Five Challenges Facing Windows 7

Wednesday Oct 21st 2009 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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Pre-release response to Windows 7 has been remarkably positive. Yet factors like the economy, drivers and user trust still confront the new OS.

So far, Microsoft's latest incarnation of the Windows operating system, Windows 7, has received a very warm welcome. From tech pundits to power users who have managed to get their hands on the new OS, the reception can accurately be described as glowing.

At this point it seems that Windows 7 will be a smash hit.

… or will it?

On October 22nd, Microsoft’s new operating system enters a stage called General Availability, or GA. The GA stage is the point at which the operating system becomes available to the general public. It will be on the shelves in brick and mortar stores, available to buy from online retailers and available pre-installed on new PCs.

This is when Windows 7 is unleashed on the great unwashed, and it’s the biggest test that the OS will have faced so far.

How the public at large receives Windows 7 over the first few months will be critical to the operating system’s long-term success. Vista’s fate was sealed within the first few months of GA, and there’s no reason to think that the same doesn’t apply to Windows 7.

So, what could go wrong to derail Windows 7? Let’s take a look at five possible stumbling blocks:

1) Drivers

A lot of the time, Microsoft cops the blame for Windows problems that have nothing to do with either Microsoft or Windows. Just one driver can bring an entire PC down to its knees, and unless you know what you’re doing, finding that dodgy driver can be next to impossible.

Poor, immature drivers definitely played a hand in the whole Windows Vista FAIL saga.

In particular, graphics drivers from both ATI and NVIDIA were very poor and lead to a high proportion of users experiencing an insane number of crashes. Systems that were otherwise fine running Windows XP or 2000 were suddenly rendered unusable.

And when the system crashes, no matter what the reason, most people point the finger at the OS itself.

Windows 7, under the hood, isn’t all that dissimilar to Windows Vista, so most hardware vendors shouldn’t’ have too much of a problem making drivers that work with the new OS. Beta testing also seems to indicate that compatibility is good.

However, things might change as people start pushing the compatibility envelope with older or more obscure hardware. Will the drivers hold up?

2) Economy

Hmmm…yes. People are spending less (well, on everything expect Apple products, it would seem).

Windows 7 could very well be the best OS ever, but unless people are willing to flip open their wallets or unsnap their purses and buy new PCs with Windows 7 on them – or purchase an upgrade copy of the OS – Microsoft is once again stuck with an OS it can’t sell.

The economy is a big problem for Microsoft, because not only are consumers feeling the pinch, but also businesses are squeezing more years out of their old hardware.

And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. If your existing hardware and software infrastructure is doing everything that’s being asked of it, what’s the point in upgrading?

Bottom line with the economy: unless Microsoft can come up with concrete reasons why users (home and business) should upgrade – reasons which go above and beyond eye candy – once the initial excitement of the Windows 7 launch parties have faded, people might not be so thrilled about spending the cash to upgrade.

At the moment there are countless surveys out there making all sorts of upgrade predictions about Windows 7. One recent study suggested that 50 per cent of businesses would move to Windows 7 in a year.

Most of these seem wildly optimistic given the current economic climate and the fact that businesses usually wait for the first service pack to hit before considering adoptions of a new OS.

Next Page: Trust and end user resistance

3) Trust

Will those people who were burned by Vista feel up to trusting Microsoft when it comes to Windows 7? Remember that whole “The WOW is now!” advertizing campaign? Remember how quickly that fizzled out once people started having problems?

People who have the money to spend on an upgrade might just keep hold of that cash and wait and see how things turn out with Windows 7. After all, there’s no reason to rush adoption.

4) End user resistance

The fact that over 70 per cent of users still run Windows XP is an excellent indication as to just how entrenched users are. The message that users have been giving Microsoft thus far is that they are happy with XP.

How is Microsoft going convince these people to part with their beloved XP? If the Redmond giant can’t encourage an exodus from the aging OS, Windows 7 will end up cannibalize Vista sales, which doesn’t really help Microsoft’s bottom line.

Again, Microsoft needs to get its PR machine working on outlining compelling reasons for people to move from XP to Windows 7 that go beyond eye candy and skin deep UI improvements – show us WHY we need Windows 7!

5) Value for money

Does Windows 7 offer value for money? Sure, there have been numerous deals available where people can pick up a cheap upgrade in the months running up to the GA date, but this is a tactic to sell something to people before they really know what they are getting.

What will matter for Windows 7 are not the sales figures for the first day, or first week or month for that matter, but sales figures for the first six months, and then the first twelve months.

It’ll also be important to keep an eye on how Windows 7 affects OS market share. If we see a good move from XP to 7, that’s good for Microsoft. On the other hand, if what we see are people moving from Vista to 7, that will become a very big problem for Microsoft.

Windows 7 launch parties kick off October 22nd. We’ll see whether Windows 7 will sink or swim in the following weeks and months.

ALSO SEE: Windows 7 Review: Why I Like Windows 7

AND: Upgrading Windows XP to Windows 7: Advice and Shortcuts

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