At Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), an important yearly event for the tech giant, new hardware details on the upcoming Windows 7 weren't the only revelation that Microsoft had in store. Perhaps the most significant development of the conference came as a minor clarification -- Microsoft set a solid timeframe for when it plans to release Windows 7, barring unforeseen problems.
Originally, speculation was that Microsoft might field a Windows Vista successor in 2011 or 2012 as there was over 5 years between the release of Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, with less than glowing reception of Vista, largely due to poor hardware partner support and a large footprint, Microsoft stepped up its efforts to launch its new Windows OS, which would set right the places where Vista went wrong.
Early this year, 2010 was what some Microsoft executives were saying to expect for a release date. However, as the year progressed, Microsoft's top executives became increasingly optimistic that the OS could be delivered in late 2009. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer first floated the possibility of a 2009 release earlier this year.
Microsoft director Doug Howe showed slides in a WinHEC presentation that all but confirmed a 2009 release -- and even earlier than expected. His slides stated that Microsoft will be releasing Windows 7 mid-year, in time to be included on the machines to be sold during the holiday buying season. Mr. Howe stated, "Definitely the holiday focus is going to be on 7."
Also revealed by Mr. Howe were more details on Microsoft's secretive Velocity program aimed at improving Windows Vista PC quality. The program, according to Microsoft, will run through next spring, conveniently terminating at about the time that Windows 7 will be preparing to ship.
The new program was initially only open to select computer manufacturers, but will now be opened to select software and hardware partners as well. The basic premise is that the partners will have to engineer their products to work optimally with Vista and will have to undergo rigorous certification testing. Partners will benefit from the good publicity, and Mr. Howe revealed in a slide that Microsoft might do some advertising for their products first-hand.
No list of the criteria was given, but one of the criteria, confirmed by Mr. Howe, was the ability to boot Windows Vista and have it ready to run within 50 seconds. Many of the Velocity-certified machines boot significantly faster than this, according to Mr. Howe, but Microsoft wanted to set a widely obtainable goal.
After the debacle of Microsoft's "Vista Capable" program, which saw the company's stickers placed on underpowered bargain machines clearly not Vista ready, Velocity is both an effort on Microsoft's part to show that it's turned over a new leave and an effort to overall improve Vista machine quality. The program launched in July 2007.
The program targeted the sluggish system performance that was plaguing many Windows Vista machines. Originally intended as a three month program, it was extended far past the planned termination, due to Microsoft realizing there was still much work to be done. In particular the program aims to speed up the time it takes for Vista computers to start up, shut down, sleep, and wake up. Other goals include that all the hardware and software is completely compatible with Vista, as compatibility is a perennial trouble-spot or Vista.
Microsoft's labs in Redmond, Wash. are in charge of the Velocity testing.
Overall, Windows observers should be able to appreciate that Microsoft sincerely seems to be trying to improve the OS. However, what it can't improve like memory and processing footprint, should be remedied with the release of Windows 7, which has now been all but confirmed for mid next year.
One last interesting note -- Microsoft previously stated that it would release Vista's Service Pack 2 before Windows 7 -- so that means that if it sticks with this plan, Vista SP2 is likely coming in Spring of 2009. Stay tuned for more details on that one.