Three Things You Need to Know About Windows 7

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer rolled out this week some user interface bits from the forthcoming Windows 7 at The Wall Street Journal’s “D: All Things Digital” conference. Here’s the official Microsoft video demo. The OS is currently scheduled to hit late next year.

Although everyone is talking about it, few seem to understand what all this means. Here’s what it means: After several decades, the death of the WIMP user interface is at hand. (WIMP stands for Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing devices.)

Windows 7 contains core user interface functionality that researchers have been working on since the 1980s. It’s exciting, and will radically change the way you use computers forever.

Here are the three things you need to know about Windows 7.

I first told you about this new generation of user interface and Windows 7 back in December (I Want My MPC: The ‘Multi-Touch PC’ Era Dawns). In that article, I told you:

“The major components of this UI are multi-touch (the ability of a touch screen to accept many points of input at once); physics (on-screen objects that behave as if they have weight, mass, momentum and other physical properties); and gestures (the ability to send commands to the system by drawing a shape on screen).”

These user interface elements, plus hardware changes that I detail below, represent a huge leap in computer usage comparable to the leap from the command line to the graphical user interface (GUI).

The Apple iPhone has a very rudimentary (but first-to-market) version of this new OS type. Microsoft’s proprietary vertical Surface PC has it, too. Apple will switch to this kind of OS as early as next year. Linux will, too. This is where all computer user interfaces are going.

But what do we call this new category of OS? So far, few agree. Some call it a multi-touch user interface. But the OS is more about physics and gestures than multi-touch. I suspect Apple heavily marketed multi-touch because it was the single most unique feature of the Apple iPhone from a hardware perspective. So everyone picked up on the M word. But it’s an inaccurate – or, at least, incomplete — descriptor for the new UI.

I’d like to propose that we call this new kind of UI the MPG interface, for “Multi-touch, Physics and Gestures.” (Just throwing this against the wall here to see if it sticks.) I’ll refer to it as such for the rest of this article.

2. Pundits will bitch and moan about MPG, but later eat their words.

In the early 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that DOS’s command line interface was faster, cleaner and generally better than that new-fangled, funky, slow “GUI” user interface of OS/2, Windows and others. All that was forgotten by the early 1990s, when everyone moved to GUI interfaces.

A similar thing is happening today with the MPG idea.

Blogger and Microsoft expert Mary Jo Foley writes: “I am still a non-believer. Do you want touch on your Windows notebook? I, for one, do not.”

Henry Blodget wrote on the Silicon Valley Insider blog that “We never touch our PC screen, and we hate it when other people touch our PC screens. This will not change if Windows 7.”

They’ll change their tunes, believe me.

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