Top 5 Features Missing From Windows 7

Overall the reports about the Windows 7 public beta are quite good. What do people like? It's stable, especially for a beta. And it easily outshines Windows Vista in its stability, polish and simplicity. There are fewer crashes, it's lighter weight (less junk comes with it) and it gets high marks for performance. I've been testing Windows 7 since its release and am using it fulltime since installing the beta on my primary laptop over the weekend. My impressions? It's Vista, or rather, it's a better Vista. Or should I say, it's what Vista should have been at the onset. Other than some printer issues and some lingering driver problems which the OS still doesn't install upfront, Windows 7 runs very well. If you've been using Vista, you'll feel quite at home in Windows 7. If you're a Windows XP holdout, it's still an upgrade and a change from XP just like Vista was.

But is that all there is? Is Windows 7 merely a better Windows Vista? Is Windows 7 the Vista Microsoft should have shipped from the start?

I can't help but sense that we should be receiving more than just an OS release that helps us move on from Vista. If Microsoft really wants to bring to market more than a "what we should have done with Vista" operating system, here are some small, but important, and some big things I think (and thought from its announcement) are needed in Windows 7.

1. Flawless Device Support. My Sony Vaio laptop is more than a year old. The drivers for it should be readily available and very easy for Windows 7 to find and automatically install, but no, there are still 3 hardware components listed in the Windows Device Manager that don't have drivers installed. Similarly, my Brother all-in-one printer is one that's pretty common, yet Windows 7 either won't print to it or gets documents in an infinite printing loop. Shouldn't driver problems be a thing of the past? Isn't that part of the promise of the new Windows 7 Device Center... everything you need for the devices you use? Shouldn't printing be a no brainer, something every printing device should do with little to no problems in Windows 7? I think so.

2. Virtual CD/DVD ISO Support. Since adding Virtual CloneDrive to my list of handiest free utilities on the planet, I've stopped burning DVDs to install software. It's such a pleasure to right-click on an ISO image freshly downloaded from MSDN and begin using it in development in literally seconds. Windows 7 did add the ability to burn an ISO to a DVD or CD by double clicking on the ISO file, but mounting ISOs as a virtual drive right there in the Windows 7 interface would be so much handier and something I find I miss very much.

3. Built-In Social Networking. I know Microsoft wants us to all use MSN Messenger as part of Windows Live but one of the first apps I installed in Windows 7 was a multi-account IM and social networking client. I use Digsby, which logs into my AOL, MSN, gtalk, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn and facebook accounts. If Windows 7 is to be our home desktop, why not make it seemless to connect into all the social networking tools and sites we use to connect with other people? Make social networking something Windows 7 facilitate vs. treating it as a third-party app. That would definitely add more stickiness to Windows 7.

4. Missing Virtualization. When I first heard Microsoft was quickly getting a new OS version underway following Vista's rocky start, I thought for sure we'd see an OS tailored for virtualization, or possibly application virtualization. I still believe that's the future of where we're headed with apps. But Windows 7 is deft of anything close to being able to virtualization an app, or run another instance of an OS in a Windows 7 window. Want Windows XP users to migrate to Windows 7? Image this scenario. What if your existing XP installation ran as a virtual instance inside a Windows 7 installation window. Then you'd have your old XP OS right there as you convert and move over to Windows 7, much like Mac users run Windows in Parallels to have access to Microsoft apps. Here's another application. I like having another virtual OS handy to try out software and downloads without risking unknown software on my everyday computer. Also imagine our apps aren't "installed" into the OS but run as virtualized applications. No registry issues. Fewer compatibility issues. Imagine it.

5a. Mesh It. Mesh It Good. The idea of the Device Center is cool - one place that collects all the devices you use, your laptop, cell phone, printers, etc. and has all the information and tools you need to manage you ever-growing plethora of devices. The new Libraries feature in Windows 7 looks like a good idea too - pulling together all the places where your data lives. But what's missing is synchronization... sync between those devices in the Device Center. Policies and profiles about what data should by synced on each device based on it performance level and capacity and use. Where's Live Mesh in Windows 7 and where's Live Framework? A well integrated Live Mesh could make Windows 7 something really different from everybody else's OS, including Windows XP. One of the empty holes in Windows 7 is the missing integration with Live Mesh.

5b. Head In The Clouds. After seeing Microsoft's demonstration of Office apps running in browsers, sync'ing data between running apps while the documents are being edited by two users across the globe, was totally cool. Okay, jump back to circa Windows 7 beta. The closest thing to a new app is Windows Live, desktop software that transfers pictures up to your Windows Live site, or posts a blog for you from Live Writer. That's hardly exciting enough news to get users jazzed about jumping onto the Windows 7 bandwagon. It's more of a let down and doesn't give us any idea of how Microsoft's cloud strategy (Azure, Live Mesh, Live Framework, etc.) is enabled by Windows 7. Windows 7 as it appears in the public beta merely looks to be the same kind of OS we've used for years, without anything special to facilitate the enablement of SaaS, cloud resources and sync. Live Framework isn't even compatible with the Windows 7 beta.  I guess it's best said by saying Windows 7 enables "little" Software+Services (Windows Live) rather than "big" Software+Services (Live Services) from what we see so far.

I'm happy using Windows 7 as a standard OS. It's a welcome upgrade from Vista but its far from the operating system I thought we might see, ushering in advancements in how we view, create and use software and cloud-based services. Yes, those things like application and OS virtualization can be layered on. Live Mesh can be installed to add sync between devices. But those appear they would be bolt-on's, not something Windows 7 embraces. I don't think Ray Ozzie has had the same kind of impact on the core Windows OS he's had bringing out Live Services and Windows Azure. We likely will have to wait for the OS after Windows 7 for that to take place.

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