Microsoft's demonstrations of the touch-response goodness built into the upcoming Windows 7 operating system are "cool." But it's made me realize something else too: Windows 7 is irrelevant.
First, check out the video to see the scrolling in action—it's all gesture-based multitouch.
Now you may be thinking "sweet!" and you may be remembering our forecast of touchscreen ubiquity in the near future. But the fact is that Microsoft isn't demoing anything particularly innovative here. I'm writing this on an Apple MacBook running the latest OS X version, and though I'm using a large touchpad rather than a touchscreen, I've used at least three of those identical gestures for swift productivity while writing this piece. Apple's extensively patented much of this technology, and employed it to make the UI on the iPhone a majestically user-friendly beast. And if all the rumors of an Apple tablet PC come true, it's not hard to imagine it using even more multitouch gestures.
Essentially it seems Windows 7 multitouch is derivative, playing catchup to other systems already out there. Sure, "7" is, overall, an evolution of existing Windows tech, and a "borrowing" of other people's UI ideas, all piled together into a new OS which from all accounts is better than Windows Vista (though that's not a particularly high bar to hurdle). But have you seen anything in the new system that's impressed you with its raw innovation? Windows 7 is going to go on millions of desktop PCs, notebooks, and netbooks over the next several years not because it's innovative or amazing, but simply because Microsoft has relentless inertia developed through its years of monopolistic business.
Even Microsoft's new anti-Apple campaign highlights the vanillaness of Windows—the character in the ad thinks she's "not cool enough" to own an Apple machine, and opts for a much cheaper (and, though its not described, lower-specced machine). The ad makes no mention of the benefits of the Windows OS at all. Microsoft is portraying itself as irrelevant.
So is Windows 7 going to have the "wow!" factor of a totally new approach to a UI, like the many Minority Report-like OS's being developed, or the radical "Windows Icons Mice and Pointers" paradigm shift invented by Xerox PARC and popularized by the original Macintosh? No. As far as pushing the boundaries of operating systems goes, I'm definitely calling it an irrelevant development.
Related: The Fast Company 50 - #34 Microsoft