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Microsoft Appeases Windows 7 Beta Testers

Microsoft's technical team on Thursday reported progress on improvements to the beta version of Windows 7, assuring testers that the team really cares about user feedback. As if to appease a clamorous horde, Program Manager Chaitanya Sareen provided a long list of changes made in response to user feedback.

The tone had initially been set by Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group. In Microsoft's Engineering Windows 7 blog on Wednesday, Sinofsky described the magnitude of the problem.

"There over a couple of million people using the beta and if each one, or for that matter just one out of 10, have some unique change, bug fix, or must-do work item, we would have literally years of work just to make our way through that list," he wrote.

Microsoft has frozen the general feature set of Windows 7 for this beta testing period. However, the engineering team is still refining some of those features. Sinofsky acknowledged the pressure to "stop changing the product and ship it," along with the engineering consequences and cost considerations of making deep changes to the operating system.

"We write specifications and have clear views of features (scenario plans, prototypes, and so on) because we know that as the project progresses the cost of making big changes of course goes up," he wrote. "The cost increases because there is less time, but also because big change late in the cycle to a large system is not prudent engineering."

Most of the changes described in the Engineering Windows 7 blog were minor tweaks to the user interface. One of the non-user-interface improvements was better support for devices in Device Stage, which is Microsoft's visual display of hardware devices recognized by Windows 7.

"Although Windows already supports tens of thousands of devices, customer feedback on the Beta introduces even more device support in RC [release candidate] via the new Device Stage experience," the blog explained.

Microsoft has consistently said that Windows 7 will support hardware if the drivers for that hardware were compatible with Windows Vista. However, at least one report, which tested a Vista upgrade to Windows 7 Beta without a clean install, has questioned that assertion.

The technical team acknowledged a problem with audio hardware working with the Windows 7 Beta. Not all of the 26,000 custom audio drivers are currently available on Windows Update, the blog noted. In response, Microsoft is tightening up its testing program with the release candidate version.

"The Release Candidate tightens the Windows Logo test to better ensure clean install delivers baseline functionality for speakers and microphones," the blog asserted.

The engineering team also claims to have squashed some bugs that slowed the startup time of Windows 7 for some users. Feedback from beta testers is provided passively to Microsoft as telemetry data and Microsoft uses a trace capturing tool running on users' PCs to isolate specific problems. The engineering team now claims it has used that data to reduce slowdown problems with the latest Windows 7 build.

Sinofsky denied in his blog post that 'Microsoft never listens to feedback.' Instead, he suggested that Microsoft takes a scientific approach to dealing with change requests, which helps to avoid mob rule and "adrenaline-based development."

"A key reason we augment our approach with data and studies that deliberately select for representative groups of 'users' is that it is important to avoid 'tyranny of the majority' or 'rule by the crowd'," he explained.

Microsoft has described the general release of Windows 7 as happening in early 2010. However, one source suggested that Microsoft's newest OS could become available as early as the third quarter of this year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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