Windows 7 will be the second release of Microsoft's Windows desktop operating system built on the Vista kernel.
With the beta release now available, IT departments and end users can start assessing whether it will be worth upgrading. Microsoft has made a number of changes to the Windows application programming interface, which could be used to create new types of application or improve the usability and speed of existing ones.
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Microsoft says it should run on Vista-ready hardware without any problems, and should support Vista-ready applications without modifications.
Microsoft is introducing DirectWrite into Windows 7, an API which enables applications to use OpenType Font technology. Microsoft says this allows Windows application developers to improvethe readability, formatting and support of text for multiple languages.
John Curran, director for Windows at Microsoft, says, "NetBooks have relatively low-resolution screens, while other users will run the same application on large-screen monitors. DirectWrite allows application developers to support the different types of screens to improve readability. It also means people won't have to install fonts separately."
Microsoft has traditionally focused on 3D graphics through its DirectX technology, which is used to make animation in computer games run smoothly. Microsoft will now offer Direct2D, hardwareacceleration for 2D graphics API.
Microsoft says this will provides high performance and high quality rendering for 2D geometry, bitmaps, and text. Itclaims the technology will boost the performance of graphics in enterprise applications like Microsoft Office.
"The whole Windows GUI is 2D, so all applications are 2D," Curran says. "From a business perspective, to render [paint the screen] quickly is important in applications. So software developers can use the power graphics accelerators in PCs to improve enterprise applications."
Microsoft is working on making its Terminal Services thin client protocol more efficient. One approach being developed in Windows 7 is to use graphics accelerator hardware on PCs that are being deployed as thin clients, to make the user interface display faster.
When Terminal Services is used today, the server transmits a bitmap of the Windows GUI down to the client machine. In Windows 7, Microsoft is planning to allow applications to use Direct3D 10.1 to provide hardware accelerated graphics on the remote PC's graphics processor, reducing the need to transmit bitmaps.
"In the past, PCs havenot been able to make best use of the new graphics accelerators on desktop PCs. Direct3D 10.1 Command Remoting can potentially speed up applications and improve network bandwidth," says Curran.
Multi-touch is one of the big features Microsoft is highlighting in Windows 7. Multi-touch takes touch screen technology up a notch by allowing users to drag and drop on a touch screen. It includes a gesture-recognition API that supports panning, zooming, and rotating, Curran says.
"I have seen a demo where a user resizea and manipulates screen images using hand motions. Certainly CAD/Cam applications and design software lend themselves to raw finger input."
Microsoft recommends application developers start assessing how a touch user interface can improve the usability of new applications. "Try to imagine them using these with touch rather than the mouse. How does that change the experience?"
There may be some features in an application,such as using a slider to change volume or brightness, that are performed with a mouse today, but would work more naturally using gestures.
5. Sensor API
Microsoft defines the term "light-aware UI" as any program that uses light sensor data to optimise its content, controls, and other graphics to cope with lighting conditions, ranging from darkness to direct sunlight.
The light aware function is one part of its senor API that hardware manufacturers can use to make PCs aware of their environment. So a laptop screen can automatically be made to change its screen colour, brightness and contrast levels based on the level of ambient light. Not only can light be controlled this way. Curran says. "Native support for sensor is built in to Windows 7 to support temperature, ambient light, and GPS."