Does Microsoft Have a Chance with Windows 7?

Channel Strategy
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From a solution provider’s perspective, the beta of the much anticipated replacement for Window Vista is not a dramatic change, but it does make small improvements.

1. Does Microsoft Have a Chance with Windows 7?

It’s a sure sign that Microsoft has unofficially given up on Windows Vista when a beta version of Vista’s replacement, Windows 7, is flooding the Internet. The real question here becomes, “Was Windows 7 Beta 1 leaked intentionally?” Perhaps the backdoor release was a way to subdue the feverish backlash against Vista? Or perhaps it was truly a mistake by an overzealous Microsoft employee? It really makes you wonder what internal security controls the company has in place.

While those questions may go unanswered, the simple fact is that the more people talk about Windows 7, the less likely it is that they are going to talk about (or bash) Vista. The blogosphere and the news outlets are already awash with opinion and news on Windows 7 and, for some, Windows 7 is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

For the channel, the question is, “How good does Windows 7 really need to be?”

Surprisingly, the answer is that Windows 7 does not have to be all that much better than Vista, at least from a technical standpoint—all Microsoft has to accomplish with Windows 7 is to undo the mind-set behind the negative opinions many people have about Vista and dress the product up a little. But undoing the anti-Vista sentiments is no easy job, and it is going to take a lot of marketing dollars and the power of the channel to turn Windows 7 into a solution that really has nothing to solve.

Windows 7: What’s the big deal?
Those expecting and hoping that Windows 7 will be a major departure from Vista, or, at the very least, a complete rewrite of the underlying code are going to be sorely disappointed. Windows 7 Beta 1 amounts to little more than Vista on a diet, with some new window dressing.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Although many would disagree, Vista is a pretty good operating system, it just lacks a little finesse and shows a bit of bloat. If Windows 7 effectively addresses those two issues, it could help the channel to rekindle interest in a Microsoft OS.
Our initial take on Windows 7 is that it can accomplish that: The new operating system has the look and feel of a “cleaner” Vista. From a user’s point of view, the new task bar seems infinitely more intuitive than in previous versions of Windows. The task bar offers large icons that launch applications directly, so users no longer have to navigate through menus and create desktop short cuts to access their favorite applications. It’s a small change that amounts to a big improvement to the user experience.

Also contributing to ease of use is the “Jump List,” which offers a context-sensitive menu to launch applications or open recently accessed files. It’s a feature that new PC users will appreciate. A word of warning here: Much as with the “ribbon” interface found in Microsoft Office, you’ll either take an instant like or dislike to the new task bar in Windows 7.

2. Other Windows 7 Improvements

Aside from changes to the look and feel, Windows 7 offers some other enhancements. The operating system seems to be much snappier and a better performer all around, probably due to code enhancements and bloat reduction. Solution providers will appreciate the speed of installation; most systems can go from install disk boot to fully running the operating system in under a half hour. Boot times are also improved, as well as the shutdown process.

Some other obvious changes come from the addition of Internet Explorer 8 and a revamped media player that is a vast improvement over previous versions. Notepad and WordPad have been redesigned to look more like Office applications and now feature the ribbon interface.

The operating system’s low-calorie diet becomes a little more evident when browsing through the included applications. Gone are Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Messenger and a bunch of other minor applications. Not to worry, though, if you really need any of that, it will be available via a Windows Live download.

Solution providers will find that the oft-maligned Vista UAC (User Access Control) feature has been redesigned to give more control over when and where UAC intercedes during software installations, Web browsing or many other functions. Support personnel will appreciate the inclusion of Windows Troubleshooter, an application that can automatically diagnose and fix problems and accomplishes that much better than anything offered in the past.

All things considered, Windows 7 is very much a step in the right direction so far, and one could argue that it is what Vista should have been.

For the channel, Windows 7’s arrival could fuel upgrades (if not hardware replacements) for those businesses that have been sticking with Windows XP or older versions of Windows. On the flip side, the anticipated improvements offered by Windows 7 may make those considering a Vista upgrade think twice, perhaps sabotaging upgrade plans in the works. Solution providers caught in that situation are going to have to convince customers that it will be easier to move to Windows 7 from Vista than from any other operating system. Hopefully, Microsoft will recognise that dilemma and offer free or very low-cost upgrades to those who adopt Vista now and move to Windows 7 upon general availability.

With many expecting Windows 7 to arrive by November 2009 (unofficially, of course), Microsoft will need to act now to empower the channel to build interest and offer an upgrade path that makes sense to customers and solution providers alike.