Microsoft: Moving to Windows 7 easy for device makers

Hardware and device makers that hadn't developed drivers compatible with Windows Vista when it was released shouldn't have the same problem with Windows 7, a Microsoft product manager said Wednesday.

Microsoft is building Windows 7 to ensure "a high level of compatibility with Windows Vista," so device makers that invested in creating drivers for Vista won't have to rebuild them from the ground up for Windows 7, said Jeff Price, senior director, Windows product management, in an interview.

When Vista was released, a major problem new users had was that their devices did not work with the OS. Unfortunately, many device drivers were not immediately available for Vista even though Microsoft spent more than five years building the OS, which should have given people plenty of time to prepare.

Building on a theme Microsoft stressed last week at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) when it demonstrated Windows 7 for the first time, Price said Microsoft is learning lessons from problems Vista posed for users and technology partners, and is going to make the transition to Windows 7 as smooth as possible for hardware builders.

"We won’t have this big set of work the ecosystem has to do to get compatibility with Windows 7," he said. "We're building on the same core architectural improvements in Windows Vista."

Price did not comment on why Microsoft did not better prepare hardware makers for Vista, saying only that there were architectural changes to Vista, particularly around security, that created "compatibility challenges" for third parties building drivers for the OS.

He cited changing the firewall platform and tightening security around how Vista "deals with applications and drivers" as stumbling blocks for hardware partners, but said these changes were "worth it" because they made Windows more secure.

"We know the infection rate for malware [in Vista] is less" than in XP, Price said.

Microsoft is giving hardware and device makers their first look at Windows 7 this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, which, like PDC, is in Los Angeles.

The company also is showing off some new features of the OS that will both make the user experience of connecting devices to the OS more efficient and make it easier for 3G wireless broadband providers to bring network access to the OS, Price said.

The former is called Device Stage, and will give Windows 7 users a streamlined view of all the features and files of a multipurpose device, such as a cell phone that also contains photos and music files, Price said.

"If you plug one of these devices in today, unless you have loaded apps into the device, you may not see the functionality," he said. "Device Stage puts all of that functionality into one window."

Device makers can use a series of APIs (application programming interfaces) Microsoft will provide to them to customize the user interface for their particular device, Price said. Microsoft partners that are already using the feature for devices include Nokia, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, SanDisk, Epson and Sony, he said.

To help wireless broadband access providers make their 3G networks compatible with Windows 7, Microsoft will provide a set of connectivity APIs they can use so "they don't have to build the entire stack of software themselves," he said.

Microsoft also is streamlining the user interface that shows Windows 7 users what wireless networks -- whether Wi-Fi, wireless broadband or another network -- are available. That feature is called View Available Networks and will have an icon similar to the bars on a cell phone that show the level of connectivity on the lower right corner of the Windows 7 task bar, he said.

A Windows 7 user will be able to "hover over that and see all of the networks available to you, regardless of type," Price said.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.