Microsoft has submitted the follow-up to Windows Vista to a US anti-trust committee, with some analysts and users already eagerly anticipating a move forward from the software giant's strife-torn new operating system.

The so-called Technical Committee (TC) will check whether the operating system, code-named Windows 7, meets the terms of the company's agreement with the US government and will "conduct middleware-related tests on future builds" of the software.

The move was revealed in papers filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, as part of regular status reports aimed at tracking Microsoft's compliance with a 2002 US anti-trust settlement. That requires the company to ensure its own applications do not have an unfair advantage over competitive software that runs on Windows. It also insists Microsoft make sure its software can work well with third-party applications.

Lack of compliance in a 2004 European Union anti-trust case has cost Microsoft nearly US$2.6 billion.

Those on the TC so far are the only ones privy to what Windows 7 will look like when released late 2009 or early 2010. The only hint so far has been into Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) which was unveiled at MIX 08. That technology that likely will be a part of the Vista follow-up, though Microsoft has not linked the two products yet.

However, analysts warn against expecting Windows 7 to be a blockbuster release, given the fallout Microsoft is still dealing with over Windows Vista.

Recent court papers in a class-action suit over Microsoft's "Vista Capable" sticker programme revealed that even Microsoft executives struggled with problems in Vista after its release.

Therefore, Mike Cherry from research group Directions on Microsoft believes, Microsoft will probably keep the bells and whistles on Windows 7 to a minimum so they can deliver "something reasonable they can complete by a reasonable date ... Their goal will be to try to put Vista behind them," he said.

Because of its compatibility problems and hardware requirements, Microsoft is still struggling to inspire businesses to move from XP to Vista. Some business users have even suggested that companies may skip Vista altogether and hold on to Windows XP for a little longer so they can migrate from that to Windows 7.

On the consumer side, Microsoft already had to extend the length of time it would allow OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and retail outlets to sell XP-based PCs by five months. The deadline for retailers and OEMs is now June 30, but that may be extended, as chip maker Intel expects low-cost desktops and notebooks running its Atom processors to hit the market in the third quarter.

Given Vista's hardware requirements, those computers presumably will run XP, though Microsoft maintains it is committed to the June deadline to take the OS off the market.

Cherry suggested that Microsoft might serve itself well by making Windows 7 a stable release for business users by using the same code base as the recently released Windows Server 2008. He said Microsoft's mistake with Vista was to try to serve consumers and business customers with a flashy release that added a host of multimedia functionality instead of taking into consideration practical concerns that would affect performance and compatibility.

"It would seem to me that what we really need [is] for a business edition to be built off of that server code, so it would look much less fancy than Vista, much more austere with not a lot of wasted functionality," he said.