Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

A hands-on preview of Windows 7

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Windows 7 put to the test

Microsoft has released an early preview copy of its new operating system, Windows 7.

The release follows in the wake of Vista, which has been subject to fierce criticism from a number of users.

When Vista launched in January 2007, many complained that it ran slowly and failed to work at all with some programs and devices.

Corporate customers have been slow to switch from Windows XP to Vista, although Microsoft said that the operating system had an unfair press, and that it enjoyed record sales.

Despite this Microsoft has extended the life of Windows XP so PC makers can continue selling it to those that do not want to upgrade.

Windows 7 desktop
Visually, Windows 7 has a lot in common with Windows Vista

Windows Vista took more than five years to develop but Windows 7 is likely to arrive within a couple of years.

Microsoft's VP, Steven Sinofsky, described Windows 7 as an "exciting new version" and claimed it would deliver a more personalised experience.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has added a range of new functions including:

  • A new taskbar to give more rapid access to files and programs.
  • A feature called HomeGroup, allowing users easy sharing of data across PCs and other devices in the home.
  • Support for devices such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones with a product called Device Stage offering a single window to manage tasks for each device.
  • Windows Touch - software for touch screen devices that enables users to use different gestures to perform tasks.
  • Improvements to some applications, such as MS Paint, and Calculator.

People are comfortable with XP, so there has to be something significant in Windows 7 to persuade people to migrate over
Kelvyn Taylor, Personal Computer World

Microsoft's chief software architect Ray Ozzie said Windows 7 would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The new operating system is scheduled for release in 2010 and the advance code still had limited functionality. A widely released public trial, or beta, version is expected to be available in early 2009.

To test Microsoft's claims BBC News gave a copy of the early version of Windows 7 to Alex Watson, editor of Custom PC.

The early version made a good impression on Mr Watson, who described it as "quick, snappy, and reliable".

Uphill struggle

Given the popularity of Windows XP and the plethora of issues that came with the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft may have a tough job persuading users to upgrade - noted Kelvyn Taylor, editor of Personal Computer World.

"The problem is that they [Microsoft] have to overcome the damage - perception wise at least - that Windows Vista caused. And that will be an uphill struggle.

"People are comfortable with XP, so there will have to be something significant in Windows 7 to persuade people to migrate over, " he said.

"Pricing, response time, and reliability are all issues that will need to be addressed. If Microsoft do that, then they're in with half a chance. Otherwise Windows 7 will end up as little more than Vista 2 Mark II."

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