Bill Gates may be about to retire from the day to day activities of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) , the company he co-founded 33 years ago, but he's still a card carrying tech visionary and since he's still the chairman of the board and the largest stockholder, he can spout off about new products and technologies as much as he wants.
After all, what are they going to do? Fire him?
That has been the case a couple of times recently when Gates pulled the curtain aside slightly to let his audiences see what's coming next – and that is Windows 7. The only problem was that he didn't show much leg above the knees.
"We're hard at work … on the next version, which we call Windows 7. I'm very excited about the work being done there ... to be lower power, take less memory, be more efficient, and have lots more connections up to the mobile phone," Gates told an audience in Tokyo attending the Windows Digital Lifestyle Conference, according to a transcript of the speech.
That is, Windows 7, will use less electricity more effectively, not be as much of a resource hog as Vista, and will be more closely integrated with mobile phones, including Microsoft's own Windows Mobile system, of course.
Analysts who watch the company were relatively ho-hum about Gates' latest Windows 7 pronouncements.
"I know he's on the Bill Gates farewell tour, but I'm not sure he added much [new information]," Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, Cherry said he's heard similar statements before, particularly about power management – about Vista.
"After they promised and promised that Vista got power management right, I don't think they did," Cherry added.
Additionally, if you interpret other recent Gates statements the same way some media did, you may be getting in line for Windows 7 a year or two too early.
Gates sent technology observers and pundits into a tizzy in early April when he reportedly stated that Windows 7 would be out in the next year or so. Neither Gates, nor Microsoft, clarified whether he was talking about the beginning of alpha or beta testing, or whether he meant actually releasing Windows 7 on some kind of accelerated schedule.
Gates' statement, on the surface, put the schedule for the next version of Windows seemingly much earlier than Microsoft officials have consistently said and continue to say, which is three years from the commercial release of Windows Vista. That would put it in at least the first quarter of 2010 -- not next year – since Vista launched on January 30, 2007.
Apparently, no one wants to say that Bill spoke out of school or, perish the thought, incorrectly. However, company spokespersons aren't commenting beyond sticking with the official date, and are also not responding to questions about Gates' statements in Tokyo. Even if Gates is retiring, contradicting the chairman and co-founder of the biggest software company is probably not a smart career move.
Earlier in his career, particularly when he was still CEO, Gates, in fact, used to routinely promise release dates for products that didn't match up with his own planners' schedules. As CEO, however, Gates could – and often did – say what suited him at the moment.
Why such statements draw so much attention, however, is not just the person speaking. It also has to do with the fact that many IT decision makers are still pondering whether or not to move to Vista or skip it and wait for Windows 7. Some analysts think that would be a mistake, given how far away Windows 7 is from release and how out of date enterprise users' systems will be by then if they sit Vista out.
As to whether corporate customers should skip Vista, both analysts said that companies currently running XP may be harming themselves if they skip it. Much of those internal debates are based around application compatibility issues. However, waiting only makes matters worse, not better, in many instances.
"The leap from XP to Vista is a pretty big jump, but the leap from XP to Windows 7 will be even harder," Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies,
"The Windows 7 code base is really Vista, so people hoping for an entirely new operating system can forget it," Kay added.