If there's one thing Microsoft is doing poorly right now, it's communicating about Windows 7. That's somewhat ironic given the company's announced goal last week of communicating about Windows 7. Mary Jo Foley and I discussed this problem on Windows Weekly this past week (I'll post the episode momentarily) but she examines it further in an interesting blog post today:

Confusion over exactly what MinWin is — Is it a concept? a new operating system kernel? a floor wax? a dessert topping?) — and how/whether it will be part of Windows 7 is still rampant.

The official word from Microsoft’s Windows Engineering Chief Steven Sinofsky seems to be that MinWin — the slimmed-down Windows core many expected to be at the heart of Windows 7 — is not going to be part of Windows 7.

It would be nice if Microsoft’s Windows client team would just come out with a clear statement as to what MinWin is and how it will figure with Windows 7. But it seems it’s not time to communicate that message yet… at least not according to the official (non)disclosure schedule.

My two cents for whatever it's worth is that there are two main issues here.

1. This confusion is all Microsoft's fault and they still haven't cleared things up explicitly. It was Microsoft that first revealed the existence of MinWin during a presentation last fall (Foley references this presentation in the article linked above), noting that MinWin was using "the Windows 7 source code base." And it is Microsoft that is mis-communicating what MinWin is and isn't. If, for example, MinWin isn't going to be part of Windows 7, then why would Microsoft distinguished engineer Marc Russinovich go to the trouble of allowing me to interview him at length about this technology? (Here's the resulting article.) There's been an awful lot of talk here and elsewhere about a technology that most likely is not really a feature of Windows 7.

2. None of it matters anyway since MinWin will not be part of Windows 7. It's unclear to me what the point of all this is, really. As ZD blogger Ed Bott accurately noted two months ago, the evidence suggests MinWin isn't part of Windows 7 anyway:

It’s a research project, not a product plan. They started with the Windows 7 source code base and fiddled with it to see how small they could make it and still have it run something. It might turn into a product someday, but it’s certainly not going to be in Windows 7.

The immediate goal isn’t to trim Windows 7 to something that will fit on the head of a pin. Just remove some optional components and make the whole thing smaller and more modular than Vista, just as Server 2008 is smaller and more modular than Server 2003.

Not to beat a dead horse, but that's exactly what I wrote in my original article about MinWin, way back in October 2007:

The Windows 7 version of MinWin is enhanced over the work Microsoft did with Vista and Windows 2008, but suggesting that it's completely different is disingenuous. Microsoft may argue otherwise, and certainly Russinovich has the insider's view, but the names are the same, the goals are the same, and the descriptions and functions are almost identical. I'm not saying they're exactly the same, but my guess as an outside looking in is that the MinWin work in Windows 7 is a continuation of work that started in the Longhorn project.

What this all boils down to, really, is semantics. Microsoft began work on something called MinWin several years ago. The goal was to isolate the core of Windows from its non-constituent sub-components so that the Windows OS could be componentized. That work can be seen today in Vista's image-based installation scheme and in Windows Server 2008's Server Core. And it appears to be evolving for Windows 7. From what I can see, the story hasn't changed at all.

To conclude this messy affair, I'll just say this: The inclusion or lack of inclusion of MinWin in Windows 7 won't change anything for end users, so the argument is moot. Microsoft isn't go to offer you a way to configure a tiny 10 MB version of Windows 7 that will run on a USB key. And you're not going to get an all-inclusive menu of Windows components you can remove at will. Windows 7 will be a refined version of Windows Vista. And that's fine. Just communicate that, already, Microsoft.

Whew. :)