Bill Veghte, the senior vice president of the Windows business put it this way in a speech to investors on Wednesday:
"It's a minor release when it comes to incompatibilities," he said, adding that most applications and hardware that worked with Vista should work just fine in Windows 7. At the same time, Veghte tried to make the case that Windows 7 will nonetheless be a significant step forward.
"There are plenty of great things in there that make it much more significant than a service pack," Veghte said. In addition to improving some of the annoyances of past releases, such as slow boot time, Veghte pointed to new features that make it easier to connect to both home and business networks.
"In Windows 7 there's a capability called Direct Access," Veghte said, that allows users to more easily connect to their corporate network. "You no longer have to VPN in," he said.
Windows 7 also adds an improved taskbar for managing multiple windows as well as support for multitouch--assuming one buys a touch-screen computer. But it is clear that one of Microsoft's biggest challenges with Windows 7 will be to convince users that it is an important upgrade.
One indication of just how neatly Microsoft is trying to thread this needle is the fact that the server unit is saying its version of Windows 7 will be a minor release. The product that had been code-named "Windows 7 Server" is getting the designation Windows Server 2008 R2. The "R2" designation has in the past been used for very minor updates to Microsoft products.
Veghte was asked about things like how many versions of Windows 7 there will be and about pricing, but offered no new detail there. The company released a pre-beta version of Windows 7 for developers at two conferences earlier this year, with a broader beta scheduled for early next year, followed by a release candidate. There are some indications that January may be the timing for the beta.
As for the final release, Microsoft's internal goal has been to get it out next year, although its public target has been for release within three years of Vista's January 2007 mainstream launch. Veghte appeared to give even more wiggle room on Wednesday, though, saying its goal was a release to manufacturing (as opposed to a formal launch) by January 2010.
Note: The dates in the last paragraph were off by a year when I first posted but have since been corrected.