The folks over at ArsTechnica.com attended Windows PDC and got a good look at the next version of Windows:
At PDC today, Microsoft gave the first public demonstration of Windows 7. Until now, the company has been uncharacteristically secretive about its new OS; over the past few months MS has let on that the taskbar will undergo a number of changes, and that many bundled applications would be unbundled and shipped with Windows Live instead. There have also been occasional screenshots of some of the new applets like Calculator and Paint. Now that the covers are finally off, the scale of the new OS becomes clear. The user interface has undergone the most radical overhaul and update since the introduction of Windows 95 thirteen years ago.
First, however, it’s important to note what Windows 7 isn’t. Windows 7 will not contain anything like the kind of far-reaching architectural modifications that Microsoft made with Windows Vista. Vista brought a new display layer and vastly improved security, but that came at a cost: a significant number of (badly-written) applications had difficulty running on Vista. Applications expecting to run with Administrator access were still widespread when Vista was released, and though many software vendors do a great job, there are still those that haven’t updated or fixed their software. Similarly, at its launch many hardware vendors did not have drivers that worked with the new sound or video subsystems, leaving many users frustrated.
While windows 7 doesn’t undo these architectural changes—they were essential for the long-term health of the platform—it equally hasn’t made any more. Any hardware or software that works with Windows Vista should also work correctly with Windows 7, so unlike the transition from XP to Vista, the transition from Vista to 7 won’t show any regressions; nothing that used to work will stop working.
Which should do a lot to ease concerns about whether or not one should upgrade if you’re already running Vista. So what is changing? The user experience itself:
The biggest visible result of all this is the taskbar. The taskbar in Windows 7 is worlds apart from the taskbar we’ve known and loved ever since the days of Chicago.
Text descriptions on the buttons are gone, in favor of big icons. The icons can—finally—be rearranged; no longer will restarting an application put all your taskbar icons in the wrong order. The navigation between windows is now two-level; mousing over an icon shows a set of window thumbnails, and clicking the thumbnail switches windows.
Right clicking the icons shows a new UI device that MS calls “Jump Lists”.
[…] Jump lists provide quick access to application features. Applications that use the system API for their Most Recently Used list (the list of recently-used filenames that many apps have in their File menus) will automatically acquire a Jump List containing their most recently used files. There’s also an API to allow applications to add custom entries; Media Player, for example, includes special options to control playback.
That’s just one of many major changes to how the desktop works and, frankly, I think a lot of the changes are going to be very popular. They have several screenshots in the article so it’s worth a read just to see what’s changing. The ability to “peek” at windows and the desktop is very cool and I can already see it being useful when I blog.