Microsoft VP shows off Windows 7 to packed house

The Klaus Building resonated with a chant of “What’s the good word?” on Wednesday after Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president at Microsoft for Windows and Windows Live, asked the first of many rhetorical questions—in this case, calling for a “Tech welcome” at the beginning of his presentation on the upcoming release of Microsoft 7.

Sinofsky presented on both the soon-to-be released Windows 7 as well as the design and marketing process behind building software that generates $16.8 billion in sales in a single year. The presentation was held in a packed Klaus atrium, with spectators lining the back of the room and watching from the balconies above.

After the requisite explanation of the evolution of Windows from a 16-color tiled interface to the customizable and intricate screens of Windows Vista, Sinofsky explained the various market-testing methods used by Microsoft in the research and development of its upcoming release.

“The key is when you are building something like Windows, you really want to be systematic in what you put into the software. The way we used to do it was to all get together in a conference room and scream about it. We called it ‘testosterone fueled development,’ [which] was an original design strategy for Microsoft,” Sinofsky said.

When designing the windows 7 system, Microsoft used traditional methods such as product comparisons against competitors, customer experience involvement programs and individual feedback, but they also used novel user-tracking methods.

For example, when evaluating the layout of the new user interfaces, Microsoft ran tests using eye tracking, or small cameras that tracked how new users navigated a page by recording where they were looking as they accessed certain tools and features.

“As an engineer or a technology enthusiast, you always know where to go, so your eye tracking is very boring. But if you don’t really understand, if one pixel looks like another picture, then your eyes go all over the place and it becomes much more interesting,” Sinofsky said.

A demonstration of the new operating system showcased new features such as scroll-over viewing of windows on the tab bar, customizable notification areas and design “themes” which change not only the background of your desktop but also the background color of the windows and toolbar. Microsoft users can also look forward to improved window functions that will allow screens to be automatically resized just by pulling them to various points on the screen.

After a few more quickly answered rhetorical questions on program usability and the needs of the average user, Sinofsky opened the floor for questions about the system. One of the first queries was on the back-compatibility of the Windows 7 system.

“As engineers we are told to never answer a question with a blanket yes, so yes, it does [have back compatibility],” Sinofsky said. He further explained that while some minor features of the Vista system will not run in Windows 7, for the common user, the program will be completely back-compatible.

“It’s an immensely challenging environment for any business on earth right now, but one of the things that we believe is that the great technology companies really double down…. And through research and development, come out stronger. What we are trying to do is engineer the software for a billion people, but also for the next billion people, and that’s what is really exciting for us here at Microsoft,” Sinofsky said.