Over the past year or so, I've written a lot about whether Windows 7 is a major or minor OS release. Microsoft, of course, has claimed that it is a major release, if only for the many user experience enhancements it's made. I've argued that it is, in many ways, a minor release, since the hardware and software compatibility models aren't changing and because Windows 7 is quite clearly Windows Vista 1.5 from a technical standpoint.

So it's cute to have opinions about stuff, but real world experience always beats out pontification. I got my first taste of the extent of the changes in Windows 7 when I started my Windows 7 Feature Focus series last November, and identified almost 60 major feature changes in the OS. Since then, I've documented over 10 of them, and I hope to document the rest before Microsoft ships Windows 7. But this is a big list, and if Apple were marketing it, they could easily turn it into over 300 features.

My bigger comeuppance, so to speak, came with the revision to my Windows Secrets book. The new one, imaginatively titled Windows 7 Secrets, and coauthored by Rafael Rivera, will hopefully ship around the same time as the OS and should be as long (or longer) than its predecessor, Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition (about 1,000 pages). I've been writing books for over 15 years, and while I've never been great about keeping to a schedule, this one is already a mess.

The reasons are two-fold. First, there are far more changes in this release than I imagined, which is silly when you consider that I write about Windows 7 virtually every day and have, as noted above, already listed and described about 60 major functional changes. Second, after months of barely-changing builds, Windows 7, suddenly, and unexpectedly, is visibly changing from build-to-build. No, Microsoft isn't making any earth-shattering changes. But they're moving UI elements around. Changing icons and wallpapers. Silently removing and then re-adding features (like Device Stage). All of a sudden, this thing is actually acting like a real Windows beta. It's like the slumbering giant has woken up.

This isn't a big deal for most people, of course. But when you're trying to document the OS, and sign off on finished chapters months before Windows 7 is finalized, it makes for a difficult life. But this difficultly has brought with it a moment of clarity.

Windows 7 is a major release of Windows.

I know this because I am feeling the pain of documenting the changes, both between it and Windows Vista, and between it and Windows XP. I know this because things are suddenly changing again from build-to-build. And because I am now dreading the next 3-4 months, during which time I need to somehow deliver a book about an OS that I'm suddenly not so sure I understand fully enough.

There's a side issue here, of course. And that is the elephant in the room, for me at least: My insistence that Microsoft has eschewed feedback from the earliest days of Windows 7 development and created this thing inside of a cone of Apple-like secrecy. There is no doubt--and Microsoft admits to this, even promotes it--that Windows 7 is being developed in a completely different way than its predecessors. But whether by design or happenstance, it does appear that Microsoft is opening the kimono, a little bit at a time, to feedback, finally. And even though it's coming at a pretty late stage in the game, I do think that the changes I've seen over several post-Beta builds do suggest a subtle warming to external feedback. I should return the favor and admit that I'm seeing it, I think.

So I'm excited and a bit scared by Windows 7. Yeah, I get it, its Windows Vista done right. But it's amazing how much had to change for that to be the case.