While Apple is known for stealing the show and anticipation has been building at a giddy pace for the new 3G iPhone, its long time rival Microsoft is not afraid to steal a bit of spotlight of its own. After months of tight-lipped silence, even as recently as last week, about Window's Vista's successor Window 7 which is set to debut in 2009, Microsoft finally unveiled the work in progress to the press.
The place was Carlsbad, California at the sixth edition of the D Conference, known only as D6. Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's VP of Windows Experience Program Management gave a tantalizing brief demonstration of the new OS, which is showcasing strong support for the touch technology. Steve Ballmer downplayed the demo as the "smallest snippet of Windows 7", but the crowd obviously knew the significance of the event.
The new OS was demonstrated on the Dell Latitude XT, a current model notebook with touch screen capabilities. Julie said that touching is "super important" to the new interface. And she knows what the customer wants. She made a name for herself at Microsoft when she delivered the well received 2007 Microsoft Office UI, which featured marked improvements over past implementations both in style and feel.
"You will be able to do these things in Windows 7," Julie commented as she drew a picture in Microsoft Paint using only her fingers. Further, she showcased how the system can accept multiple finger inputs, hence the "multi" part of the "multi-touch" technology title. The new multi-touch technology will deploy on "all sizes and shapes of computers" according to Julie, but you would need the appropriate digitizer hardware. Touching is "not complete replacement of the mouse", rather it’s a way to further your experience, she says.
Among other revelations is Microsoft's preliminary statement that Windows 7 will feature little if any general architecture changes from Vista. Also the new OS featured, in the demo version, an OS X-like dock, unlike Vista's more traditional Windows UI, albeit prettied by the Aero Interface. Other details on the new services remain scarce, but Microsoft promises big things in addition to its newfound touch abilities and UI.
Some note with curiosity the date that Ballmer reaffirmed for Windows 7 to ship -- 2009. Previously, Microsoft had stated that the OS would like ship in 2010, giving Vista a 3 year window. However, Microsoft Chairman and founder Bill Gates surprised the media this spring by announcing that it would likely ship in 2009. With a confirmation from Microsoft Chief Executive, this seems to be an increasingly sure proposition.
The timing of the debut struck some journalists as a bit unusual, as Apple and Linux now have time to mount OS counteroffensives and work on some touching of their own. Also some note that the continued trickle of news may only further many companies' "skip Vista and wait for Windows 7" mindset.
Despite its proponents' well-stated defenses of Vista, the likely reason for the debut is that Microsoft realizes that its current OS has fallen short. For a company like Microsoft modest sales, failing to surpass your previous product, are not a victory but a loss. Microsoft is eager to put this in the past by pushing out Windows 7 earlier than expected and generating a buzz with its strong push into emerging tactile technologies and more service to be unveiled in coming months.