Now that Windows Vista is finally with us, it's time for enthusiasts to start looking forward to Vienna – Microsoft's next operating system

This article appears in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor , onsale now in all good newsagents.

It all starts with vague rumblings of a cryptically codenamed operating system upgrade. Next come multiple beta versions, repeated delays, disappearing features and other indications of altered plans. Eventually, there's a real, boxed product available for people to buy.

We speak, of course, of the amazingly predictable process that results in each edition of Windows. Now that arguably the most important product in Microsoft's history has launched, you may be forgiven for thinking you'll have a few years to wait until the hype surrounding its successor starts to surface. But you'd be wrong. Vienna – the code name for the OS that will replace Vista – is already in the works. And it could be with us sooner than you'd think.

Microsoft plans to increase the frequency with which it launches desktop OSes, hoping that Vienna will be ready to roll in three years' time. And despite Vista's long development process, this might not be overly ambitious. You may have imagined that it's taken Microsoft the full five years since Windows XP's launch to get Vista ready for release, but the real development work took only around two years, according to the head of the company.

"Time is sort of a funny thing. You need to give new technologies time to incubate before you try to bring them together," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said at Vista's product launch. "Let each [technology] come to market individually and then do the integration."

Microsoft spent the first two years of its Vista-development process building a variety of new technologies and then struggled to integrate them, according to Ballmer. The third year went smoothly as Microsoft's developers focused their efforts on the Windows XP Service Pack 2, with some of that technology ultimately ending up in Vista, not XP. The bulk of what has now been released as Vista has been put together since 2004, Ballmer said. He estimates that by the end of January, Microsoft will have spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on marketing Vista and Office 2007.

However, he was quick to add that the company won't rest on its laurels. In Vienna, Microsoft will look to do more to support the major changes already under way in hardware – notably the shift from single- to multicore processors and improvements in network infrastructure.

With its next operating system, Microsoft needs to take into account the move from software to software-as-a-service or, as Ballmer said, "software plus service". Users can expect to see "a lot more service enablement".

Windows Vienna user requirements

But enough about what Ballmer wants out of Vienna – what about what users want? When the operating system ships, we're hoping it has a number of things that Windows Vista – at least in its initial form – doesn't have.

We'd like to see real interface innovation. While it's fair to say that Vista's look, feel and functionality are advances from Windows XP, they don't introduce much in the way of big ideas – or, for that matter, ones that Apple's Mac OS X hasn't sported for a version or two.

Office 2007, which is arriving at the same time as Windows Vista, proves that Microsoft can retool an interface to be both radically different and meaningfully better. Rumour has it that Vienna may have a completely new look. Please, Microsoft, get the people who were responsible for Office 2007 involved.

Furthermore, the appearance of Vista's bundled applications could do with a bit of consistency. As you'll see on page 81, sometimes Vista helpfully gives different tools similar interfaces – Windows Photo Gallery and Windows Media Player are a matched pair – but the same can't be said for many of the other applications. Overall, it's the software equivalent of a huge country made up of municipalities with varying rules and regulations about matters such as menus and help systems. Mac OS X shows far more discipline. And so should Vienna.

Online operation

We'd like to see the fruits of Microsoft's push to make its operating system work on the web. So far, Microsoft's Windows Live offerings have little in common with the OS except a name. Why can't Windows make using online storage as simple as working with a local disk? Shouldn't you be able to sync multiple copies of the OS between PCs across the net? Is there any good reason why Microsoft couldn't provide browser-based access to at least some of Windows' features? There are glimmers of such concepts in Vista, but real breakthroughs are yet to come.

Finally, there's a case for Vienna having fewer (but better) bundled applications. Given Windows' security record, the addition of Windows Defender isn't just logical, it's long overdue. But does Windows need a photo organiser or movie editor? Nothing in Photo Gallery or Movie Maker convinces us that it does – and Microsoft has a history of adding stuff, then letting it fester.

How excited are you about Windows Vista – and what's on your wish list for future versions of the operating system? Visit PC Advisor's Windows Vista forum Windows Vista forum and join the debate.

This article appears as part of our comprehensive guide to Windows Vista in the March 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents. Click here to visit our dedicated Windows Vista forum.