While Steve Ballmer was giving his blockbusting Windows 7 keynote at CES, we grabbed an opportunity to catch up with John Curran, Windows head honcho at Microsoft UK. Now that it's possible to download Microsoft's latest operating system, detailed analysis of its strengths, new features and weaknesses abound.

But above and beyond that, how is Microsoft positioning Windows 7 in the general scheme of things, with both Vista and XP still extant?

Windows 7: a quick starter?

Firstly, Curran is a tiny bit coy about when Windows 7 will be on general sale – perhaps mindful of the extended period in which Vista was in beta; "There's no change from what we've been disclosing since we released Windows Vista, which is that within three years of the launch of Vista, we would release Windows 7.

We still feel we're on a trajectory to hit that particular timeline." Maybe the protracted launch of Vista creates an illusion, but Windows 7 seems to have come along surprisingly quickly. Curran disagrees: "Essentially, we're right on what would be our normal schedule, We intend to release a new operating system about once every three years – historically, that's what we've done – look at Windows 95, then 98, then Windows XP in 2001."

Curran's big message is that Windows 7 enters a computing world which has radically changed in recent years, and has been much more carefully designed for that world: "When XP came out, it was optimised for PCs and it was optimised for packet software – that's the world it was in.

'The paradigm has fundamentally changed'

With Windows Vista, and now with Windows 7, that paradigm has fundamentally changed. Both operating systems have been designed and optimised for a world where it's about software and services.

The cloud is important – it's about reaching out to the web and being always on, as well as compatibility. Making those experiences richer is important. And then, on the hardware side, obviously you want great PCs and great PC form-factors, but you also want it tied into that broad array of devices that are now out there. The sheer growth of the whole digital lifestyle and the connection point back into the PC is critical."

That, slightly convoluted, statement is reflected by the Windows 7 features he selects as key. He kicks off by highlighting the support for multi-touch, then continues with: "One of the things that people will see when they first interact with Windows 7 is that we've streamlined and simplified the user interface, and it's optimised to allow people to take advantage of all the things that they do on a normal basis.

Such as integrated searching from the Taskbar. The Taskbar is context-specific: so I can launch straight from the Taskbar, rather than having to fire up the application."

Devicestage and Homegroup

He also mentions Devicestage, which; "Is one common user interface that lets people manage all their peripherals and device that connect in," and Homegroup: "Windows 7 really looks at people's whole digital life and how everything is connected together. Take Homegroup, which is basically your home networking."

"It brings all of these devices together in a simple way, so that you can easily connect all of them, share across all of them and use your media across them. If you've got your home PC, your Netbook and so on, all containing different music, photos and so on, when you search a Library, you're not just looking at all your folders on your PC, but across all the devices on your Homegroup."

And he talks up the operating system's support for the consumer electronics control interface DLNA 1.5: "I'll be able to, say, take my music playlist and play it at a click of a button on my home stereo. So I can play to a TV if it's video, or a stereo if it's DLNA-compliant. If I were to go out and buy, say, a new stereo receiver today, I would make sure it's DLNA 1.5-compliant."