developers from putting out Linux versions of their games other than whether it makes economic sense to do so. In fact quite a few of the PC based First Person Shooters put out versions of their game servers for Linux. You can download an official set of files to run a Call of Duty 4 server on a Linux box, but you can’t run the game itself on Linux. Same was true of all the previous CoD titles.

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