Ralph Musgrove has had a glimpse of Windows 7 and he likes what he sees.

Musgrove is executive vice president at Concord Technologies, a 40-person Seattle, Wash., developer of Internet-based fax services for mid-sized and large companies. As a Microsoft technology partner, Musgrove has previewed some features of Windows 7, the program that will eventually replace the often maligned Vista operating system software.

Microsoft officials took the wraps off Vista’s successor at an October 2008 developers’ conference and has meted out additional details in the months that followed. Exactly when a finished version of Windows 7 will debut hasn’t been announced. Microsoft officials have publicly stated they expected to release a beta version of the software sometime in 2009 and a formal launch might come the following year.

Musgrove can’t reveal everything he knows about Windows 7 due to non-disclosure agreements he has with Microsoft. But he can say that if the current pre-beta version of the operating system doesn’t change dramatically, current Vista users should be pleased with at least some of the upgrades, including a new taskbar and improved user interface. The new program should also appeal to people who access the Internet on devices that aren’t traditional computers, Musgrove says. As with many other established software programs, upgrades to the operating system is “more about usability than (changing) the plumbing in the background,” he says.

No more security alarms

For starters, a lot of the security features that Vista users found so annoying have been minimized. “You used to get a lot of ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ messages, which was great for my friends who don’t know much about computers but were a nuisance for people like me,” Musgrove says. Anti-virus programs “wouldn’t run without them so you couldn’t turn them off. In Windows 7, it’s dramatically smoother.”

Windows devotees will also notice other improvements to the program’s user interface that account for more people logging on from something other than a desktop PC with a keyboard and mouse, Musgrove says. For example, Windows 7’s voice recognition features are better, he says, “and by the time it gets to beta it should be way more apparent.”

Underneath the interface, some components and subroutines will change but many will remain the same, Musgrove says. A lot of Vista’s existing core application programming interfaces, or APIs, will be ported over to Windows 7 “simply to make the product compatible,” Musgrove says. “You can’t expect the entire universe to change their software just because you changed the plumbing.”

According to Microsoft spokesman Joel Steinfeld , other Windows 7 highlights, include:

  • Touch screen support that lets people zoom in or out by moving their fingers together or apart, and touch-sensitive controls for the Start menu, taskbar and Internet Explorer.
  • A new taskbar with bigger icons that are easier to open on a touch screen, as well as open windows that appear as graphic thumbnail and expand to a full-screen preview when a user hovers their mouse over them.
  • Jump lists that make it easier to find frequently used files
  • Controls that automatically identify and connect devices on a small office or home network that are running on the operating system
  • A feature called Device Stage that lets users of smart phones, MP3 players, cameras and other portable devices see the status of the gadgets and run common tasks from a single window.

SIDEBAR: Windows 7 Resources

To keep up with Windows 7 developments, check in with these Windows 7 blogs and resources:

The official Microsoft Windows 7 Website

Windows Developer Center -- Everything there is to know about developing for Windows, including video tutorials, downloads, and whitepapers.

Windows 7 developers blog -- More Windows 7 code talk.

Springboard Series: The Resource for Windows Desktop IT Professionals -- A Microsoft-sponsored blog for  developers that has podcasts and other regular features.