Microsoft has confirmed to CNET UK that it will be providing a version of Windows 7 specifically developed for netbooks and sub-notebook computers, as well as at least one version for consumers, and one for enterprise users.
The confirmation came during a one-on-one briefing at Microsoft's London offices this week. Although we can't confirm whether the 'netbook edition' of Windows 7 will be on general sale to consumers, we imagine it'll be made available only to netbook manufacturers for installation on new machines.
Microsoft also confirmed a bunch of new Windows 7 features, such as the extension of its disk-encrypting technology BitLocker to USB thumb drives. These drives can be encrypted within Windows 7, and accessed on other Windows 7 machines through My Computer by using a password.
An update for Windows Vista will be made available, allowing it to at least unencrypt and read drives secured with BitLocker on Windows 7, if not write to them itself. When asked, Microsoft couldn't confirm whether a similar update would be made available for XP.
GPS integrated; gadgets liberated from sidebar hell
In other news, we now know the new OS will integrate natively with sensory hardware within desktops and laptops, such as GPS chips and light sensors. Microsoft told us that a laptop with GPS connectivity would know where it was in the world without third-party software, and deliver location-specific information to applications that require it, such as weather updates to the weather gadget on the Windows desktop in our demo.
And that's another thing: Windows 7 will indeed no longer feature a sidebar for gadgets -- desktop gadgets will sit directly on the desktop.
We'll have a copy of the Windows 7 beta in the next day or two, so keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks for juicy Windows news. We've got to admit, all the excitement we didn't feel for Vista, we now feel for Windows 7. To get yourself in the mood, feel free to poke through our little gallery of screenshots.
12 January 2009 update: Microsoft has contacted us with the following statement:
"We are currently evaluating a variety of ways to meet the OS needs of our users. We aren’t ready to discuss the Windows 7 SKU plan at this time, but we have committed to continue the Enterprise edition we introduced in Windows Vista. We will share more information when we are further along the development path."