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1/6/2011
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What Windows 7 Is Still Missing

Microsoft's latest operating system has been well received, but a lot of important features, including system restore and automatic updating of third-party software and drivers, didn't make the cut.

Top Features Absent From Windows 7
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Top Features Absent From Windows 7

Both of these programs also have shortcomings. They can only update applications that are registered with them. They also don't create much of an infrastructure that other app authors can hook into -- they're just one application among many others, with minimal standing. A single, unified software-update subsystem that any manufacturer could hook into would be a big timesaver for both software makers and end users.

The brunt of the work would fall to Microsoft first, though. They'd have to provide an API that is rich enough to hook into in the first place. They may well be working on such a thing for the next iteration of Windows, since it ostensibly wouldn't be that difficult to extend the existing Microsoft Update mechanism to allow third parties to make use of it.

Ideally, though, they should have been working on such a thing back in the XP days and encouraging software makers to take advantage of it, much as they told the same folks (not always very effectively) how to write applications that could run well in limited-user contexts and thus play well by default with protection mechanisms like user account control (UAC). Even if such a thing could be introduced into Windows 7 through a service pack -- which doesn't seem likely at this point -- something that major would take software makers at least one to two revisions of their own product to use the technology natively.

One other possibility is that Microsoft is planning to leapfrog over the whole issue by using virtualization -- by simply making applications and their attendant data into mini-virtual appliances that are handled by the OS in a high-level way. The application never touches the system directly, is heavily self-contained, and both the code and the data associated with it can be quarantined or jettisoned on a moment's notice. This complements Microsoft's talk of "the desktop as a service," where the user experience -- including installed apps -- is just one element among many that have been virtualized. But that's a whole OS upgrade away, at the very least.

Proper Touch Support

One major omission from Windows 7 was proper support for tablet devices. It's not like the support is entirely missing; touchscreen displays do work in 7. What's not there are the user interface (UI) behaviors that make it possible to use Windows 7 full time with a touchscreen.

This omission can probably be attributed to Windows 7's release schedule. The OS came out long before the current spate of touchscreen machines -- spurred in turn by the release of the iPad -- hit the market. Consequently, there wasn't as much pre-emptive work done to support such devices, and before the iPad came along it was harder to make a case for supporting them in the broadest possible way.

But now there's far less of an excuse. With tablet sales on the rise (and eating into the sales of other PC form factors), Microsoft owes it to users to release a truly useful touchscreen / gestural input system as a side-band release that can be applied to Windows 7. Odds are it will be something integrated completely with Windows 8, but even a basic version of something, offered soon (within, say, the next six months), is better than nothing now.

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