Windows 7 RTM
Windows 7 is finished—Microsoft announced the bundle of code known in the industry as the “release to manufacturing" (RTM) on July 22. What does that actually mean?
“Windows 7 is complete from an engineering perspective,” Rich Reynolds, the general manager of the Windows business team, said. “This is the final code—there are no additional changes that will be made.” The final build is on its way to PC makers and disc-duplication plants and is ready to go onto new PCs and into boxes. “Our partners are ready to take the final step and put code on machines,” Reynolds said.
Is the RTM later than expected? No, Reynolds said. “During the development of Windows 7, we committed to deliver the next version of Windows within three years of Windows Vista and we have delivered on that promise," Reynolds said.
No Major Changes
So, what’s new in Windows RTM? Hardly anything, Reynolds said. "It was very much our intent that this was our final code we were releasing," Reynolds said. "Frankly, we didn't anticipate any major changes for RTM and that has proven to be true. There are no major changes aside from some minor bug fixes arising from customer feedback.”
Compared to other new versions of Windows, the surprise is that there aren’t any surprises—it may not be as exciting, but being predictable has been an important part of creating Windows 7, UK Windows Client Group Director John Curran said. “We have taken a different engineering philosophy to the development of Windows. Going all the way back, our intent with the first release at the PDC was to deliver an API complete-version of the OS so developers could really start to work," Curran said. "So when we're ready to launch they're ready to launch. In the RTM you're seeing really a reflection of where we’ve been in the RC timeframe.”
Will Performance Improve?
Even in the beta, the performance of Windows 7 has been a lot better compared to what Windows Vista offers on the same hardware. That was one of the most important things to get right in Windows 7, Reynolds said. “We knew partners were counting on us to get that fundamental right—they consistently asked us to provide a stable base on which to innovate,” Reynolds said. And the same people are telling him Microsoft got it right: “We get consistent feedback from partners that we have surpassed the quality bar,” Reynolds said. How does that show up? “We enabled Windows 7 to run on systems from the smallest of netbooks to the most powerful of gaming systems," Reynolds said. "We worked with partners on startup and shutdown times. We worked with customers to help reduce power consumption and we worked with partners to deliver all-day computing through increased battery life and more efficient wireless networks.”
And yes, performance does get better in the RTM, Curran said, both from final fixes and from taking out the debug code. “As we move from RC to RTM, one of the things we focused on is performance tweaking—that’s something we've focused on each step of the way,” Curran said.
Like the Faster Boot
Improved Windows 7 performance is part raw numbers and part interface, Curran said. “One, it simplifies everything people are trying to accomplish, and two, it feels faster and snappier than the operating system they've had previously,” Curran said. Will you notice specific differences in the RTM version? Maybe not, he said, but you will notice an overall difference.
“When I think back to moving from beta to RC, among the 30 or 50 things the Windows team highlighted as new and different, one was that they shaved down the length of the audio file that plays on startup. As a user, would I consciously recognize that? No, but the overall experience took a step forward," Curran said. "As you look at RTM, it's going to be the same sort of thing. You’ll be hard pressed to put your finger on what are the big things that have changed, but it's tweaking that last 5% that makes the difference to getting the experience just right.”
Running on Netbooks
Even the slightest increase in performance will be welcome on older, slower machines and on netbooks. A Lenovo netbook, for example, might get a great score for its faster-than-usual hard drive, but its graphics and a low-power Atom processor could slow it down. Even so, the netbook should run Windows 7 very well, which would be the case with RTM on a wide range of systems, Reynolds said. “We think about netbooks as, frankly, a PC, and the performance we're seeing today from the low-end netbooks—and also the higher-end models—is very good," Reynolds said. "We anticipate a particularly high uptake of Windows 7 on netbooks.”
Analyzing Windows Performance
If you want to keep Windows 7 performance at its peak, you’re going to need to keep an eye on the applications you run, Stella Chernyak, the director of Windows product management, said. “We’ve made great strides in performance in Windows 7, but when a customer puts apps on their PC, they may impact performance.”
Applications are not measured as part of the Windows Performance Index, but if you’re feeling technical, you can dig into the system measurements with a tool originally designed for hardware and software developers called the Windows Performance Tool. You can download it from the Microsoft site, run it on your PC, and then use the graphs and charts to analyze what might be slowing you down. It’s most suited to IT professionals, but it’s free to download and Chernyak said it’s “suitable for a savvy consumer.”
Millions of Testers
How Easy Is a Clean Install?
If you have Windows XP (or you live in Europe), you can’t upgrade an existing PC with Windows 7—instead, you have to do a clean installation. Despite some hopes, RTM doesn’t change that at all, Reynolds said. “Because of the decision we made, Windows XP and Windows Vista customers in Europe will need to do a clean install," Reynolds said. "We are providing guidance on that to enable the process.” That’s the Windows Easy Transfer tool: “This enables users to save data on hardware and it makes the transition easier—what it does is, it parks your data on a certain part of the hard drive so you don’t have to copy your data off and copy it back on,” Reynolds said.
Windows 7 users in Europe will have to go through one extra step during installation: they’ll have to install their own browser, but Microsoft isn’t expecting everyone to master FTP to get it. “We plan at retail to offer an Internet pack free of charge so the customer can pick that up from a retail store and we will provide the browser through that mechanism,” Reynolds said.
What About Device Stage?
Just because Windows 7 has reached RTM doesn’t mean that all the Windows 7 features that rely on other devices are ready yet. You might get photo-realistic icons for your Webcam and your mouse in the RTM build, but you won’t see many DeviceStage windows for peripherals yet. But you can expect just about any device you plug in to work with Windows 7, Reynolds said. “One of the things we have done with Windows 7 is that we have learned from our Vista experience. We made sure as part of our engineering process that we had a very broad outreach into the ecosystem," Reynolds said.
The first public unveiling of Windows 7 was to Microsoft professional developers and the week after to its hardware partners, Reynolds said. "We spent a lot of time making sure hardware partners’ drivers were working and capable for Windows 7 and we’re very confident that is the case," Reynolds said. "Much of Windows 7 is built on the same core architecture as Vista, which enables a lot of hardware and peripherals to work with Windows 7. There are obviously major enhancements in Windows 7 but we've been giving them code since 2008.”
Install for Snap
There have been plenty of surveys claiming to say when people will or won’t install Windows 7. Reynolds said he isn’t worried about users waiting for SP1, whenever that might be, because people are telling him they want Windows 7 now. “Small businesses are telling us ‘time is money.' Frankly their feedback is that end users with Windows 7 are saving time and therefore money. Small businesses are telling us they’re excited because of the fundamentals: improved startup time, improved shutdown time, improved reliability and performance,” Reynolds said. And some businesses rave about specific features he said, referring to a small business owner with whom he had spoken: “She told me that Aero Snap and the ability to see documents side-by-side saved her up to an hour a day,” Reynolds said.
Install for Security
If you work in one of the businesses that has been testing Windows 7 with Microsoft, you might come in to find your PC running RTM any day now. According to Reynolds, several of the partners aren’t going to wait for Windows 7 to become generally available, let alone for SP1 before they start rolling it out. “One of our enterprise partners, Dimension Data, has offices around the world and they’re excited about the technologies, not just for their customer, but because they can take advantage of them themselves,” Reynolds said. Samsung in Korea is going to roll out Windows 7 RTM quickly to get the security advantages of BitLocker and especially BitLocker To Go on USB sticks, Reynolds said.
XP Mode Made Easier
One feature that does change in RTM is the new Windows XP Mode, at least if you’re getting Windows 7 PC preinstalled with Windows 7 Professional Edition. "Many of the PC manufacturers are looking to preinstall XP Mode as part of that, so it will include both Windows 7 Professional as well as XP Mode preconfigured for you,” Curran said. "If you’re upgrading your current PC to Windows 7, XP Mode will still be a separate download. There is a good reason for that: there are hardware requirements that are unique to running Windows XP Mode so people do need to be checking that their processor is capable of it, so we encourage people to go and make sure the PC they’re upgrading is capable before trying to install XP Mode.”
Media Center Plans
Just because the Windows 7 code is finished doesn’t mean everything in RTM is ready. Windows Media Center includes new Internet TV functions, but manufacturers will only see in the RTM the same MSN video content from the release candidate code. That’s because Microsoft is still working on content deals with various providers, Curran said. “For Internet TV, we’re signing up partners country by country to make sure we have the right content providers. We're working that through, and as we get closer to general availability, we'll be able to talk about that,” Curran said. Expect general entertainment and sports content, with everything from baseball scores to film trailers indexed by keyword.
Where Am I?
Touch isn’t the only feature that supports new hardware that you're going to see for Windows 7, Curran said. “There's a host of extensible options in Windows 7 that partners are taking advantage of. Touch has gotten a lot of buzz and we're seeing roadmaps for hardware manufactures with exciting new form factors that take advantage of touch features," Curran said. "But we’re also having conversations with a number of software and hardware partners that are taking advantage of location awareness. That could be WiFi triangulation or GPS and it opens up a host of new opportunities for how we can provide services that are more tailored to someone because they know where they are.” He wouldn’t leak any product details, but promised that “it's going to be very exciting over the next couple of months,” in the run-up to the October launch.
When Is RTM Available?
“RTM means the code is complete,” Reynolds said, but that doesn't mean you can get it today—unless, that is, you’re a PC manufacturer. The big partners already have it, but there are more than 400 PC hardware makers out there, so Microsoft is going to be busy distributing the different versions of Windows 7 to them. The team has also learned from the popularity of the beta and RC builds. “We will provide code to our OEM partners, and over the next several weeks, we will make it available to different constituents. The reason different people get it at different times is frankly operational," Reynolds said. "Think about the number of SKUs and languages and operational systems we have to put into place—that is what determines when we can get it to market. The roll-out of code will be staggered so that we can set up the systems to make sure customers can download it and it's a great experience.”