At PDC, I got my first hands-on experience with Windows 7 running on the HP TouchSmart units in the partner expo area. A few things I picked up from the keynote that I really liked:

  • Apps don’t necessarily have to explicitly support multitouch to work properly with multitouch input. Windows knows how to treat that input in just about any Windows app.
  • They showed a really cool video of the folks at Autodesk using Windows 7 multitouch to modify a 3D model. It’s like shaping clay with your hands; very cool!
  • A lot of the older applications will be getting a facelift, namely with the ribbon bar. For example, MS Paint and Wordpad will be getting a ribbon. (No word yet on good old Notepad).
  • Speaking of Wordpad, it’s been updated to support Open XML / ODF documents. Woo!
  • Some UI changes in Windows 7 make the user experience a lot better. You can customize, at the Windows level, what notifications and icons are shown in the system tray, so those sixteen useless icons in the system tray that you never click can be configured to not be shown.
  • You can also customize the Shutdown button and several other components of the Windows 7 interface.
  • I did notice a Show Desktop button on the far right of the taskbar, which is way easier to click than the icon in the quick launch bar.
  • The big one: UAC Settings control panel. Do you hate UAC? Think it’s too invasive? Want to turn it off without turning it off? The UAC settings control panel offers a slider that you can use to specify how much UAC you want.
  • The roadmap: Right now Windows 7 is in pre-beta, which will be followed by beta, RC, and RTM. The E7 blog is a great place to watch and contribute to the discussion around Windows 7 engineering and development.

My personal experience with Windows 7 is that, while it looks like Vista, it’s overall a lot easier to deal with in many ways than Vista is. The multitouch is easy to use and very responsive, and certain UI elements (like dropdown lists, for example) increase in size when you touch the screen to make the acceptance of finger input easy. (If only my ancient WM5 phone had that, since I use my fingernail a lot). The hands-on lab I did had a lot of C++ in it to handle the multitouch aspect. I heard from the Surface team that the Windows 7 multitouch system is distinctly different from the Surface system and API, although they are working closely together to provide a very consistent experience for developers.

I look forward to running the pre-beta and forthcoming pre-release builds of Windows 7 in my test bed. If you have any suggestions for virtualizing a sandbox for this, please let me know – I’m not sure what kind of virtualware I need to accomplish this.