Microsoft's "Lucky 7" Gamble

Tuesday Oct 21st 2008 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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Because of improvements to Vista, Microsoft will likely see more success with its upcoming Windows 7 release than with its current flagship OS.

I’m willing to bet on the fact that the folks at Microsoft just can’t wait to put the whole Vista mess behind them.

When Windows Vista went RTM (Release to Manufacturing) at the beginning of November 2006 it was supposed to be the jewel in Microsoft’s crown. But within days of its release it was bogged down in a quagmire of hardware and software compatibility issues that took Microsoft months to properly address.

Moreover, when it came to comparing the performance of Vista to XP it quickly became clear that the new OS couldn’t keep up with the operating system that it was supposed to replace.

Even now, almost two years on, Vista only barely manages to beat XP in benchmarks tests.

Then things got worse for Microsoft when the general public (as opposed to the techo-literate crowd that frequent sites such as this one) started to equate “Vista” to “trouble.” Microsoft’s own “Mojave Experiment” (which was more of an ad than experiment) showed that people who hadn’t even used Vista had already made up their minds that the OS was garbage and that they should avoid it like the plague.

But it didn’t end there. Apple decided to put increasing pressure on the beleaguered OS by releasing adverts that played into that whole “Vista is awful” theme. Apple’s latest ads even pokes fun at the fact that Microsoft is spending money on Vista’s image rather then getting on with the job of fixing the OS (not true, but who said that Apple ads had to be true?).

However, Microsoft can soon close the book on the whole Vista chapter and move on to a new one – Windows 7, or as I like to call it, “Lucky 7.”

Why “Lucky 7”? Because it’s Microsoft’s chance to put a new wrapper around what they’re already selling, slap on a new name and distance itself from all that negativity associated with the botched release of Vista (hey, car makers have been doing it for years!).

So, what does Microsoft have to do to prevent “Lucky 7” falling victim to the same problems that beset Vista?

The truth is, not much. In fact, if all Microsoft did with Windows 7 was go through the code and change every instance of “Vista” to “7,” most of the problems that affected Vista would no longer be an issue.

Capability issues have, on the whole, been fixed thanks to patches and updated software and driver (if you’re still waiting for some old bit of hardware of software to be supported by Vista, then I’d give up now, because it if hasn’t been fixed by now then a future fix is unlikely).

Performance is also no longer a major issue. So as long as Microsoft doesn’t change anything critical, things should be just fine on that front (and we already know that 7’s kernel will be the same as that of Vista).

Sure, we’d all like the OS to be faster, but as long as it’s just as fast as Vista is now, I think people will let it slide. Another factor in Microsoft’s favor is that over the past two years processors and GPUs have become faster, and PCs now ship with more RAM than they did, which means that “Lucky 7” will benefit from this free performance boost, thanks to Moore’s Laws. I don’t want to give you the idea that Windows 7 is just going to be a rebranded version of Vista. It’s not. But at the same time I think that people need to be realistic as to what Windows 7 will bring to the table over and above what Vista already does.

Sure, there will be some interface tweaks (for one thing you’ll have to get used to seeing the Ribbon toolbar from Office 2007 scattered liberally throughout the OS), some new applications and features (for example, it seems that support for Virtual PC virtual machines will be available out of the box), and a few new bells and whistles.

But underneath the hood Windows 7 will be like Vista. Or, for that matter, Windows Server 2008, which many seem to believe makes a better OS than Vista. However, all my testing shows there to be little or no difference, leading me to the conclusion that this is just another example of the Mojave Experiment effect – put Vista in a different wrapper and people shed their preconceived negativity.

Here’s how Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer described Windows 7 at conference in Florida last week:

“Windows Vista is good, Windows 7 is Windows Vista with cleanup in user interface, improvements in performance. I'm not going to encourage anyone to wait; I'd go ahead and deploy Windows Vista today. I certainly run it, we run it everywhere at Microsoft. But we didn't have to go in an incompatible direction in order to make big strides forward in terms of cleanness of user interface, quality of user experience, performance.”

There are other “sweeteners” that Microsoft could add to “Lucky 7” to make it luckier.

For example, I think that it’s safe to say that people would appreciate a cheaper Windows (it’s a long shot, but it could happen), less confusion through having fewer flavors (do consumers really need three flavors to choose from? ) and maybe genuine extras for those opting for the Ultimate version (the Ultimate Extras program for Vista ended up being a major disaster for Microsoft, which was only able to deliver a handful of mediocre extras over two years).

Given that the financial climate is so very different this time around, I think that Microsoft is going to have to work harder at tempting people to upgrade.

However, just as with Vista, the main competition facing Windows 7 doesn’t come from Mac of Linux, but from XP. If people decide to stick with what they know or a few more years, that could be a real problem for Redmond.

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