Part 1 of this four-part series details the steps to acquire and install the beta edition of Windows 7. Part 2 takes a closer look at the OS’s new features. Part 3 assesses the pros and cons of Windows 7 based on several weeks of experience using it. Part 4 considers whether or not Windows 7 has the marketing potential to excite consumers and enterprises into willingly embracing a new computing platform.
You cannot get the Windows 7 beta from Microsoft’s Web site anymore. The Redmond giant pulled the plug on its beta download free-for-all on Feb. 9 after several weeks of letting anybody who wanted to play with it grab it. Of course, you can still troll the dark side of the Internet to find the many software repositories where copies are ferreted.
However, the hands-on exposure to the planned Windows XP and Windows Vista replacement OS has produced positive responses. Reviews of the Windows 7 beta, including our own, have generally praised the new OS for fixing much of what was broken in Vista.
“Major consumer features include home networking that works. Business users get AppLocker and new UAC (user access control) levels for better manageability. Everyone gets some useful UI (user interface) improvements as opposed to Vista’s, which were mostly eye candy, and better memory management. Think of Windows 7 as Vista done right. The name is more for marketing. This is more like 6.1 than 7.0,” Michael Silver, research vice president for Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.
Upgrade Resistance Fading
When Vista’s performance and downward compatibility left consumers and enterprise customers disappointed, XP users could avoid the pain by simply declining to upgrade. Many XP users were convinced that, eye candy aside, Vista offered them no real reason to move on. To calm the maddened crowd of those discontent with Vista, Microsoft struck deals with computer makers to allow new computer buyers the option of migrating back to XP.
One deterrent to a widespread adoption of Vista was that hardware resources were more demanding. Relatively new computers balked at running all but the most basic version of the then-new OS. Compatibility issues also exacerbated the reluctance of users to migrate to Vista. Some vendors delayed or even declined to roll out Vista drivers for legacy products.
This time around, however, XP’s shelf life is dimming even more, as Microsoft will soon halt support for it. Windows 7 will run on any computer that runs Vista, as well as many more XP boxes that were overpowered by Vista. So both consumers and enterprise users should find a much smoother upgrade path.
“The problems Vista has had make it more likely that Windows 7 will be a success because organizations will need to get off XP, which is getting old. We don’t see a lot of traction for Linux on the desktop, and Macs still come in through the back door more than by IT purchase,” said Silver.
NCP Engineering develops VPN (virtual private network) software for high-security data transfer over public networks and the Internet. The company already has a beta version of its Secure Entry Client available for the Windows 7 system.
“We have about a dozen beta trials going on with Windows 7. Our client works very well with it. We are implementing only cosmetic changes. Our feedback from the beta trials is that Windows 7 is a good product,” Simon Ford, international director at NCP, told TechNewsWorld.
If NCP Engineering’s experience is typical, Windows 7’s early adopters can expect to find plenty of vendor support. That could suggest Windows 7 will not face the kind of resistance to enterprise adoption that Vista had.
“From what I understand from our R&D guys, the amount of work they’ve had to do to create the client for Windows 7 has not taken a tremendous deal of work over what they did for Vista. This suggests to me that certain features on the networking level have not changed dramatically. Of course, this could change by the RC (release candidate) release,” Rene Poot, international systems engineer from NCP engineering, told TechNewsWorld.
Like many other software and hardware developers, Alpha Software has already begun the task of evaluating Windows 7 to determine a support strategy. Alpha Software develops Web-based database applications.
“I looked extensively at Windows 7 to determine if we will support it. I don’t think it’s an ‘if.’ I think it will be a ‘when.’ We are considering things like what features do we include, what APIs (application programming interfaces) do we need and are we going to use the ribbon in our interface,” Rich Levin, chief analyst for Alpha Software, told TechNewsWorld.
The most interesting thing from Levin’s perspective is that Windows 7 will mark a resurgence in Microsoft’s credibility from an operating system standpoint. With Vista they lost a lot of their cachet because XP was a big success, he reasoned.
“It was about the end of the DOS base and unreliability and the start of a friendly GUI on top of the NT core,” he explained.
Looking at Windows 7 has to include recognizing where the software originated. Microsoft went from DOS to Windows to Windows 3 to Windows 95 and 98. When Windows 3 came out, Microsoft also released Windows NT, which ushered in a new approach for enterprise.
Back in the early ’90s, NT stood for the New Technology. Microsoft reengineered things from the inside out for reliability and said that at some point in the future, these two things were going to merge and become one platform, according to Levin.
“It took them a long time to get there,” he said about the eventual arrival of Windows 7.
Back on Track
The release of Windows XP was the end of the dual fork and a single operating system for PC users. It was about reliability and a (hopeful) end to the Blue Screen of Death.
“But Microsoft didn’t get it quite right. XP had an ugly interface, especially compared to what the Mac OS was doing. [Apple’s OS] was beautiful and was built on this very reliable Unix core,” said Levin. “Microsoft was going to take XP to the next level with Vista and obviously fumbled the ball badly.”
In retrospect, Microsoft’s initial ambitions for Vista were right on target. But Microsoft failed in following up with its goals for the operating system. Instead, as Microsoft shed features, the company wound up shedding anything meaningful for developers, according to Levin.
“They ended up with just the eye candy, and even that wasn’t well optimized,” he said about Windows Vista. “When I look at Windows 7, I basically see a SWAT team that went in and cleaned up the mess with Vista. Windows 7 is Microsoft Vista Second Edition.”
Much of what users in general and IT managers in particular did not like about Vista resulted from Microsoft’s break with the past. The company’s reputation for maintaining backwards compatibility ended. This break continues with Windows 7.
The changeover started by Vista was part of a cultural revolution at Microsoft. Breaking with the past was the order of the day. They were under intense threats from Java and the Web with openness and compatibility, as well as pressure from the federal government. As a result, they made some bad decisions, said Levin.
“There was a mentality at Microsoft to break with the past and break with compatibility. It was better for the market, in their view, to move people forward. We saw the same thing with Office 2007 when they dropped the classic menu in favor of the ribbon,” he explained.
Given the state of the economy, both business users and consumers may need some particularly pressing reasons to migrate to Windows 7, despite the overall positive reviews the beta version is receiving. Vendors seem to be gearing up for the transition.
The market reaction to Windows 7 has washed very positively over IT. Every developer Levin knows has Windows 7 test beds, he said. That will drive the enterprise adoption even though Microsoft is putting this out in the worst economy since World War II, he noted.
Based on his company’s feedback about Windows 7 from people still on XP, Ford expects users to jump directly to Windows 7 without ever touching Vista at all.
“I would say that I think Microsoft was so aware of the level of problems with Vista that they made tremendous effort to make sure that the quality and the performance of Windows 7 is going to meet market standards,” he concluded.