Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Windows 7 Conundrum

Windows 7 seems to be all over the news this week, with the release of the first and probably final public beta before it goes RTM, probably somewhere around the end of this year. The uptake of Vista in the Enterprise has been woefully low for Microsoft. The jump in hardware requirements needed to run the new operating system, the plentitude of applications which either worked poorly or just plain didn't on Vista, and the presence of a predecessor which did everything required of it plenty well enough all conspired to stick one of those old-fashioned hairpins firmly though Vista's spine. A mid-life ad-campaign quite unlike anything else I can ever recall - both in terms of it's timing and how quickly it dissappeared off the radar - failed to breathe new life into the twitching corpse. Vista, is to all intents and purposes, dead.

But it isn't really, is it? Windows 7 has already had accusations of plagiarism chucked at it - the similarity of the new taskbar to Apple's Dock has been duly noted, and probably encouraged by Microsoft, eager to for once, earn a more flattering comparison to the anvil upon which Vista has been smacked, at least in the domestic market. The real plagiarism, however, lies in the breadth of the new release.

Apple's "new" Operating Systems are seldom that, not when seen from a Microsoft point of view. Do you think, say, that the difference between Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5 is anything like the difference between say, Windows XP SP1 and SP2? Something like 2/3rds of the code for XP was changed in SP2, and it still didn't merit being touted by Microsoft as a new product. They could have jazzed up the GUI, ran another Mojave Experiment, made hay. That they didn't tells you something about the corporate mindset at Redmond when releasing a new OS. Each successive new version of Windows was always a big jump from what went before, because that's the way Uncle Bill liked it.

Now though, Uncle Bill's off doing good stuff for one-armed lesbian Malawians, and Windows 7 is a new operating system, even though it only takes the smallest of glances under the hood to see that it's not. It's Vista, SP3. And I for one will be a happy man if Microsoft find that stealing the Emperor's New Clothes idea from Apple turns out to be a good fit. The pain we've all experienced with Vista has been good for us: Applications now have to be written properly. Vista is, contrary to the public perception, a damn sight more secure than XP. With SP2 and on the right hardware it's now something approaching acceptable, but we all know it's too late.

But Windows 7 - I mean Vista 2 - couldn't have come at a better time. Microsoft have been losing market share in the home market hand-over-fist to Apple. Now, as a recession looms - who out there really has the money to spunk on a 24" iMac, not when a similarly 'specced PC might save you a thousand bucks? Corporate networks running XP - like us - are looking around now, knowing that sooner or later we're going to have to do something. Macs don't, for all their slickness in a standalone environment, do the networked thing. Apple's pathetic server offerings are, as far as I'm concerned, more or less a tacit admission of this. Besides, we all have legacy apps. We need Windows.

Dell have this week announced they're shutting their plant in Ireland with the loss of 1300 jobs. Their stock's down by what - a third? HP are similarly strapped. And the IT service sector - the big outsourcers like EDS et al? Life Support. What all of those companies need is Windows 7 to be released pronto, and for the big boys that stayed with XP to take advantage of the service provider's predicaments to go over to 7 sooner rather than later.

There's already talk of major Government IT projects scaling back. In this recession, Windows 7 and its success - or not - might be the only thing between the IT gravy train and the buffers.

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