Test Results: Does SP1 Fix Vista?

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Will Windows 7 Be the Vista You've Always Wanted?

Illustration: Gordon Studer
Microsoft is keeping details of the next version of Windows close to its vest. But recent company moves and revelations hint at what we may see in the next operating system, code-named Windows 7 and due for release in late 2009 or early 2010.

At its recent MIX 08 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 8, technology that likely will be a part of Windows 7, though Microsoft hasn't linked the two products yet.

Microsoft demonstrated IE 8, showing mainly developer improvements, but also some new end-user features. One, "Activities," lets users highlight any word or phrase on a site and then choose from a drop-down list of actions to take using that term, such as doing a Live Search or searching MSNBC for more information.

Aside from IE 8, little about Windows 7 is on the record, and the word from Microsoft is that the company will talk about the OS when it's good and ready. But analysts warn against expecting Windows 7 to be a blockbuster release, given the fallout Microsoft endured for its late and, to many, disappointing Windows Vista.

Mike Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, says that for Windows 7, Microsoft's developers will likely keep the fripperies to a minimum. Doing so will allow them to deliver "something reasonable they can complete by a reasonable date," he says. "Their goal will be to try to put Vista behind them."

Recent court papers in a class action suit over Microsoft's Vista Capable sticker program revealed that even Microsoft executives were having driver- and application-compatibility problems with Vista after its release. In those papers, executives made statements to the effect that the delays and problems that accompanied Vista's rollout won't happen again.

Microsoft is still struggling to persuade businesses to move from XP to Vista, in light of its compatibility problems and hardware requirements. Some business users have suggested that companies may skip Vista altogether and hold on to Windows XP for a little longer before migrating directly to Windows 7.

To remedy these problems, Cherry says, Microsoft should focus on making Windows 7 a stable release for business customers, based on the same code used in the recently released Windows Server 2008. He believes that Microsoft's mistake with Vista was to try to serve both private consumers and business customers with a flashy release that added a host of multimedia functionality at the expense of practical considerations such as performance and compatibility. "What we really need [is] for a business edition to be built off of that server code, so it would look much less fancy than Vista--much more austere with not a lot of wasted functionality," Cherry says.

Elizabeth Montalbano

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