Windows 7 Private Alpha
I just got the latest bits of the next Windows this morning. I've been playing with it on a Virtual PC on my trusty 10-core laptop.
Here's a little bit of review of what I have found:
You now have access to truly everywhere computing. Microsoft has finally created a product that's true to my vision of future computing. No longer are you tied to a specific computer to do your entire computing task. With Windows 7, all computing is in the clouds (a.k.a. Internet)! Amazon have jump started this trend with Amazon S3 (storage in the clouds) and Amazon EC2 (computing in the clouds). Now Microsoft pushes these two together to build a truly virtual private desktop to users.
How do they achieve this? Well, the OS is built on top of proprietary communication protocol (I don't think this is part of WCF released earlier with .NET Framework 3.5). All processing and storage is done via the network to Microsoft centralized server farm. Local resources are shared via Hyper-V technology to the farm, so everyone gets maximum available performance, limited only by the network bandwidth.
Installation is a breeze, or should I say, installation is instant. Basically it will install every time you boot your computer. The boot up time itself is very fast, since the OS only needs to initialize audio, video, and network devices. Once all three drivers are up, you will see the now-familiar Windows Vista startup animation. They’re still using it to save resources. If you see this animation, you’ll know that audio and video drivers are loaded and running properly.
Next up is network log in. All the functionality is delivered via network. Processing, storage, even logging in is handled via network. You might think Windows 7 will work like Internet browser and Google applications. Well, Microsoft took one step further. By implementing their proprietary communication protocol, you don’t need a browser anymore. Your OS is your “browser”. In this preview version, the Vista taskbar is still there. But if you click the Start orb, what you will get is the list of application available on the cloud. Any computer you use will always have the same application/settings/layout, since all of them are stored in the Internet.
How about USB accessories? If you recall, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista SP1 with the latest Remote Desktop version have the ability to forward a USB device to terminal server. In other words, you can do Remote Desktop from your laptop at work to your home server, plug your Zune, and sync the Zune as if it is plugged to your home server. Windows 7 took this approach, so you can plug your USB device from any computer in the world, and it just works! No driver installation is required (after the first one, of course), since the USB port is forwarded. No one can beat this, even Macs!
For applications, Windows 7 preview have very simple applications available; Notepad, calculator, and FreeCell to show off the system’s capabilities to date.
Notepad is just your standard notepad. And since it is based on the existing code, the “bush hid the fact” Unicode trick is still there. Improvement to it is web-based dictionary, spell check, and grammar. These feature use to be available on Word, but since the Web 2.0 era, several web sites provide the service for free. So why not leverage them and put it to Notepad? Dictionary is from Wiktionary, spell check is from SpellCheck.net, and grammar is from proprietary Microsoft service (based on Word).
Calculator is also your standard calculator. Although now it does provide a Web 2.0 finish, there’s a new option of “post to community”, just like the one in Visual Studio. It’s not working yet right now, but I’m envisioning something like community-based home-work discussion portal that revolves around Calculator.exe. Cool.
FreeCell is now multiplayer-only. Since you will need to go online to access it, why not implement a transparent multiplayer lobby? You will have the same problem set, and compete with others to solve it. You now have three empty cells, and four empty shared cells between other three players.
OK, my laptop configuration is a 10-core processor with 10 GB of RAM. If everything runs on the network, then what would my top-of-the-line hardware will be used for? Well, Microsoft knows this, and they are surely tapping it up. While all the operations are being done on the server, what you don’t know is, they forced you to donate your computing powers for public use. So when you’re playing Starcraft 2, one of your units could’ve been rendered on your rival’s processor! This grid computation is derived from Hyper-V technology, again from Windows Server 2008. Microsoft promises to tweak this technology to improve load balancing with peer to peer communication. Since this is a preview version with very few users, my CPU never hit 10% on idle. Memory usage is even lower than Vista, clocking only 50Mb on idle.
I will also hear IT Administrators complain. If everything is stored on Microsoft servers, then how do they manage data security, policy, etc? Well fear not, Microsoft will launch the server part of Windows 7 to corporate enterprises. This server will enable you to act like Microsoft servers. In fact, during log in, you will be able to choose which server you want to connect. You can optionally sync these servers to achieve the same look and fell between accounts on different servers.
Unfortunately under NDA, no pictures/video/screen shot will be available for public consumption. Can’t wait for the public beta!