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In a recently released road map, Microsoft gave some hints about when to expect the next generation of Windows, currently called Windows 7.  According to the road map, there are apparently three “milestone” builds planned for this year; with the first one (called M1) currently shipping to key partners for code validation. After the milestone builds, a RTM (release to manufacturing) version is expected to appear sometime in the second half of 2009, pretty much a year or more ahead of schedule.

Obviously, one has to ask, is this a sign of Microsoft throwing in the towel on Vista, an operating system that has been met with some derision? With scores of users downgrading to XP and others avoiding upgrading altogether, it would make some sense for Microsoft to bring something new to the table as quickly as possible. But, while many will praise Microsoft for accelerating the release of the next Windows Client, others will wonder what this move will mean for those distributing Vista. Take, for example, the corporate upgrade market, which often moves slowly when it comes to adopting the latest desktop operating systems. Once they realize that another version of Windows is right around the corner (relatively speaking), will those upgrade plans come to a screeching halt?

Perhaps, those upgrade wheels can be greased by pointing out the differences between Vista and its forthcoming replacement. If the features, requirements and other elements such as the interface will be different enough than Vista, perhaps some enthusiasm can still be built for a move to Vista. The problem is that information about Windows 7 is limited at this time. The only thing we know for sure is the fact that M1 is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions and Microsoft claims that Windows 7 will be the last Windows OS  available in 32 bit.

It’s interesting that the company is even bothering with a 32-bit version at all, especially when one considers the rapid advances Windows Vista is making in the 64-bit computing market. What’s more, other Microsoft products, such as the next version of Small Business Server (code name Cougar) will only be available as a 64-bit product.

Simply put, having a 32-bit version of Windows 7 makes it a direct challenge to Vista. If we add to that the other anticipated enhancements, why would anyone want to bother with a Vista upgrade at all? Microsoft needs to release a lot more information about the plans for Windows 7, especially if the company wants to avoid damaging the sales of Vista and creating another marketing debacle.