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Windows 7 (formerly codenamed Blackcomb and Vienna) is the latest version of Microsoft Windows, a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers, including home and business desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablet PCs and media center PCs. Windows 7 was released to manufacturing on July 22, 2009, with general retail availability set for October 22, 2009, less than three years after the release of its predecessor, Windows Vista. Windows 7's server counterpart, Windows Server 2008 R2, is slated for release about the same time.
Unlike its predecessor, which introduced a large number of new features, Windows 7 is intended to be a more focused, incremental upgrade to the Windows line, with the goal of being fully compatible with applications and hardware with which Windows Vista is already compatible. Presentations given by Microsoft in 2008 focused on multi-touch support, a redesigned Windows Shell with a new taskbar, a home networking system called HomeGroup, and performance improvements. Some applications that have been included with prior releases of Microsoft Windows, including Windows Calendar, Windows Mail, Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Photo Gallery, will not be included in Windows 7; some will instead be offered separately as part of the free Windows Live Essentials suite.
Originally, a version of Windows codenamed Blackcomb was planned as the successor to Windows XP (codename Whistler) and Windows Server 2003. Major features were planned for Blackcomb, including an emphasis on searching and querying data and an advanced storage system named WinFS to enable such scenarios. However, an interim, minor release, codenamed "Longhorn" was announced for 2003, delaying the development of Blackcomb. By the middle of 2003, however, Longhorn had acquired some of the features originally intended for Blackcomb. After three major viruses exploited flaws in Windows operating systems within a short time period in 2003, Microsoft changed its development priorities, putting some of Longhorn's major development work on hold while developing new service packs for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Development of Longhorn (Windows Vista) was also "reset," or delayed, in August 2004. A number of features were cut from Longhorn.
The first external release to select Microsoft partners came in January 2008 with Milestone 1, build 6519. At PDC 2008, Microsoft demonstrated Windows 7 with its reworked taskbar. Copies of Windows 7 build 6801 were distributed out at the end of the conference, but the demonstrated taskbar was disabled in this build.
On December 27, 2008, Windows 7 Beta was leaked onto the Internet via BitTorrent. According to a performance test by ZDNet, Windows 7 Beta beat both Windows XP and Vista in several key areas, including boot and shut down time and working with files, such as loading documents. Other areas did not beat XP, including PC Pro benchmarks for typical office activities and video editing, which remain identical to Vista and slower than XP. On January 7, 2009, the 64-bit version of the Windows 7 Beta (build 7000) was leaked onto the web, with some torrents being infected with a trojan. At CES 2009, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the Windows 7 Beta, build 7000, had been made available for download to MSDN and TechNet subscribers in the format of an ISO image. The Beta was to be publicly released January 9, 2009 and Microsoft initially planned for the download to be made available to 2.5 million people on this date. However, access to the downloads was delayed due to high traffic. The download limit was also extended, initially until January 24, then again to February 10. People who did not complete downloading the beta had two extra days to complete the download. After February 12, unfinished downloads became unable to complete. Users could still obtain product keys from Microsoft to activate their copy of Windows 7 Beta which expired on August 1, 2009. The release candidate, build 7100, has been available for MSDN and TechNet subscribers and Connect Program participants since April 30 and became available to the general public on May 5, 2009. It has also been leaked onto the Internet via BitTorrent. The release candidate is available in five languages and will expire on June 1, 2010, with shutdowns every two hours starting March 1, 2010. Microsoft has stated that Windows 7 will be released to the general public on October 22, 2009. Microsoft released Windows 7 to MSDN and Technet subscribers on August 6, 2009 at 10:00am PDT. Microsoft announced that Windows 7, along with Windows Server 2008 R2 were released to manufacturing on July 22, 2009. Windows 7 RTM is build 7600.16385 which was compiled on July 13, 2009, and was declared the final RTM build after passing all Microsoft's tests internally.
Bill Gates, in an interview with Newsweek, suggested that the next version of Windows would "be more user-centric". Gates later said that Windows 7 will also focus on performance improvements. Steven Sinofsky later expanded on this point, explaining in the Engineering Windows 7 blog that the company was using a variety of new tracing tools to measure the performance of many areas of the operating system on an ongoing basis, to help locate inefficient code paths and to help prevent performance regressions.
Senior Vice President Bill Veghte stated that Windows Vista users migrating to Windows 7 would not find the kind of device compatibility issues they encountered migrating from Windows XP. Speaking about Windows 7 on October 16, 2008, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed compatibility between Vista and Windows 7, indicating that Windows 7 will be a refined version of Windows Vista.
New and changed features
Windows 7 includes a number of new features, such as advances in touch and handwriting recognition, support for virtual hard disks, improved performance on multi-core processors, improved boot performance, DirectAccess, and kernel improvements. Windows 7 adds support for systems using multiple heterogeneous graphics cards from different vendors (Heterogeneous Multi-adapter), a new version of Windows Media Center, a Gadget for Windows Media Center, improved media features, the XPS Essentials Pack and Windows PowerShell being included, and a redesigned Calculator with multiline capabilities including Programmer and Statistics modes along with unit conversion. Many new items have been added to the Control Panel, including ClearType Text Tuner, Display Color Calibration Wizard, Gadgets, Recovery, Troubleshooting, Workspaces Center, Location and Other Sensors, Credential Manager, Biometric Devices, System Icons, and Display. Windows Security Center has been renamed to Windows Action Center (Windows Health Center and Windows Solution Center in earlier builds) which encompasses both security and maintenance of the computer. The default setting for User Account Control in Windows 7 has been criticized for allowing untrusted software to be launched with elevated privileges by exploiting a trusted application. Microsoft's Windows kernel engineer Mark Russinovich acknowledged the problem, but noted that there are other vulnerabilities that do not rely on the new setting.
The taskbar has seen the biggest visual changes, where the Quick Launch toolbar has been replaced with pinning applications to the taskbar. Buttons for pinned applications are integrated with the task buttons. These buttons also enable the Jump Lists feature to allow easy access to common tasks. The revamped taskbar also allows the reordering of taskbar buttons. To the far right of the system clock is a small rectangular button that serves as the Show desktop icon. This button is part of the new feature in Windows 7 called Aero Peek. Hovering over this button makes all visible windows transparent for a quick look at the desktop. In touch-enabled displays such as touch screens, tablet PCs, etc., this button is slightly wider to accommodate being pressed with a finger. Clicking this button minimizes all windows, and clicking it a second time restores them. Additionally, there is a feature named Aero Snap, that automatically maximizes a window when it is dragged to either the top or left/right edges of the screen. This also allows users to snap documents or files on either side of the screen to compare them. When a user moves windows that are maximized, the system restores their previous state automatically. This functionality is also accomplished with keyboard shortcuts. Unlike in Windows Vista, window borders and the taskbar do not turn opaque when a window is maximized with Windows Aero applied. Instead, they remain transparent.
For developers, Windows 7 includes a new networking API with support for building SOAP-based web services in native code (as opposed to .NET-based WCF web services), new features to shorten application install times, reduced UAC prompts, simplified development of installation packages, and improved globalization support through a new Extended Linguistic Services API. At WinHEC 2008 Microsoft announced that color depths of 30-bit and 48-bit would be supported in Windows 7 along with the wide color gamut scRGB (which for HDMI 1.3 can be converted and output as xvYCC). The video modes supported in Windows 7 are 16-bit sRGB, 24-bit sRGB, 30-bit sRGB, 30-bit with extended color gamut sRGB, and 48-bit scRGB. Microsoft is also implementing better support for Solid State Drives, including the new TRIM command, and Windows 7 will be able to identify a Solid State Drive uniquely. Microsoft is also planning to support USB 3.0 in a subsequent patch, although support would not be included in the initial release due to delays in the finalization of the standard. 
Users will also be able to disable many more Windows components than was possible in Windows Vista. New additions to this list of components include Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center, Windows Search, and the Windows Gadget Platform. Windows 7 includes 13 additional sound schemes, titled Afternoon, Calligraphy, Characters, Cityscape, Delta, Festival, Garden, Heritage, Landscape, Quirky, Raga, Savanna, and Sonata. A new version of Virtual PC, Windows Virtual PC Beta is available for Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions. It allows multiple Windows environments, including Windows XP Mode, to run on the same machine, requiring the use of Intel VT-x or AMD-V. Windows XP Mode runs Windows XP in a virtual machine and redirects displayed applications running in Windows XP to the Windows 7 desktop. Furthermore Windows 7 supports the mounting of a virtual hard disk (VHD) as a normal data storage, and the bootloader delivered with Windows 7 can boot the Windows system from a VHD. The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) of Windows 7 is also enhanced to support real-time multimedia application including video playback and 3D games. That means that Direct X 10 can be used in a remote desktop environment. The three application limit will be removed from Windows 7 Starter.
A number of capabilities and certain programs that were a part of Windows Vista are no longer present or have changed, resulting in the removal of certain functionality. Some notable Windows Vista features and components have been replaced or removed in Windows 7, including the classic Start Menu user interface, Windows Ultimate Extras, InkBall, and Windows Calendar. Three applications bundled with Windows Vista — Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Mail — are not included with Windows 7, but are instead available for free in a separate package called Windows Live Essentials.
Antitrust regulatory attention
As with other Microsoft operating systems, Windows 7 is being studied by United States federal regulators who oversee the company's operations following the 2001 United States v. Microsoft settlement. According to status reports filed, the three-member panel began assessing prototypes of the new operating system in February 2008. Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research said that, "[Microsoft's] challenge for Windows 7 will be how can they continue to add features that consumers will want that also don't run afoul of regulators."
To avoid running afoul of European antitrust regulations, Microsoft had chosen to ship Windows 7 without Internet Explorer in European Union member countries. It was also announced that the upgrade versions of Windows 7 would also not be available in Europe due to the possibility of needing additional testing for how upgrades would react to the versions without Internet Explorer.
Microsoft also proposed to the European Commission allowing users to download a competing browser from a "ballot" screen instead of providing a version of Windows completely without Internet Explorer installed at all. In response to criticism involving Windows 7 E and concerns from manufacturers about possible consumer confusion if a version of Windows 7 with Internet Explorer were shipped later after one without Internet Explorer, Microsoft announced that it would scrap the separate version for Europe and ship the standard upgrade and full packages worldwide.
However, in Europe, an N version which does not come with Windows Media Player (Not with Media Player) has been released, but only for sale directly from Microsoft sales websites and select others. Again, this is believed to have been done to please EU legislators under anti-trust reasoning. As it is priced at the same as the non-N versions, it is likely that sales will be low of this version, as the similar N-versions of Vista achieved.
Figures released by Amazon.co.uk in the UK show that sales of Windows 7 in the first eight hours of its availability surpassed the demand for Windows Vista in its first 17 weeks.
Windows 7 will be available in six different editions, but only Home Premium and Professional will be available for retail sale in most countries. The other editions are focused at other markets, such as the developing world or enterprise use. Each edition of Windows 7 will include all of the capabilities and features of the edition below it. With the exception of Windows 7 Starter, all editions will support both 32-bit (IA-32) and 64-bit (x86-64) processor architectures. According to Microsoft, the features for all editions of Windows 7 will be stored on the machine, regardless of what edition is in use. Users who wish to upgrade to an edition of Windows 7 with more features can then use Windows Anytime Upgrade to purchase the upgrade, and unlock the features of those editions.
Microsoft announced Tuesday, July 21, 2009 that they will be offering a family pack of Windows 7 Home Premium (in select markets) which will allow installation on up to 3 PCs. The "Family Pack" will cost USD 149.99 in the United States.
On Friday, September 18, 2009 Microsoft said they were to offer temporary student discounts for Windows 7. The offer will be running from 1 October 2009 in the US and the United Kingdom, with similar schemes available in Canada, Australia, Korea, Mexico, France and Germany. Students with a valid .edu or .ac.uk email address can apply for either Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional, priced at $30 or £30.
Microsoft has published their minimum specifications for a system running Windows 7. Requirements for the 32-bit version are much the same as recommendations for premium editions of Vista, but the 64-bit versions are considerably higher. Microsoft has released a beta version of an upgrade advisor that scans a computer to see if it is compatible with Windows 7.
Additional requirements to use certain features: