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Microsoft's Windows 7 was looking good running on an ASUS laptop (with bamboo paneling) at WinHEC. The OS is set to ship in mid 2009, much earlier than expected.  (Source: Ina Fried/CNET News)
Windows 7 is set to drop mid-year 2009, says Microsoft

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.

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RE: I'm excited
By Dribble on 11/7/2008 11:48:04 AM , Rating: 2
I hope there is no windows 7(32 bit). One of the problems with vista is they kept both 32 and 64 bit versions - meaning most companies then had 2 sets of drivers to write.
Partly because it was easier most concentrated on vista 32 bit drivers, and hence 64 bit ones suffered.

Now I see lots of machines out there with 32 vista and 4 gig of memory - which is silly as you can't use all the memory - but manufacturers do it because 32 bit is so much more stable, and hence means many less support problems.

Only 64 bit means companies only need to write one set of windows 7 drivers, which should hopefully mean it all works better.

RE: I'm excited
By TomZ on 11/7/2008 12:14:42 PM , Rating: 2
Only 64 bit means companies only need to write one set of windows 7 drivers, which should hopefully mean it all works better.

That's not relevant, since the same source code for a particular driver can be used to compile both 32-bit and 64-bit drivers. In other words, write once, compile twice.

The only additional effort is that you need to validate your drivers in both 32- and 64-bit environments. For small companies, I can understand the burden, but for large companies selling thousands or millions of a particular product, it really is inexcusable, IMO.

RE: I'm excited
By Dribble on 11/7/2008 1:07:21 PM , Rating: 2
There's a whole host of reasons why that's not true:
-driver code contains stuff that won't work in 64 bit - typically passing around pointers in 32 bit variables which don't automatically become 64 bit.
-driver relies on other drivers and libraries that don't exist for 64 bit.
-Vista 64 bit's additional security (Vista 32 bit is a bit of mutant child of XP and full Vista 64, and does not fully implement everything Vista 64 bit does specifically so it is more compatible with XP applications and drivers).

Proof is in the fact that most companies released 32 bit drivers long before they released any 64 bit ones (if at all), and when the 64 bit ones arrived they generally worked worse.

RE: I'm excited
By TomZ on 11/7/2008 1:30:55 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that poor programming practices and assumptions will make it impossible to use the same source code base for 32- and 64-bit. But by following Microsoft's best practices and programming conventions, it is easy to have a single source code base for both.


Also: The 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows is designed to make it possible for developers to use a single source-code base for their Win32- and Win64-based applications. To a large extent, this is also true for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows drivers .

RE: I'm excited
By emboss on 11/8/2008 2:25:56 PM , Rating: 2
The key part, which you forgot to bold, was "To a large extent". For most non-trivial drivers, there is additional twiddling that needs to be done in the 64-bit code to handle 32-bit processes. Conversely, a good 32-bit driver will handle PAE, which doesn't exist in 64-bit mode. There's also subtle differences in how DMA is handled in both platforms. And IA64 is another whole can of worms, especially with regard to memory ordering semantics.

Of course, there's a lot of code in drivers that is (or should be) 32/64-bit agnostic. But when you're hitting the hardware, or shuffling things between kernel and user space, there's different issues to take care of on the different platforms.

Things are getting better, though. The x64 support in XP/Server 2003 was a hack on top of a kludge on top of spaghetti code. Vista/Server 2008 (and the supporting DDKs) really cleans things up, and introduces a number of interfaces that are 32/64-bit agnostic, which means that if you drop support for (32- and 64-bit) XP you can reduce the amount of architecture-specific code needed in your drivers. I expect Windows 7 will improve this further, though obviously the full benefit of this new functionality will only kick in once it's acceptable to drop support for XP.

RE: I'm excited
By epobirs on 11/8/2008 4:38:33 PM , Rating: 2
There are going to be 32-bit only systems to support for a good while. Especially the highly power conscious chips going into netbooks. Likewise, the footprint for a 64-bit version of the OS (plus any 64-bit native apps) is unavoidably larger and a serious obstacle to use in systems with very limited storage.

I disagree about putting 4 GB in a 32-bit system. First of all, when I can get 4 GB of RAM for less than $50 to put in a new system, I'm not going to whine about half a gigabyte not being available. It's worth it to make the other half of that gig usable. On systems with integrated video the penalty is reduced because the memory mapped to the video is outside the addressable range. At least that is what appears to be happening in the machines I've examined.

So, at $10 a gig for the first three gigabytes, I don't mind paying another $10 for an additional 512 MB. It's a transitional thing. Eventually it'll be 64-bit almost everywhere but we aren't there yet.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
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