Windows 7 is only 10 months old, but it's never too early to glance on down the road at Windows 8.
Microsoft is keeping a tight lid on any information about "Windows 8." But back in June, leaked slides on the Web indicate that, with its next client OS, Microsoft will push for near-instant start-up times, integrated facial recognition technologies, support for USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, compatibility across different devices through the cloud, and simpler streaming of movies and TV shows to any screen.
It's clear that Microsoft intends to cover the increasingly diverse hardware landscape with Windows 8.
Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm, has some ideas of its own for the next version of Windows.
In an as-yet-unpublished report, Directions on Microsoft Research Vice President Michael Cherry compiles a Windows 8 wish list consisting of faster start-up times, a timely release, coherent error messages and more.
Here are six features Cherry would like to see in Windows 8.
Remove All Annoyances
One Windows 7 feature that gets under Cherry's skin is the "Green Bar of Death" that appears when copying a large number of small files from one place to another. To fix file copying, Cherry suggests the Windows team just make it faster. In addition, if Windows cannot target how long the copy will take, don't bother giving an estimate, pleads Cherry.
"I really hate seeing that a copy will take 13 minutes, no four hours, no 25 minutes, etc., etc."
Another annoyance? Features such as "map a network drive", "uninstall or change a program" or "burn to DVD" are buried or keep getting moved around from one Windows version to the next.
"There are too many ways to get to these features," says Cherry. "In Windows 8, Microsoft should highlight the one with the fewest steps and make it more obvious."
Release It On Time
"An important feature I would like to see is simply a timely release of the next version," writes Cherry. This could be a challenge, he notes, because too much discussion of Windows 8 could negatively affect Windows 7 adoption.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]
"Windows 7 is a pretty good piece of work and is actually being purchased and deployed by consumers and organizations," writes Cherry. "But there are still these nagging doubts about the Windows team's ability to deliver successive high-quality new versions of the client OS on a regular, predictable schedule."
Expect Microsoft to be light on details about Windows 8 development to give Windows 7 adoption some breathing room, writes Cherry.
"I would not take a bet against [Windows chief] Steven Sinofsky's ability to release a product on time, but in order to not hurt Windows 7 adoption, the normally secretive Sinofsky will hold his cards even closer to his chest on Windows 8."
Windows 8 would be generally available in October of 2012 if Microsoft stays on a three-year schedule.
Use Roles in Windows 8
When installing Windows Server, the base operating system is installed first and then an administrator can select the "role" the server will play. For example, an admin can choose the Web role, which installs features such as the Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server, or the Hyper-V role, which installs Microsoft's hypervisor. Multiple roles can be installed on a server.
The client OS should have roles too, writes Cherry, because they make "installation fast and easy and reduce the OS surface area, which can reduce security threats and maintenance such as patching."
Implementing roles into the client OS should be easy given its high-degree of componentization, writes Cherry, adding that possible client OS roles could be e-mail and Web browsing, student, business desktop, business mobile and gamer.
"An interesting side effect of adding roles might be faster start-up times," writes Cherry. "If a person had a small netbook, and only installed the e-mail and Web browsing role, the OS might be able to start faster, because it only has to load the components for that role, and it doesn't have to install other components for features that are not needed."
Integrate Windows Phone 7 UI
The user interface for Windows Phone 7, internally called "Metro," incorporates capacitive touch screens and a new feature called "Tiles" that work as visual shortcuts for an application or its content. Users can pin any Tile they want to the phone's Start page.
Incorporating the "Metro" Shell into Windows 8 would be extra work for IT (organizations don't want to retrain users for UI changes), but would help tie future versions of Windows Phone 7 and Windows together, writes Cherry. Users could then choose between the Windows Phone 7 "Metro" interface and the classic Windows 8 desktop interface.
The Metro shell would also "begin the process of making the Windows client more viable as a tablet with a UI that can better handle touch rather than relying on a mouse or a stylus for navigation," writes Cherry.
Meaningful Error Messages
Windows error messages are often cryptic, showing hexadecimal error code such as 0xe0000100. In Windows 8, Cherry calls for error messages that make sense to the common user.
"You end up having to put code in a search engine to find out what the problem is," says Cherry.
"If you can't explain in an error message what went wrong and clearly indicate what to do about it, then you shouldn't have an error message."
More Powerful Power Management
Faster start-up times for Windows are on nearly everyone's wish list, and Windows 8 is no exception. It also "needs to sleep, hibernate and wake up quickly and reliably, writes Cherry.
Cherry defines "start-up time" as the time between turning on the power to a machine that was stopped until you actually start performing useful work.
"On my Dell Precision T3400 with Windows 7 64-bit & after pushing the power button it is eight seconds until the BIOS has started and Windows 7 begins to load," writes Cherry.
"At approximately the 15-second mark the 'Starting Windows' message and animation starts. At the 54-second mark, the Windows logon appears, and after logging on there is a 41-second period where all I can really do is watch the 'donut' cursor. After one minute and 50 seconds Outlook can be started, and mail can be sent and received with an Exchange server at the two minute 23 second mark. It takes 2.5 minutes to start Windows 7."
Cherry calls for more speed and accuses Microsoft of trying to convince users that continually "hibernating" their system is the answer to faster start-up. This is an illusion, he writes, and warns that "hibernate" has its own set of problems such as occasionally preventing network cards from resuming correctly.
Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.