Microsoft previews Vista, next Office

Previews of new Windows Vista graphics and a dramatic interface overhaul for Microsoft Office are on the agenda for Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ keynote Tuesday morning at a developer conference in Los Angeles.

Vista highlights include new ways to manage open windows, and enhancements to the interface for file directories and more. The first public peek at Office 12, meanwhile, may generate even more excitement since it is so different in appearance from previous versions.

Thousands who make their living creating Windows applications and Office add-ons are expected to attend Gates’ speech kicking off the three-day Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. The event is to independent software vendors (Microsoft executive refer to them as ISVs) what WinHEC last spring was to hardware engineers — a chance to familiarize themselves with both the coming generation of core Microsoft products that their own products will depend on, and the software development tools they’ll use to create them.

Windows Vista beta due

Microsoft will give PDC attendees the latest build of Windows Vista — the first official update since the official beta release in late July of the operating system formerly code-named Longhorn. Build 5219 (labeled Beta 2 because it’s part of the development tree leading to Beta 2’s official release) basically refines the interface further: For example, pop-up balloons in the Aero system tray at the lower right of the screen now slowly fade away in Cheshire Cat style, becoming transparent before they disappear completely.

Microsoft has also implemented another previously promised bit of eye candy: File folders that contain documents now appear as slightly open manila folders with stacked thumbnail images of the documents they contain.

Gates is expected to share several more new features, including new ways to view and manage currently open windows. You’ll be able to flip through them or view them in 3-D Rolodex-style. The sidebar shown in very early pre-beta releases, but not included in Beta 1, is making a comeback. This is a strip running along the right-hand side of the screen that will display “widgets” or “gadgets” that are typically applets with information that users might like to have handy, but which must be constantly and automatically updated, such as stock tickers or a clock.

Browser, Office enhanced

Internet Explorer 7 is expected to get some new tricks as well, including a “quick tabs” feature that lets you quickly open several links on a page as tabs, and a zoom feature for up-close viewing.

Also on the conference agenda is a discussion of likely Windows Vista editions, which according to a published report on Paul Thurrott’s WinSupersite will break down into two main families — Home and Business — each including several variations. Microsoft officials say these are not set in stone, however.

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