Croft adds, "We cleaned up the system tray as well. And we've made some other concessions for the OEMs to help with branding - all in the spirit of trying to keep a firm focus on the amount of time it takes to get to the desktop."

Microsoft is encouraging OEMs to use the Getting Started area, which appears on the Start menu with a jump list of useful tasks. In the beta, Crofts says two-thirds of users are opening Getting Started features through the jump list, which makes it an attractive area for OEMs to add tools and features to. He also predicts that some manufacturers will use the Device Stage experience to organise software, support and other options:

"I will be very surprised if at least two or three of the top OEMs don't standardise on that. Some OEMs are more invested in R&D, they like to have a strong look and feel and they were requesting it. Some are just saying 'we want to ship PCs, we're not bothered'."

He claims more OEMs will offer Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials software pre-installed, which doesn't mean setting machines to use Live Search. And some may even use a version of Windows Update to deliver updates for their own drivers and software.

Microsoft has partner events planned in April, May and June and the release candidate of Windows 7 should be out in April or May, which means we should start to see more details of exactly how well this collaboration with PC manufacturers is working and which features they'll take advantage of.

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