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What we just learned about Windows 7

In his first interview discussing the next Windows, engineering head Steven Sinofsky didn't exactly tell all, though a few things are clearer.'s Ina Fried tries to make sense of things.

For those who want the full interview with Windows engineering head Steven Sinofsky, I've posted a nearly complete transcript. For those who want the abridged version, along with some quick analysis, keep reading.

So what exactly did Steven Sinofsky reveal about Windows 7. I'd boil it down to three things:

1. Timing

Despite what Bill Gates said in Miami, Windows 7 is timed to come out by the end of January 2010, not "in the next year or so." Here's what Sinofsky, Windows engineering head, had to say on the matter.

"The timing of it depends a lot on what we wanted to achieve, and you've certainly heard us, and we've been very clear, and will continue to say that the next release of Windows, Windows 7, is about three years after the general availability of Windows Vista, and we're committed to that, and we've signed up publicly to do that," he said in our interview.

2. Kernel

Windows 7 is an evolutionary improvement to the kernel in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, not a wholly new MinWin kernel that has been under development.

"We're very clear that drivers and software that work on Windows Vista are going to work really well on Windows 7; in fact, they'll work the same," Sinofsky said. "We're going to not introduce additional compatibilities, particularly in the driver model. Windows Vista was about improving those things. We are going to build on the success and the strength of the Windows Server 2008 kernel, and that has all of this work that you've been talking about. The key there is that the kernel in Windows Server '08 is an evolution of the kernel in Windows Vista, and then Windows 7 will be a further evolution of that kernel as well."

3. Features

OK. we didn't learn a lot here. As Microsoft had previously indicated, Windows 7 will be available in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. Sinofsky did suggest that Windows 7 will build on the architectural changes in Vista, suggesting that many of the changes may be the kind of features that are available out of the box, as opposed the kind that take years as developers build them into their products.

"There will be a lot of features in Windows 7," Sinofsky said. "It's a major release. I talked about the kernel and driver compatibility and (application) compatibility, but there is a lot more for us to talk about. We'll certainly be in touch."

The other thing that Sinofsky talked about at length is his approach to revealing information. He explained why things have been so quiet and (my read here) why we will continue to hear less about Windows 7 early on than we did about Vista or Windows XP.

Microsoft clearly feels it was burned with saying too much about "Longhorn" early on in development. It's not just the bad press, Sinofsky said. By announcing plans and then changing them, he said that developers just decided to wait until Vista finally shipped to start taking it seriously. That's a bad thing, particularly when many of Vista's changes were the under-the-hood kind that required developer support to make them pay off.

That's not to say we won't hear anything until it hits the beta stage. In fact, from what I understand, we might hear a little bit more as soon as Tuesday night, when Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer speak at the D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif.

Click here for full coverage of the D: All Things Digital conference.