NOTE: This version of the FAQ is now retired. Please refer to my newer and more up-to-date Windows 7 FAQ for more up-to-date information about this release.
With Windows Vista finally behind us, it's time to turn our attention to the next Windows client release, Windows 7. (Microsoft had used other code-names, like "Vienna" and "Windows Seven," to describe this product in the past.)
Clearly, what's needed is a central location for accurate information about Windows 7. This is it.
Q: Is Microsoft working on an operating system after Windows Vista?
A: Yes. The next client version of Windows was originally codenamed "Blackcomb," though the company renamed it to "Windows Vienna" in early 2006 and to "Windows Seven" or "Windows 7" more recently.
Q: Why Windows 7?
A: Microsoft says that Windows 7 is the "seventh" major Windows version, which it isn't, but whatever. Adding to the mystery, the Windows 7 version number will actually be 6.1, the same as Windows Server 2008.
Q: Is Windows 7 the final name?
A: Yes! Like Vienna, Windows 7 was originally just a codename. But Microsoft announced in October 2008 that they would use Windows 7 as the final name of the product. Read the WinInfo article describing this announcement for more information.
Q: I heard that Windows Vista will be the last major OS release from Microsoft. Is that true?
A: No. Windows-based PCs will continue to form the center of our digital lifestyles, and as Microsoft executives have noted in recent days, there are still plenty of areas in which Microsoft can improve Windows. Some obvious examples include voice recognition and storage.
Q: So is Windows 7 going to be a major Windows version?
A: This one is complicated. Windows Vista was a major release, and Microsoft is positioning Windows 7 as a major release as well. However, the language Microsoft uses to describe the technical underpinnings of the Windows 7 suggest that this product will in fact be a minor release, or what the Windows Server team would have called an interim, or R2 ("release 2") release. Microsoft corporate vice president Steven Sinofsky described it this way: "[We are not going to] introduce additional [in]compatibilities, particularly in the driver model. Windows Vista was about improving those things ... Memory management, networking, process management, all of the security hardening, all of those things will carry forth, and maintain the compatibility with applications that people expect. Windows Vista established a very solid foundation, a multiyear foundation, particularly on subsystems like graphics and audio and storage and things like that, and Windows 7--and then Windows Server 2008 built on that foundation, and Windows 7 will continue to build on that foundation as well."
Q: When will Windows 7 ship?
A: Microsoft says it will ship Windows 7 by early 2010, about three years after Vista. My expectation is that is will ship in Q3 2009.
Q: What features will be included in Windows 7?
A: Microsoft is making major functional changes to Windows 7, and it's making a wide number of much smaller changes as well. It's still early, but based on early pre-beta builds of Windows 7 and reports published online, the following changes are coming (in no particular order).
Kernel. Windows 7 will feature an evolved kernel and underpinnings when compared to its previous-generation predecessors, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008. While it's unclear whether the "MinWin" kernel that Microsoft demonstrated in 2007 will be included with Windows 7, it is quite likely that the OS will include parallel processing capabilities, which will be implemented as .NET Framework 4.0 APIs.
Virtualization. With Windows Server 2008 now shipping with hypervisor-based virtualization capabilities, it's obvious that this technology will be making its way to the Windows client as well. Will it happen in time for Windows 7? Yes, it probably will. But Windows 7 will natively support the VHD virtual hard drive format utilized by Virtual PC and Hyper-V regardless.
Sensors. Windows 7 will include context-aware application support via a new "sensors" facility. One example: A location sensor can tell "where" your PC is and compatible applications can act accordingly. Applications can use sensor information to offer customized and enhanced services, according to Microsoft's documentation. Because of the privacy implications of sensors, this feature is opt-in and highly configurable.
User Account Control improvements. Windows Vista's most reviled feature is being completely overhauled to be more customizable. Four settings will be available:1. Never notify (least secure). The user is not notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is not notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so. 2. Only notify me when programs try to make changes to my computer. The user is not notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is not notified when they make changes to Windows settings. However, the user is notified when programs try to make changes to the computer, including Windows settings. 3. Always notify me. The user is notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is also notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so. 4. Always notify me and wait for my response (most secure). The user is notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is also notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so.
Improved "Day One Experience." Microsoft wants Windows 7 to be useable and exciting "out of the box," and it's improving the experiencing of running this new OS for the first time. This will include an even more streamlined Setup routine and a thoroughly overhauled user interface.
Scenic application user interface. Microsoft has created a new application UI, codenamed Scenic, that will give Windows 7 applications a new and consistent, but customizable, look and feel.
Libraries. Special shell folders (Documents, Pictures, Music, and so on) are being renamed to Libraries. Note, however, that WinFS will not be implemented in Windows 7 and these locations will still occur within the normal shell namespace.
Tweaked Explorer. Windows Explorer is being updated again with a number of new features, including a resizable search box, a simpler new toolbar (with none of the color-coding found in Windows Vista), and a new icon view style called Content. This Content view style is most likely a preview mode for images and other rich content.
Accelerators for Windows. Based on the Accelerators feature from Internet Explorer 8, Windows 7 Accelerators provide a way for learning more about selected text, optionally using voice control. Here's how it works: Anywhere in the Windows 7 UI, you can select text and speak commands through a microphone, or, right-click and choose from a list of options. Supported Accelerators include "Blog with Windows Live Spaces," "Define with Encarta," "Email with Live Mail," "Map with Live Maps," "Search with Live Search," and "Translate with Windows Live." Default voice shortcuts include such things as "Add to Calendar," "Blog," "Email," "Find People," "Go There," "Search," "Share," and many others.
Multi-touch. Windows 7 will include integrated support for multi-touch displays and support the "Surface" multi-touch technologies. This is an evolution of the Tablet PC and touch technologies supported by previous Windows versions.
Fewer bundled applications, more control over those applications that are installed. Thanks to antitrust lawsuits from around the world, Microsoft is moving more applications out of Windows and making them optional installs through the Windows Live service. Windows 7 will no longer include Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, or Windows Movie Maker. However, Microsoft is also adding end-user (and admin) support for full system customization, so you can control which applications are and are not installed in the OS. Finally.
No more Sidebar. Microsoft is removing Windows Sidebar from Windows 7, but the Windows Gadgets infrastructure remains and will be expanded. In Windows 7, Gadgets can only be viewed on the desktop. As such, the Gadget Gallery found in Windows Sidebar will be globally available and renamed to Desktop Gadget Gallery.
Windows Solution Center. Microsoft is replacing Windows Security Center with a new utility called Windows Solution Center. In addition to monitoring Windows Firewall, Automatic Updating, virus and spyware protection, Internet security settings, and User Account Control, Windows Solution Center will also monitor PC maintenance, backup, troubleshooting, Network Access Protection (NAP), and more.
HomeGroup networking. Microsoft had tried to get its "Castle" networking scheme into Windows Vista, but the feature will finally appear in Windows 7 as HomeGroup. Essentially a combination of workgroup networking with file and media sharing, HomeGroup makes it easier to create a home network where PCs share pictures, music, videos, documents, printers, and other resources with each other.
Background tasks. Windows 7 will include a new infrastructure for enabling more efficient background tasks.
Internet Explorer 8. Windows 7 will include the latest version of Microsoft's Web browser.
Windows Media Player 12. Windows 7 will include a new version of Windows Media Player.
Windows Media Center. Windows 7 will include a new version of Windows Media Center.
Microsoft Paint. Windows 7 will include a dramatically improved version of Microsoft Paint, the most dramatic upgrade to this software since the first versions of Windows.
Microsoft WordPad. WordPad gets the Scenic ribbon treatment in Windows 7 and becomes a full-feature word processor again.
Calculator. The Calculator utility gets a surprisingly hefty upgrade in Windows 7, with many new modes including normal, scientific, duration between two periods, add or subtract a period of time, gas mileage, lease estimation, mortgage estimation, unit conversion, and more.
Windows PowerShell V2 and Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE). Windows 7 will be the first client version of Windows to include the Windows PowerShell, a .NET-based scripting environment, out of the box. It will also include an Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) for PowerShell.
Windows Credentials. Windows 7 will include a system for managing the online IDs, logons, and passwords that you must manage for all of the Web sites you visit. Dubbed Windows Credentials, this feature utilizes a KeyRing for storing online credentials and a Credential Manager user interface. These settings can be backed up to and restored from a secure online vault.
Display Settings. Windows 7 will make it easier to work with multiple monitors.
More granular DPI Scaling control panel. In Windows Vista, it was possible to choose between the default scale (96 DPI) and a larger scale (120 DPI), or use a Custom DPI scale to configure scaling between 100 and 200 percent. In Windows 7, this system is simplified to include presets for Smaller (100 percent), Medium (125 percent), and Larger (150 percent).
Aero themes. Windows 7 will make it easier to match custom Aero window settings with background images, colors, and sounds via a new set of custom Windows themes. You will also be able to create your own themes. (Windows 7 will also support the Windows Basic and Windows Classic themes from Windows Vista.)
Wallpapers. Windows 7 will include new wallpaper background images.
Biometric control panel. Windows 7 will natively support biometric devices like fingerprint readers.
Games Explorer. Windows 7 will include an updated version of the Games Explorer and will now optionally scan for game updates and notify the user when they're available. You will also be able to manually look for individual game updates by right-clicking the game's icon in Games Explorer and choosing "Scan for Update."
ClearType Text Tuner. Windows 7 will include a ClearType Text Tuner for fine-tuning the quality of text through the operating system.
Windows Mobile Device Center. Previously a free, separate download, Windows Mobile Device Center will be included with Windows 7.
Workspaces. Windows 7 will support multiple virtual desktops, or workspaces, which are managed via a new Workspaces Center.
Troubleshooting control panel. A new Troubleshooting control panel provides a central location for troubleshooting applications, devices, networks, printing, the display, sound, performance, and other Windows features.
Minor tweaks and improvements all around. Virtually no end user functionality in Windows is untouched, with minor tweaks and improvements to everything from the Start Menu, desktop, and taskbar to Windows Update.
Q: Will Windows 7 be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions like Vista?
A: Though I had expected Windows 7 to ship only in 64-bit versions, Microsoft now says it will be the final Windows version to ship in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
Q: Will Microsoft release any Windows updates between now and Windows 7?
A: Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) shipped simultaneously with Windows Server 2008 in early 2008 and includes a new kernel version that makes that release up to date with the kernel version in Server 2008.