Next-gen Windows to 'make touch natural part of user experience'

Part 1 of 2: Full preview as Microsoft spills beans on Windows 7

Microsoft has definitively confirmed it’s actually quite far down the line in defining the successor to Vista – currently dubbed Windows 7.

It’s not surprising this is the case. “When we shipped Windows 2000, we were already working on Windows XP and we started working on Windows Vista even before we released Windows XP,” explains Chris Flores of the Windows Client Communications Team. “So naturally, we've been thinking about the investments we made in Windows Vista and how we can build on these for the next version of Windows.”

The most headline-worthy feature of the new OS is the dedication to touch technology. Microsoft says it has “long been a key innovator in touch technology” in a PR missive today and we guess that it’s right – if you count the half-decade old but hardly, er, touched Tablet PC and last year’s Surface tech.

It seems Windows 7 will take touch to hitherto unseen levels, too. “With Windows 7, Microsoft will be baking (sic) touch right into the OS and the Windows development platform so that software developers will have a standard way of adding touch to their applications,” wrote a spokesperson.

2010 release remains slated

Microosft says it believes that touch will become “more mainstream in the Windows 7 timeframe.” So that means it’ll probably be restricted to the higher-end of the market at first, with an increase in popularity and decrease in cost. And the timeframe? Well, if we’re looking at a 2010 release, we’re probably looking at ‘within the next five years’ as the far end of that.

The corporation says it is still on track to ship Windows 7 “approximately three years after the general availability of Windows Vista” – so that’s the end of January 2010.

Microsoft says “the user interface is designed to make touch a natural part of the user experience – even on the smallest laptops.” It’s going to take a bit of a sea-change to get people used to it though and practically speaking we can only see people really using it for fun stuff, such as playing music at parties from Media Center or enlarging and browsing through photos – as the demo showed.

Can touch change users?

While Microsoft might eulogise that touch will bring touch into every part of the OS, the average office worker is not suddenly going to start browsing the web using it – though someone using a laptop on a train might. One thing’s for sure – inculcating Windows so deeply with touch will bring a whole new usage model to the OS.

Cryptically, Microsoft goes on to say that “Windows 7 takes advantage of key investment areas in Windows Vista, therefore Windows Vista is a logical step on the path to eventual deployment of Windows 7.” What that probably means is ‘don’t give up on Vista’, but it’s a bit late for that.

Unsurprisingly, the corporation says its “current guidance to customers is to deploy Windows Vista now to take advantage of its existing benefits and that it will be the smoothest upgrade path to Windows 7 when it is available.” Hmm, could have guessed.

NEXT: Microsoft takes stock of Windows Vista and says why it’s taking a different approach with Windows 7.