- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

The Operating System Wars: So Who Really Wants Windows 7?

If you can believe some of the reviews out there, Windows 7 is all that Vista should have been. It’s fast, reliable and has a solid interface. However, when CNET’s own tests of the RTM (release to manufacturing) version failed to provide evidence of any significant speed improvement, other than the shut down process, you have to wonder what some of these people are smoking — or drinking — before they write their stories.

Or are they hoping to earn enough affiliate commissions and free gifts from Microsoft to compensate for shedding all vestiges of journalistic integrity? I don’t pretend to know.

Now I’m not saying Windows 7 is necessarily a bad operating system. When Vista came out, the hardware hadn’t quite caught up, so it was sluggish where XP was snappy. That was then and this is now. So Windows 7 need only be slightly faster than Vista in terms of impartial benchmarks to be perceived as a better performing product. The other initial Vista irritants, such as driver conflicts, have largely been resolved anyway.

As to the interface, it seems as if Microsoft is once again making changes for the sake of change, not efficiency or ease of use. The latter concept remains alien to them. Having a taskbar that resembles Mac OS X’s Dock might seem cool to them, but since the original was released back in 2001, it’s hardly a new idea.

The larger question is whether Windows 7 offers anything that would attract Microsoft’s huge roster of business customers to abandon XP and upgrade. I suppose security is probably better, although most enterprise users have already configured their networks to provide reasonably safe environments for XP. Perhaps they could keep things the same, other than requisite security software updates. You can bet they are already testing Windows 7, but the jury is still out how quickly they plan to embrace the new system. Certainly if large-scale purchases of new PCs are pending, they might be more amenable to staying with the new rather than retrofitting the old this time.

That would, of course, auger well for Microsoft, at least as far as the business world is concerned.

When it comes to home users, I suppose most people who buy new PCs will simply stick with the system that was preloaded. Only power users would care about reverting to XP, Linux, or an unofficial installation of Mac OS X. But it’s not as if PC sales are on hold pending the release of Windows 7. Microsoft doesn’t get that sort of buzz. This is not 1995, when people lined up around computer and electronic stores to have copies of Windows 95 placed in their greasy hands.

More to the point, despite the pathetic efforts at spin control from Microsoft’s lunatic CEO Steve Ballmer, Apple’s current success with Macs is not a “rounding error.” Just a few years ago, Apple managed to sell less than 800,000 units a quarter. Now it’s more than three times that high. Perhaps Ballmer has embraced some sort of new math where growth rates of 300% or more aren’t significant. But after Microsoft’s recent difficulties in sustaining decent sales, particularly in the consumer space, I hardly think they have a right to complain.

But the larger problem confronting Microsoft is that they have never been able to compete fairly. Using tricks, bait and switch and outright deceit, they carved for themselves a huge majority share of the PC operating system market. Of course, some stupid moves from Apple early on helped cement Microsoft’s dominant position.

These days, however, Apple is regarded as a significant competitor. Don’t forget that they have 91% of the U.S. retail market in sales of personal computers selling for over $1,000. Except for workstations and special purpose gaming PCs, the other makers are fighting desperately for market share with cheap boxes.

Even though music players aren’t as hot as they used to be, the iPod has essentially retained its extremely high share of the market. The iconic product gained ascendency in a relatively fair competitive environment, and Microsoft’s efforts fell flat. Ditto with smartphones, where the iPhone is competing with similarly priced and cheaper products, but has carved out a growing share far faster than the naysayers could ever have imagined.

This fall, Windows 7 will face competition with Apple’s Snow Leopard. Although Apple, as of the time this is written, had not yet begun to officially accept preorders, you can reserve a copy at Amazon (the link uses our affiliate code, so we can get a few cents commission if you place an order). What’s more, Snow Leopard quickly supplanted Windows 7 preorders in the sales charts, and you can hardly call Amazon a devout Mac supporter.

Of course, I may be dead wrong. I reserve that right. Perhaps Windows 7 will be Microsoft’s hoped for magic bullet, which will ignite PC sales all over again, as Windows 95 did 14 years ago. But I find that possibility very, very hard to accept.