Here's why Microsoft's upcoming successor to Vista will be a winner. Our columnist also visually walks you through his experiences installing the Windows 7 pre-beta and beta.
I'm very impressed with Windows 7. I've installed and tested both the pre-beta and the beta. Compared to Vista, Windows 7 -- even in its not yet ready-for-manufacturing form -- is clearly tighter, faster, and just generally hangs together better.
Oddly, a big part of Windows 7's appeal is all about what it's not. As in, it's not Vista. Like many users, I have come to accept Vista and even enjoy its clean, modern-looking Aero user interface.
I've nevertheless become unpleasantly accustomed to a kind of software cognitive dissonance, where I pretend not to be bothered by Vista's naggingly slow search, its middling boot-up time, and its propensity to crash apps. (On the other hand, I do like the fact that I've never really had to worry about security; something I can't say to the same degree for the much faster Windows XP.)
Still, what is Windows 7 but a Vista that's been fixed and improved? You can rely on the honesty of kids for this one: When my 10-year-old son took a look at the screen of my pre-beta install, he said: "That's Vista." (Try this experiment in your house.) But isn't this the point? Clearly Microsoft is hoping that the new OS will enable it to shed the taint of Vista, a brand which has been tolerated but never really embraced. Once Windows 7 is deployed, look for its predecessor (and all corporate references to same) to fade faster than Windows ME.
Microsoft also seems to be working hard not to replicate Vista's roll-out experience. Vista was launched in January, 2007 with much hoopla, after a year-long public-relations build-up. All the hype only made its lukewarm consumer -- and disinterested enterprise -- reception that much more of a downer. Since Vista actually works pretty well now, people forget what a black eye Microsoft got at the time.
I suspect the Vista experience remains seared into the minds of the marketing folks at Redmond. This likely explains what appears to be an almost stealth-like roll-out plan for Windows 7. As explained recently on Microsoft's Engineering Windows 7 blog, Microsoft intends to proceed quickly from the current beta to release candidate (RC), then to release-to-manufacturing (RTM), and finally to general availability (GA), almost without a pause to factor in all of its users' bug reports and feature requests. (At least, that's the big complaint from beta testers responding with comments on the post.)
This stands in marked contrast to Microsoft's previous prime directive, which was "we'll launch [product name goes here] when our customers tell us it's ready." With Windows 7, Microsoft is doing the telling, and it's telegraphing its angst about a release which can come none too soon, both to wash away the bad vibes of Vista and to reset the company onto a software platform that people are sure to snap up in big numbers.
Which brings us to my bottom-line assessment. Lest you think that I've been negative up to this point, let me state clearly that I believe Windows 7 will be a hit; a big hit.