Late last month, Microsoft unveiled a first peek at what was once called "Blackcomb," later renamed "Vienna," and finally dubbed "Windows 7." (Or, as some wags have named it, the "Wait, come back, we were just kidding about Vista!" build.) Now, I must admit that I've been pretty skeptical about Windows 7 because, while on one hand Microsoft has been very closed-mouthed about the details of Windows 7, on the other hand the company has been pretty open about its existence and imminence. These two factors seemed to add up to a marketing shell game - it almost seemed like Redmond's plan was to get us all excited about the idea of a newer, better Windows (which has the effect of partially drowning out the anti-Vista buzz), but then to avoid any specifics about that supposedly newer, better Windows. Now, however, we've got some of those specifics, and I've been pleasantly surprised to see a number of neat things slated for the mid-2010 version of Windows.

Wins for Windows 7
The first eyebrow raiser came in the form of a couple of interesting promises. First, all drivers that work on Windows Vista will work on Windows 7. Second, if your hardware runs Vista well, then it will run Windows 7 well. Why's that interesting? Well, think of the way that many organizations buy new computer hardware. Many folks have a fixed-length buying cycle or "hardware refresh period" of three to five years, meaning that if you work for Bigfirm and Bigfirm has a hardware-refresh period of three years, then you get a new laptop every three years. Clearly the choice of period has a direct effect on the amount of money that Bigfirm spends in a year, and in times like these you've got to like anything that'll stretch out that period.

To that end, consider what Microsoft is saying here when it says "If it runs Vista well, it runs Windows 7 well." So let's say that you haven't deployed Vista yet. Vista's got about another two years to go before Windows 7 appears, and then suppose that Windows 7 gets a three-year lifetime. Result? All of those firms running three-year cycles can go to five-year cycles, a big savings-perhaps Vista and Windows 7 don't look like such a bad deal. (Of course, many people would be happier if they could just get support on Windows XP extended to 2017. Ah well.)

Skipping Vista?
That leads to a Windows 7-related question that I get a lot: "Can I just skip Vista and go straight to Windows 7, can I can I can I can I pleeease?" My answer would be that yes, you can do that, but you probably don't want to. In the cases of XP back in 2001 and Vista currently, it's a bad idea to roll them out without first checking and addressing application-compatibility issues, and checking a lot of apps takes time. Given that, and given that Windows 7 is growing out of a Vista base, I'd suggest that people get the application-compatibility stuff out of the way as soon as possible. (This also has the benefit of ensuring that you don't unintentionally adopt any new applications that will have Vista/Windows 7 compatibility issues in the interim.)

Application compatibility
And speaking of application compatibility, Microsoft also showed the built-in application-compatibility tools that we'll see in Windows 7. Every version of Windows since XP has contained hundreds of built-in fixes designed to accommodate apps with various idiosyncrasies-things like registry redirection (where a user app tries to write data to HKLM and is silently redirected to a registry location in the user's profile, where the user has write access) or a "version lie" (where an application whose installer refuses to install that application on any version of Windows except Windows 2000, even though the app will in actuality run just fine on any version of Windows since 2000. In this case, the fix reports to that installer that it is indeed installing on Win2K, even though in truth it's installing on XP, Vista or something else). Those fixes have been essential parts of making literally thousands of pre-XP applications run without a hitch on XP and later. XP SP3 systems contain about 250 of those convenient fixes. What about Windows 7? It's a couple of years before we'll see it, of course, but at least now it seems that it'll have about 100 more, making solving "app compat" problems a good deal easier.

There's tons more to talk about in Windows 7, but personally I find the fact that Microsoft is aiming to smooth the transition to Windows 7 considerably more reassuring than the move to Vista. Whether you choose to deploy Vista now or simply skip it is up to you, but give Windows 7 a look and see what you think!