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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24 Responses to “Did the Dean of Tech Journalists Gloss Over Windows 7 Problems?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Is the Wall Street Journal still the “most respected financial newspaper on the planet” under the thumb of Mr. Murdoch? Before Mr. Rupert Murdoch acquired it, the news part was the best being factual and unbiased, and the editorial board was the wackiest. Now the editorial board fits him like worn, old gloves. Is the news portion going in the direction of the New York Post or Fox News?

    I read Mr. Mossberg’s long review of Window 7. I did not see any apology for his misstatement of his past declaration of Vista being the best Windows version. Right off the bat, he lost points for this dishonesty. If he were to be really honest then the review would have been titled “Windows 7, a fixed-up and improved Windows Vista.” or “How to gouge clueless Windows users for a Vista service pack?”

  2. Andrew says:

    To apologize for Vista has to mean that there remain problems, which many do not agree with. The biggest problems for Vista were marketing and drivers, one has no relation to the OS itself and the other has long since been addressed.

    Is Vista as good as Snow Leopard? Of course not. Is it better than XP? Absolutely.

    I use Vista and Snow Leopard on a daily basis and while I am eagerly awaiting the release of Windows 7 drivers for my ThinkPad, I’m quite content with Vista on that machine. 7 clearly is set to be the best Windows yet, but until its release, Vista remains the best Windows version, with no apology required except to those who bought “Vista Capable” laptops.

    As for upgrades from XP, well upgrades are always a bad idea, especially when moving to an OS that made significant changes in structure and organization. I wouldn’t upgrade from XP to Vista or 7 any more than I would upgrade from Tiger to Leopard or SL, just asking for too many problems.

    • Richard says:

      @Andrew, I’m easy for software. Round heals all the way. When a new version of any software I use regularly comes out, I download it and install it. That goes double for the Mac OS. Have I occasionally had problems? Yes, a few. But it’s never been a big deal for me (although I’ve read the opposite on line some years ago when data got wiped from users’ hard drives). Generally, OS X is a breeze to upgrade, painless, with an occasional itch, yes, but all in all, nothing to worry about.

      As for Windows, well! Back in the old days when I used Windows regularly, I never upgraded anything because invariably it would lead to hours and hours of headaches. Just my experience, that’s all, so I offer it to you.

  3. AdamC says:

    Maybe it is only one man’s opinion but after reading the 2 quotes imho his credibility will be hit.

    I could be wrong.

  4. Jim G. says:

    Some one who remembers Julian Hirsch – WOW! You are spot on with your with your comparison of Walt and Julian – both trustworthy gentlemen that sometimes act like a teenage boy who has seen his first naked woman — too much initial enthusiasm.

  5. David says:

    Andrew’s comparison of the XP to 7 process to moving from Tiger to Leopard is way off the mark. There’s a world of difference between the MacOS X migration process and the Windows process of backing up, wiping your hard drive, installing an OS, re-installing all applications, re-updating all applications and finally restoring every other file.

    Apple’s migration manager has effortlessly and painlessly updated millions of Macs from Panther to Tiger, Panther to Leopard, Tiger to Leopard, Tiger to Snow Leopard and Leopard to Snow Leopard. All files, even applications, remain in exactly the same places they were and even things like wireless network passwords are maintained so when the new OS boots up each of the users is greeted by a completely familiar environment.

    I have software on my Mac mini running 10.6.1 that was installed in 2003 on a G4 running 10.3. It has survived three major operating system upgrades, several hard drive replacements, three computer replacements, a change in low level hard drive format and a change in processor architecture.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, there is a great deal of difference, but the fact remains that regardless of platform, upgrades are less reliable than clean installs. The reason Microsoft requires a clean install of 7 after XP is because it is just too different. They SHOULD not have allowed upgrades to Vista either, as it is just as different from XP as 7 is. As far as level of complexity, moving from XP to Vista or 7 as an upgrade is like installing Leopard as an in-place upgrade over Jaguar.

      Personally, I ALWAYS do a clean install on each and every computer that gets a new OS.

  6. MichaelT says:

    Among the many reasons Apple doesn’t care whether Walt gives a good review of Win7, I think two of them relate to irrelevance.

    Microsoft has developed an OS that fixes many of the problems it had with its previous release. Apple has developed an OS that sets them up for future hardware and software advancements. Win7 is irrelevant to future OS growth. Microsoft still has a lot of hard work ahead of them to make the transitions that Apple is waiting for.

    Win7 is a desktop OS for local computing. Apple is developing the iPhone, iPod, and maybe that mythical tablet, to move computing into a mobile atmosphere. Google going in the same direction doesn’t hurt that shift. So again Win7 is irrelevant to Apple’s vision of the future, as it does nothing to break away from today’s way of computing.

    As to the point of whether his glowing review is a bit overdone, I think you did a good job of assessing the situation.

  7. Louis Wheeler says:

    One problem that Walt Mossberg did not address is Window’s underlying security problems. Rixstep says that Windows is like a submarine without any internal bulkheads, so that if there is a vulnerability in its exterior, the game is over.


    Windows is a stand alone Disk System which was created for secure local area networks, not the internet. Microsoft cannot put an internal security system into place after the fact.

    What MS needs to do is what Apple did in moving to Mac OSX. It needs to create a multi-user, object oriented, modular Operating System. But that would break all its current applications and it must leave DOS behind.

    It took Apple from 1998, and creating a software bridge in the Carbon API’s, to achieve that. This migration wasn’t easy and many headaches followed. It took 12 years to do it. Only now is Apple starting to leave the Carbon API’s behind.

    Will Windows users put up with the problems. It would be easier to move to a Mac.

  8. Dan Uff says:

    FINALLY! Someone else that feels the way I do about Walt and has actually said it. I remember when he said what he did about Vista, and have been negative about him ever since. Does he REALLY know how to evaluate any type of software, let alone an operating system?

    I don’t care who you are, or what field you’re in. There comes a time when all men (and women) must realize that it is time to “bow out” and head into the sunset. Perhaps it is time that he did so, before he makes a butt out of himself yet again with his Windows 7 review.


  9. ex2bot says:

    I’ve done some limited testing of Win 7 on my MacBook Pro. It really has cleaned up some of the annoyances of Windows. Its UAC security settings are more granular, so you can set it not to bug you so much, there’s a method for hiding and sequestering the annoying “speech bubbles” that drive me crazy. *Tangent* When I’m typing a paper or surfing or whatever, I don’t need the system to pop up an annoying bubble and ask if I want a tour of Windows (as happened in XP) or that my desktop was messy, and would I like to get rid of unused icons (also XP)? In fact, I don’t like the bubbles at all. Win 7 has fixed that.

    Windows Vista and 7 have really gone a long way to secure Windows. Sorry if you believe otherwise, but it’s the truth. The UAC, the browser running in reduced privileges mode, data execution prevention, address randomization, etc. have fixed some amazingly big holes in the Windows dam. Some of this security is absent from OS X.

    And so I’m really excited about Windows 7, and its impending awesomeness. Wait, no I’m not. I’ve been using computers long enough to know that Microsoft will be (and is currently) sabotaging Windows somehow. How about activation, which infuriates me every time I encounter it? Because, as an expert hobbyist who swaps out hard drives and upgrades memory, I can no longer activate Windows over the Internet. Yes, my Windows XP is legal, but I’m being punished for using the piece of sh*t. And all I was using Windows for was games anyway. It’s a good game OS. Or it would be if not for activation.

    So, there you go. Thank goodness for Apple’s powerhouse OS and the ******excellent option ****** it provides. No product key, no activation. Yet Apple has and will continue to get fistfuls of my money.

    I’m a Mac fanbot, unabashedly. MAC RULz!!!

    Proud Mac Fanbot and activation H@t3Rz

  10. Patrick says:

    Vista is better than XP. More stable, better search, etc. And I think it looks better.
    (True though that the improvement is modest, and not worth upgrading from XP)

    So why keep hammering Walt for that statement?

  11. Louis Wheeler says:

    And too, Patrick, there are hidden deficiencies in Windows which will come back to haunt MS and Windows users. Walt Mossberg either did not know or care about them. This means that he only gave us a surface appraisal. Appearances can be deceiving. Snow Leopard is very impressive under the surface.

    When the Mac starts using the 64 bit kernel in default, this coming year, some impressive security measures will kick in. They aren’t apparent now, because Apple is using this year to migrate from 32 bit. Nor, should Apple make a big deal over these advancements until they are in place.

    It tried to crow about them in March or April, but the Windows Fanboys and Pundits shot Apple down fast. I suspect that Apple will wait until even the fools can see the improvements.

    That is merely the beginning. Windows fanboys claim that Apple hardware is slow and overpriced. A Mac is about the same price as a name brand computer with the same hardware. What will happen with a combination of 64 bit apps, with Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL enable, is a major speed boost (2 times+) over System Seven on the same computer.

    Then, Steve Jobs has said that he wants an upgrade cycle every 12 to 18 months. We will be seeing some system wide advancements by then, but the big news will be in what the developers give us.

  12. Tom B says:

    No major paper would allow an “Ars Technica” level review of Windows 7. MSFT would punish any news outlet that really laid things out as they are.

  13. Dave says:

    You are an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with what Mossberg wrote. All he was saying is that Vista was the best – AT THAT TIME. Now he thinks Win 7 is the best – RIGHT NOW.

    Walt has been unbelievably and harshly critical of Microsoft so the fact that they got one, half way decent review shouldn’t upset you that much.

    I’m running both OS’ and Win 7 isn’t too bad. In fact I rather like it so far.

    PS – I hated Vista and it IS a major improvement.

    • Your flame-based rhetoric only casts a negative light on you. As to the rest, there are specific reasons why I find Mossberg’s review not compelling, and the resemblance in phrasing between his Vista and Windows 7 reviews is only a small part of it. Consider the negatives, which actually make Windows 7 a bad proposition for those who are upgrading from XP and want to continue to use their existing PCs. But you clearly don’t want to deal with the facts about his questionable conclusions. It’s too easy to toss an insult.


  14. Louis Wheeler says:

    Dave, I don’t care whether you like Windows Seven or not. But, is it ready for prime time? That was the point of Walt’s article. Did Walt Mossberg give an honest appraisal?

    The problem, here, is one of perception over reality. Microsoft desperately needs the perception that System Seven is comparable to Snow Leopard. This is why Microsoft’s paid pundits keep putting out trash.

    Microsoft’s FUD machine is running out of plausible criticisms of the Mac. They knock Snow Leopard’s security when Apple has no malware problems. Sure, Snow Leopard isn’t as strong in the 32 bit kernel mode and Apple is taking the next year to migrate its applications to 64 bit code.

    But, there are no valid comparisons if you don’t tell all the truth. Mossberg’s comments descend into just more Microsoft propaganda.

    The problem here is that Walt Mossberg built up a reputation for being tough but fair. We Mac Users don’t mind criticism which has an element of truth to it. But, when Walt goes on a Microsoft cover up, we disagree with his conclusions. When he ignores Windows underlying insecurity, we doubt his expertise or his honesty. When he damns the Mac OS with faint praise, then we lose respect for him. We place him firmly in the enemy camp.

    We have a right to be disappointed in him. We are sorry to see Walt’s reputation go.

  15. JayS says:

    If there is one thing Mac fanbois hate, it is a positive MS review, and this post just helps demonstrate that again. When Macs get good PR I mostly see positive posts supporting Apple on doing a good job, even by PC users. I don’t see the same respect returned for MS endeavors nearly as often. It really is not a fair comparison because both tech companies have quite different priorities. They have similar things they want to be number one in, but it isn’t realistic for both of them to cover it all at 100%.

    For instance, it would be easy to write a hate review on OSX because it isn’t as good as MS OS’s for large server environments. Interesting read on Apple’s short comings in a major market – http://lowendmac.com/ed/kitchens/09kk/apple-enterprise-server.html

    This article makes two major cases.
    1. Installing software is very very difficult. This is in reference to the whole having to install apps again when upgrading xp to win 7. It also deals with installing more free apps from the internet after having win 7 installed.
    2. The second point is that Vista was a terrible OS. Because Vista was terrible, Win 7 has some things similar to Vista so it also likely isn’t that great.

    Both of these points are poor because of the following reasons.
    1. Installing software is not difficult.
    a. Put in the install disc or download it, click install, use application. I think it would be hard to argue that it takes longer than 10 minutes to install most applications (besides the copy file time). Most users likely don’t have to initiate over ten separate install routines. I would say someone could solve this “problem” in an evening.
    b. Installing apps is not unique to OS upgrades. People have to do it all the time when they get new ones on a current OS, or the hard drive fails and they have to reinstall everything. This applies to Apple in a lot of cases.
    c. Getting the Windows Live Experience bundle (desktop app for mail, photo editing, messenger, movie maker, etc…) from the internet is not difficult. In fact I’m pretty sure it was not included in Win 7 for many reasons like EU antitrust laws like the ones affecting IE8 in the current browser wars.
    2. Vista was not a terrible OS.
    a. Many years of Mac smear ads would like to brainwash the public different. Vista had driver support issues and ran a little slower than XP at launch time. There is a large majority of Vista users who didn’t have or even consider them those issues then and definitely not now.

    In the end, for all the “weaknesses” the MS OS’s have had over the years I would still rather take them over the pros I would have to give up if I went Mac.

  16. Louis Wheeler says:

    We are bound to find out, soon enough, how good System Seven really is. I don’t remember anyone here saying that System Seven was bad, but that Walt Mossberg gave a superficial and slightly biased report which did not live up to his reputation. It’s disheartening when you see someone lower their standards.

    My comments are that Windows has hidden flaws which will be exploited. I can’t say when, because Microsoft has put billions of dollars into trying to prevent this. I am more than a little curious about how they will try to address this issue.

    That article on Apple’s shortcomings in enterprise servers seemed fair. I don’t remember seeing any hate, though. This is simply a market for which Apple has not optimized its software. We Mac users don’t mind if the Mac is knocked, so long as it is the truth. Mr Mossberg’s comments did not feel like the truth.

    Apple seems geared to take over much of the, low and medium end, home and SMB servers. Apple recently cut its server software price in half to $499 for unlimited users and has a $999 Mac Mini Server which will be acceptable for most small businesses. The nearest Windows comparable server will be above 3 thousand dollars for a 100 users. The SMB market is where Apple is aimed, not at enterprise.

    Apple sees this Windows upgrade as an opportunity, so it will use whatever arguments it can to get current XP users to upgrade to Apple, not Microsoft. System Seven will be usable on the XP users present computers at a small sacrifice in speed. But, if the user decides to purchase a new Wintel computer, then Apple wants them to give the Mac a chance, too. I don’t see anything immoral in that.

    Vista was not a good OS and System Seven is a much improved version of it. This is not from my perspective, but from the millions who stayed with Windows XP.

    The Apple ads are not smears, because there are no provable lies in them. Exaggeration for the sake of humor is not necessarily a lie. Our opinions may be false without us lying about them, because humans are often mistaken.

    I would be happy to debate this. Make a good case and let us thrash it out.

    It is still undecided what the Wintel market will do. We won’t have any real evidence for about three months.

    The Vista users have every reason to migrate to System Seven at a low cost. Most of those will be consumers. The IT personnel probably won’t have the budget to upgrade this year, so that will be slow.

    I suspect that most of the XP users will play a waiting game, as will the Windows 2000 users. There would be substantial hardware cost for them to upgrade. The Windows 2000 and Lower third of the XP market will either not upgrade or move to Linux boxes. The reason is that they are being used a Cash Registers, displays or front ends to mainframes or the web, rather than as computers. System Seven would not help them.

    What Pros are there for staying with Windows other than staying with a system you know, reusing the software you have and not having to learn anything new? Yes, Inertia is a good rational.

  17. ex2bot says:

    Quoting JayS: “When Macs get good PR I mostly see positive posts supporting Apple on doing a good job, even by PC users.”

    Not true at all. Check out any mainstream site, such as Cnet, Slashdot, etc. There’s puhlenty of Mac bashing going on all the time. This idea that Mac users are more vicious than Windows users isn’t accurate. I’d call it a draw.

    Non-vicious Mac Fanbot

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