Foley on Microsoft

Windows Vista Down; On to Windows 7?

Looking ahead to a whole new breed of Windows.

The prolonged, three-month launch of Windows Vista is finally history. Microsoft delivered Vista to business users on Nov. 30 and to the rest of the world on Jan. 29. So now it's on to the "Fiji" and "Vienna" releases about which we've been hearing for months, right?

Wrong.

Future versions of Windows are going to bear little resemblance to what we've heard so far officially -- and unofficially -- from Microsoft and the individuals who love to leak tidbits about the company. In fact, according to one of my reliable tipsters, the new and reorganized Windows organization, led by Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky, is trying to wean folks completely off the Windows code names they have been using for the next couple of releases of Windows.

Welcome to the brave new world of "Windows 7" (a boringly named complement to "Office 14," the successor to Office 2007).

(This column, by the way, is purely speculative, a cobbling together of source information and my own hunches. Microsoft won't talk about Windows futures right now, in part because the company doesn't want to take the focus off Vista, and also because the Windows organization is still trying to sort itself out. Company officials aren't even venturing to talk about when Vista Service Pack 1 will hit.)

Whatever Windows 7 ends up looking like, there's one thing I'm counting on -- it's not going to be developed, tested or marketed anything like its recent Windows predecessors. It's likely to be less ambitious in its goals, feature set and its development, be more modular in its design and, possibly, more role-based in its delivery. In general, watch for more incremental Windows releases, supplemented by more feature pack/service pack updates. This will be coupled with more new components released as services.

Given that Sinofsky, head of Windows and Windows Live engineering, most recently lorded over the development of Microsoft Office, it seems natural to look for clues about Windows in not only the Windows history archives, but maybe especially in the Office annals.

Here's what we know about Vista: It's too big, still hampered by internal code dependencies and was concocted by way too many cooks. Because of this, the product kept slipping and shedding features, missed the holiday buying season and was released to market before many Microsoft partners (and Microsoft product teams) had delivered Vista-compatible drivers and applications.

Here's what we know about Office: New versions ship every two years, like clockwork. If the development process is messy and features/functionality are cut, no one seems to know or care. Even when it includes controversial new features -- like Office 2007's ribbon user interface and the new XML file format that require a downloadable patch in order for users of older versions to read Office 2007 Open-XML-formatted documents. Nevertheless, Office still comes out smelling like a rose.

What can Microsoft do to make Windows more like Office?

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't over-promise.
  • Trim (or, more accurately, ax) the size of the team developing the product.
  • Stop talking about unreleased products. Don't share publicly a list of promised features/functionality before the product is totally locked down. Punish transgressors both inside and outside the company.
  • Cease sharing any information about delivery milestones or dates. Never talking about ship targets means never having to say you're sorry.
  • Ban historical references. Anyone mentioning "WinFS," "Cairo" or "Hailstorm" gets put in the penalty box.

Microsoft is currently facing some of the same problems with Vista it has been experiencing with Office for a couple of years now. The biggest competitor to Vista isn't Mac OS X or Linux -- it's Windows XP. Consequently, the Windows team increasingly finds itself in the same straits as the Office folks -- namely, it needs to convince users who don't really need a brand new release of Windows that they do. Let's see what Sinofsky & Co. come up with, beyond making new, desirable features available only to customers who sign multi-year volume- licensing contracts.

What are you expecting from Windows 7 and beyond? Write me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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