Several recent news reports have suggested that things are heating up with the next Windows version, code-named Vienna (aka Windows 7). However, despite a few off-the-cuff remarks by Microsoft executives, no new information has been revealed about Windows Vista's successor.
Here's what we do know. Upcoming client versions of Windows are now being developed by a team run by Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live Engineering. Formerly in charge of Microsoft Office, Sinofsky is well known for his calculating manner and a proven ability to ship products on time and is expected to deliver Vienna and future Windows versions in-line with Microsoft's new internal schedules.
Make no mistake, Vista isn't the final Windows version; it's not even the final major Windows release. Vienna, due in about two years, is expected to include several features that didn't make it into Vista, as well as a new shell that's being developed by the people who created the Ribbon UI for the Microsoft Office 2007 system. However, Vienna will be a minor upgrade compared to Vista. A future Windows update, due about two years after Vienna, is expected to be the next major Windows release.
You can expect Vienna to include some features that will debut in the next version of Windows Server (code-named Longhorn Server), which is due in late 2007. (The Longhorn Hypervisor has been mentioned as a possible Vienna feature.) But Vienna isn't even the next deliverable from the Windows client group: Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), code-named Fiji, will precede Vienna. I've been told that Vista SP1 will ship alongside Longhorn Server and will include a new kernel version that will bring Vista up-to-date with the kernel in Longhorn Server. Vista SP1 will also include several other new features, although Microsoft has remained closemouthed about those features. (Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has even publicly denied that the company is working on Vista SP1, although it most definitely is.)
Here's a bit of speculation about Vista SP1 that you probably haven't heard elsewhere: The Media Center team at Microsoft has admitted that it will complete Vista's version of Media Center in the future, and they told me that it's logical to assume that such an update might arrive in time for the 2007 holiday season. Including that update with Vista SP1 makes a lot of sense, given the timing and the fact that Vista's Media Center UI is only partially complete.
So what does all this mean? Although Vista was just recently released, it's only natural for enthusiasts and news sites to be clamoring for information about future Windows versions. After all, Vista slogged through a five-year development process that was full of public mishaps and delays. Microsoft, meanwhile, has promised that future Windows versions will be delivered more quickly. And that, indeed, is the plan. But don't be confused by any news reports you might have seen online or elsewhere. There's been absolutely no new information released about Vienna, Fiji, or any other upcoming Windows version recently. Instead, we're just seeing a Windows community champing at the bit for the next big thing.