Previously codenamed Blackcomb and then Vienna, Windows 7 will be the next major operating system release and will be the last OS that will support both 32- and 64-bit architectures. Subsequent platforms will run on 64-bit hardware only.
Following the lead of organizations like Linux-based Ubuntu and Damn Small Linux, the next Windows OS will allow users to install a lean base operating system and then supplement the operating system with services and applications they're really going to use. No more paying for disk, memory, and processor assets that you're never going to need.
If it's nothing else, Microsoft is responsive and, for a giant company, remarkably agile. Vista was produced at a cost of $5 billion to respond to a need for enhanced security, multimedia processing, and visual experience. And even as Vista was being released, Microsoft responded to criticism that an operating system like Vista is a lumbering, bloated behemoth, gobbling vast quantities of system resources to no advantage. Microsoft has risen to the bait and appears to be thinking "maybe less is more."
In an interview with Newsweek, Bill Gates said Windows 7 will be more "user-centric." That is, Windows 7 may incorporate new features:
- An intuitive text-entry system in which the operating system will analyze text, anticipate forthcoming entries, and auto-complete for the user.
- An enhanced extension to Microsoft's live services that will allow a user's desktop to be accessed from any computer. That is, a user's installed applications, settings, documents, etc. would be stored on a network drive and would be available anywhere. That means you could walk up to a kiosk in an airport, sign on, and see your familiar programs, icons, email...everything.
- Built-in support for digital ink and speech recognition, allowing a tablet PC to be a more usable alternative to physical books.
- Parallel processing that will facilitate high-level, built-in graphics and performance.
Virtualization in Microsoft's Next Platform
Eric Taut also demonstrated the virtues of "virtualization," presenting a series of historical Microsoft operating systems ranging from Windows 1 to a working model (albeit text-based) of Minwin for Windows 7. He did this all on one machine, without rebooting each OS, through use of a virtualization application called VirtualPC.
Virtualization is a layer of supporting software, called a "hypervisor," that insulates an operating system from the hardware it runs on. A hypervisor, so named because it oversees multiple supervisors, can run several operating systems simultaneously. That is, you can have a virtual session running Vista, another running XP, and yet another running Linux all at the same time. You've only to click the mouse to shift from one OS to another. Resources — like files, networks, and physical devices — may be shared across all active platforms.
Virtualization has been around for quite a while, is a good idea, and will likely be at the core of commonplace computing in the near future. Originally developed to allow operating system programmers to run a new OS inside of a shell that runs on an older OS, virtualization will likely be underpinning any new client operating system like Windows 7.
The Java Virtual Machine (JVM) is an example of virtualization. The JVM interacts "with the metal" at the bottom of the layer, where hardware-specific instructions must be observed, while at the same time presenting a friendly, standardized interface to Java programmers. A given Java instruction, uniform across all platforms, is translated by the virtual machine into the specific machine instructions that are required by the hardware.
A virtual machine (VM) can also save the state of an operating system to a file. This means that you could save an OS to a thumb drive, carry it to another PC, and start it — not boot it, but start it right from the point where you left off. No waiting. Instant on.
Microsoft is probably seeing the handwriting on the wall: that, in the future, we will all have the freedom to choose an operating system that appeals to us at the moment. That is, if you are going to edit a movie, you prefer to run a Mac OS. If you're going to work on a spreadsheet or write an article, you prefer a Windows platform. If you're going to experiment with stack space limits in recursive algorithms, you prefer Linux. Why, then, shouldn't you be able to run all these operating systems concurrently on the same underlying hardware? The answer is that you should be able to and you will be able to. It's a little early to mainstream this concept, but before long, we will all be able to do that through the hardware-to-software insulation layer that will be built into Windows 7.
One has to speculate that Minwin's tiny footprint will also give Microsoft access to new markets, areas like that of Apple's iPhone, among others, where a standard Windows interface and instruction set would allow cross-platform application development and the leveraging of existing code.