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  • Did the Dean of Tech Journalists Gloss Over Windows 7 Problems?

    October 8th, 2009

    It’s widely agreed that columnist Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal is the “dean” of tech journalists. He’s been at it as long as anyone, and his reviews merit serious attention from almost every corner of the industry. He’s even among the few on Apple’s preferred lists of journalists to get an early look at their new products. That’s why Mossberg, David Pogue and a handful of others manage to get those stories out sometimes before the new Apple gear goes on sale.

    When it comes to Mossberg, one of the reasons he’s earned special attention is the result of the calm, even-handed approach he takes in his reviews. It doesn’t hurt that he works for the most respected financial newspaper on the planet.

    So you can expect that when he wrote his review of Windows 7, people took notice. When he said that Windows, at long last, comes especially close to the Mac OS in terms of performance, features and reliability, certainly you have to consider what he says seriously. It potentially means that Microsoft has largely vanquished many of the more serious problems that existed in Windows Vista, and that Apple’s Snow Leopard maybe isn’t quite as much of an improvement as it should be.

    On the other hand, nobody is infallible. I’m acutely aware of my faults whenever I look at myself in the mirror or edit one of my writings or radio shows, so this imperfect writer will discuss an imperfect review. You see, I am extremely disappointed with the way Mossberg handled this particular piece, and it’s not because I’m a Mac user and consider Microsoft products mostly second rate.

    When you look behind the conclusions and examine the facts, you wonder if Mossberg isn’t seriously understating his conclusions and the distinctions he found between the two operating systems. Consider the matter from the standpoint of Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a tech writer for Fortune, and you’ll see a surprisingly number of Windows 7 negatives.

    In fact, Elmer-DeWitt summarizes a grand total of 16 of them, and they aren’t all trivial, so you have to wonder just what logic Mossberg is applying in waxing so positive about Windows 7.

    One particularly irksome shortcoming is the totally irritating process of upgrading from Windows XP. It means that the millions and millions of people who passed Vista by, or downgraded to XP, are forced to wipe their hard drives and restore their data to install Windows 7. Worse, it’s not just reinstalling all your apps, but running all the updates that you’ve received since they were first purchased. There’s no direct route and even Microsoft’s so-called “Easy Transfer” wizard is only useful for your files, nothing else.

    At least Tiger users can easily upgrade to Snow Leopard with no intermediary process to contend with. Indeed, this is such a serious defect for Windows 7 that you wonder why Microsoft couldn’t devise a more seamless process. Upgrading consumes several of Mossberg’s more prominent negatives, and they ought to be sufficient to remove at least a couple of ratings points from the final verdict, at least as far as I’m concerned.

    Many of Mossberg’s other criticisms relate to the usual inconsistent interface elements and sometimes uncertain performance. Even worse, Microsoft now omits the basic apps that Apple provides with every new operating system installation, which provide such functions as email, calendaring, maintaining a contact list and playing video. In what most be one of the boneheaded moves of the decade, Microsoft expects you to download all this stuff after installing Windows 7. Maybe with their perverse logic, they believe they are giving Windows users the option of using someone else’s software, but that option would be there anyway. It makes no sense to omit such basics, since all it does is inconvenience most users.

    On a lesser note, Mossberg also mentions issues with display and input device drivers. In the end, performance is better than Vista, but evidently only exceeds that of Snow Leopard on one of the computers on which Windows 7 was tested.

    On the other hand, maybe this isn’t the first time Mossberg has been a little too enthusiastic about a Microsoft release. You see, as quoted in the Fortune article, he also raved in a similar fashion about Windows Vista back in 2007. In both reviews, he used the identical “best version of Windows” phrase, and that’s a conclusion that can hardly be applied to Vista, even then.

    I suppose some of you might suggest Mossberg was simply paid off by Microsoft to give Windows a pass in both instances. However, no one of his standing could or would be expected to get away with pulling such a stunt. I’d rather believe that Mossberg was, in effect, emulating the late audio/video magazine reviewer, Julian Hirsch, by understating the product’s deficiencies and perhaps being a little too praiseworthy in his conclusions.

    Unfortunately, Mossberg’s review is going to be regurgitated by Microsoft and its followers with the same enthusiasm as they did with Windows Vista — that is, until the bottom fell out!

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