The Next Windows: 7Up or New Vista?

Running away as fast as it can from Vista , Microsoft rolled out an alpha version of Windows 7 at its recent Professional Developers Conference . But is Windows 7 going to be 7Up, the Un-Vista, or is it going to be (gag) New Vista ?

Microsoft would like you to believe that Windows 7 is going to be the next great desktop operating system. It's not. The company would also like you to please forget that it said the same things about Vista. Remember how Windows 98 was followed by Windows 98 Second Edition? That's what we have here: Windows 7 is Vista SE.

That's not an altogether bad thing. Windows 98 SE was a big improvement on Windows 98, and at this very early stage, it looks like Windows 7 will also be a major step up from Vista Service Pack 1. Of course, that's not saying much. Frankly, I think Windows XP Pro SP3 is a step up for Vista users.

Under the hood, Windows 7 uses the Vista engine. However, at the PDC, Steven Sinofsky , Microsoft's senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live, promised that Microsoft would be tuning up this notoriously slow and cranky motor. It's too early to tell how successful that effort will be, but at least Sinofsky's team is tossing out Windows Mail and Windows Photo Gallery, which have no business being in an operating system.

In another change that any Vista user will welcome, Microsoft is finally reforming its annoying UAC (User Access Control). With Windows 7, you'll no longer be stuck endlessly saying "yes" every time a program tries to do anything with the operating system. UAC in Vista is a classic example of a good idea horribly executed. By forcing users to approve every step taken by a program instead of improving security, UAC only made sure that people would hammer their approval as fast as possible without paying any attention to what was actually going on.

You'll be able to set the new UAC to notify you when a program attempts to install software or change settings, without its insisting that you click to continue. You'll also be able to set UAC so that it notifies you only when a program tries to change a setting. And, in what I suspect will be the most popular option, you'll be able to turn UAC off.

Windows 7 does add some features. Unfortunately, the ones I think are the most interesting -- like DirectAccess, which automagically and securely hooks you up to your office's network resources, and BranchCache, which caches an office's frequently accessed Web sites -- are tied closely to the forthcoming Windows Server 2008 R2, which is already becoming known as Windows 7 Server. I am so not crazy about the idea of having to buy another Windows server just to make the most of a new desktop.

In the past few years, starting with SharePoint Server 2003, Microsoft has made it almost impossible to use any of its network services without buying not just the basic server and the service's server, but a host of other servers as well. For SharePoint, for example, you also need SQL Server. I hate vendor lock-in, and now, not only is Microsoft turning its back-office servers into a prison block, but it's locking your desktop into the same jail. Thanks, but no thanks.

All things considered, I'd rather stick with my Linux desktops and Mac OS X. Windows 7 looks to be better than Vista right now, but no one knows when it will actually arrive , and in the meantime, I have work to do. But the fact is, like New Coke back in its day, my first taste of Vista SE is leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

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