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Windows 7 takes center 'stage'

Microsoft focuses on a feature called "device stage" that makes it easier to tweak settings for add-ons. Also, company shows off support for sensors and touch.

Correction, 10:33 a.m. PST: This story initially misstated when a Windows 7 feature-complete beta will be available. It is early 2009.

LOS ANGELES--Choice was the watchword in the Windows 7 discussion Wednesday, as Microsoft aimed to highlight what it sees as its chief advantage over rival Apple.

Steven Sinofsky, sporting a bit of a Steve Jobs look, shows off Windows 7 at the WinHEC 2008 conference in Los Angeles. Ina Fried/CNET News

"A key part of Windows 7 is to enable a full spectrum of choices," senior vice president Steven Sinofsky said in a speech at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.

While the new Windows will enable high-end machines with multitouch, it will also work on low-end machines. While Vista has largely been absent in the fast-growing Netbook category, Windows 7 is aimed to work well on such low-end devices--a number of which are on display at WinHEC.

Among the machines Microsoft showed was an Eee PC with a 1GB hard drive and a 16GB solid-state drive, which the software maker said could run Windows 7 with "room to spare."

For hardware makers, Microsoft has a feature called "device stage" that lets them offer up things like manuals, links to services, and access to content stored on the device in one place.

On stage, Microsoft showed a Nokia phone hooked up to Windows 7, automatically making available all the content on the device.

The company also said it will support a number of additional audio and video formats out of the box, including Divx, H.264 and unprotected AAC.

Windows 7 also has integrated support for sensors, such as light sensors, accelerometers or GPS, or even more exotic kinds of input. For example, Microsoft showed a ThinkPad with a spectrophotometer to help handle color calibration.

Sinofsky also noted that even though Microsoft has put a lot of focus on touch, it is not abandoning its Tablet PC work. Ray Ozzie last week told TechFlash that touch can be mainstream, while Tablet PC was "truly niche," a description that apparently irked the Tablet PC enthusiast crowd.

As for when folks will actually get their hands on 7, Microsoft didn't offer new details, beyond saying a feature-complete beta will be available in early 2009.

Sinofsky did mention a "release candidate to RTM phase," suggesting that Microsoft is only planning a single beta.

Click here for more news on Windows 7.