Will Microsoft Deliver The 'Wow' In Windows 7?

Tuesday evening at The Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif., Microsoft announced that the next version of Windows, code named Windows 7, will include support for a multi-touch user interface technology similar to that which powers Apple's iPhone.

With Windows Vista, Microsoft expected the 'wow' of the Aero Glass interface to get XP users to switch to Vista, but for a variety of reasons, that didn't happen. So now that Microsoft is talking about multi-touch in Windows 7, some solution providers wonder if Microsoft is once again putting too many eggs in the user interface basket.

"Microsoft made huge strides with shadow copy in Vista and by building true images backup into the OS, but Aero does absolutely zero for me in terms of adding value," said Brian Williams, president of Advantech NW, a Gresham, Ore.-based solution provider.

When Microsoft launches Windows 7 in late 2009, it'll include multi-touch powered tools for editing and arranging digital photos, as well as interactive mapping applications similar to the Concierge offering developed by Microsoft's Surface team. However, the big question Microsoft's channel partners are asking is how businesses will be able to take advantage of multi-touch.

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"With multi-touch, there has to be some conceptual sense of practicality from a business perspective, and right now, I can't think of what that would be," said Williams.

At the D: All Things Digital event, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said the expansion of user interfaces beyond the keyboard will have a far reaching impact on computing. "In the next few years, the roles of speech, gesture, vision, ink, all of those will become huge. For the person at home and the person at work, that interaction will change dramatically," Gates said.

However, Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider, doesn't think multi-touch will see widespread adoption among business users. "I don't think multi-touch will do anything to erase the bad memories of Vista, although it might be a helpful feature for Tablet PCs," Fisher said.

Ron Perkes, vice president of product marketing at Tangent, a Burlingame, Calif.-based system builder that sells a variety of touch-enabled products, says he's seeing rising customer interest in multi-touch technology as a result of products like the iPhone and Surface.

Vista includes support for Pen Flicks, a touch screen technology which lets users navigate pages and change data using on a stylus. The problem, according to Perkes, is that many Vista users aren't aware of the feature because it's buried under several layers of menus, and that's something he expects Microsoft to address in Windows 7.

But even if multi-touch catapults Windows 7 to market success, Microsoft still needs to focus on improving other, more fundamental aspects of the OS, says Steve Bohman, vice president of operations at Columbus Micro, a Columbus, Ohio-based system builder.

"I'm not sure Microsoft is really going to deliver on what customers are actually demanding, which is a secure, stable OS that works without getting in their way," Bohman said.