At a briefing in its London office today, Microsoft explained some of the new features to look forward to the next version of its operating system, Windows 7. So what do we have to look forward to?

Innovation and exciting new ways to interact with a computer are just two of the things not on the agenda. Before we look at five of the ‘new' features, the news for existing Vista users is that all your programs and devices are said to work just the same under Windows 7 as they do under Vista. I think this was meant to be a reassurance.

So, five additions. And five subtractions too, in the name of streamlining the operating system and to allow more frequent updates to certain apps than in the traditional three-year OS update cycle.

First there's the a new touchscreen interface, allowing users to interact with the computer on a more intuitive level, and opening up new appliances where a keyboard and mouse are not appropriate. This mandates a touchscreen panel or computer, of course, perhaps in the vein of HP's TouchSmart all-in-one, which currently has a more touchy-feely interface skin built over Vista.

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Second are new ways to work with taskbar, with larger previews of minimised windows, and the ability to see a stack of windows under one icon. A preview mode here sounds suspiciously like Apple's QuickLook facility, enabling you to look into files before they're even opened. You can also store favourite fles as shortcuts in the Dock, I mean, taskbar.

Home networking will get a refresh as Home Group so that devices on a local network can see and talk to each other easier, with less user interaction required to setup network addresses, etc. Perhaps this leaf has been taken from Apple's book on Bonjour, the technology formerly known as Rendezvous, which makes finding a sending files to a new local printer, for example, a breeze.

Extending the BitLocker technology currently only found on Microsft's costliest Ultimate version of Vista, Windows 7 will allow the encryption of USB memory sticks. Since the storage of swathes of data on such devices is becoming more popular, this BitLocker-To-Go is a welcome addition, and you won't necessarily be locked into Windows 7 to use this feature: while encryption can only be setup on the new OS, we're told that XP and Vista users will be able to read such encrypted volumes too. Assuming they remember the password of course.

And the fifth addition is Device Stage, an app that provides a common interface to keep hardware devices synchronised. How much this feature will be an homage to another Apple program, iSync, remains to be seen.

On the subtraction side are five Microsoft apps that currently install with the main OS, but in future will be bundled separately under the umbrella of Live Essentials. These are Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Contacts and Calendar.

More juicy news on how many myriad version will be marketed to users, such as Basic, Home Premium, Business or Ultimate, is currently off the radar. As is news on whether there will continue to be separate 32- and 64-bit versions.

And for people who are getting used to the idea of a lightweight portable good enough for most common tasks - aka, the netbook - the burning question must be: will Windows 7 work on a low-power portable, or will MS addicts be required to use ol' standby Windows XP?

‘We are looking at supporting a number of devices with Windows 7.'

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