Windows 7 Beta: One Month -- and 36 Changes -- Later

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Microsoft Corp. today revealed some of the changes it has made to Windows 7 since it issued a public beta more than a month ago.

In a long post to the company's Engineering Windows 7 blog, senior program manager Chaitanya Sareen touted three dozen improvements and modifications to the new operating system that developers have slipped into the under-construction release candidate (RC), which Microsoft executives have said will be the next milestone on the road to final code.

However, Sareen did not disclose any new information about a timetable for wrapping up the RC.

Among the changes Sareen highlighted were 10 affecting the Window 7 desktop, four to the operating system's new touch-sensitive features, another four to the Control Panel and eight to Windows Media Player.

Many of the changes are so minor that they may be difficult to spot. One tweak, for example, increases the number of times that notification windows -- such as those of an incoming instant message -- flash to get the user's attention. Microsoft upped the number of flashes from three in the beta to seven in the release candidate.

Others modifications should be easy to spot: According to Sareen, developers have squeezed up to 39% more icons on the taskbar before it begins scrolling to show the remainder.

One change made between Windows 7's public beta and the future release candidate has already gotten considerable attention. "If you've been following this blog, then you already know about a recent design change we've made that will prompt for any modification made to the [User Account Control] Control Panel," said Sareen, referring to the brouhaha that erupted earlier this month when critics pounded Microsoft over a design decision that could let attackers disable the UAC security feature.

Within a week, Microsoft caved to the increasing pressure and said it would change UAC's behavior in the RC.

Several prominent Windows bloggers saw the list as Microsoft's response to a groundswell of comments from testers -- including those in a small, invitation-only group -- that Microsoft was ignoring the feedback they'd provided about Windows 7.

Paul Thurrott, who writes SuperSite for Windows, for instance, has taken Microsoft to task over the issue. Yesterday, Thurrott argued that the company never had any intention of making major changes based on user feedback. "The real problem here is that the feature set of Windows 7 was frozen well before the Beta release," he said.

Today, Thurrott acknowledged the list of 36 changes, but dismissed them as a "laundry list of tiny changes, much like the '300+ New Features' lists that Apple makes every time it ships a new version of Mac OS X."

Thurrott singled out for special criticism the move to boost the number of notification window flashes. "As any Windows Live Messenger user will tell you, what we really need is a way to turn off the flashing 'needy' notification, not make it more prominent," he said. "They're making it more annoying. Nice!"

Several of Thurrott's readers, however, said he was being too hard on Microsoft. "This goes to illustrate the classic problem that Microsoft faces when they make a [user interface] change," said a user identified as Raskin in a comment to Thurrott's Thursday post. "They can't please everyone."

Microsoft launched the Windows 7 public beta on Jan. 10, but has since discontinued downloads. It has not said when it will wrap up the release candidate, but Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president in charge of the Windows engineering group, has repeatedly hinted that the RC build will also be offered to the public for a test drive.

This story, "Windows 7 Beta: One Month -- and 36 Changes -- Later" was originally published by Computerworld.

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