Microsoft slides spotlight the tech features of Windows 7.
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True, Microsoft has tried to morph the OS from the pure computing functionality it delivered in the 1990s toward a more media-centric paradigm. Unfortunately, while the PC as media center makes conceptual sense, it doesn't seem to be where the market will ultimately end up.
You could argue that we are there now, in that many consumers have their PCs set up as media centers. I'd respond that this is just a mirage, a false interregnum until the convergence of the PC and the TV is complete. (Go to CES next January and then tell me I'm wrong!) Consumers currently have the PCs configured as "media centers," if they're even aware of this fact, because Vista tilts them in that direction, not because they have a genuine desire to watch movies and TV show downloads while sitting at their home-office desk. (Not during non-office hours, anyway.) The only useful media app on most people's desktops is iTunes. Once Apple can figure out a better way than Apple TV to get videos over to peoples' set tops, it's all over. (Or maybe Amazon will Unbox Jobs first.)
So while Microsoft has done an elegant job in correcting the performance lapses of Vista -- it's fixed search, for example -- I'm not sure that Windows 7 will be anything more (or less) than the last great desktop operating system. Which isn't so bad if this is Microsoft's penultimate (look it up, here; it doesn't mean "last") act, and it's got a true lighter-weight OS successor in the wings.
My idea on that front -- and I know it's quite frankly insane -- is to simply take Linux (any distro will do), fix it up so normal people can actually install and use it, and release it. Call it "Microsoft Open Source." Give it away, sell it for $30 with phone "support" ("Is your PC plugged in?"); who cares? I call this the creative destruction play, because this'd let Microsoft focus on apps, the server OS, (where the revenue stream will remain flush for a long time) and integrating those back-end servers with a heterogeneous mobile workforce running a variety of laptops, netbooks, and phones. With those apps running in the cloud!
I'm veering away from Windows 7 now, so you'll have to read my next column for more on this vision of the hetero-computing future. For now, check out the photo gallery of my Windows 7 RC install, here:
Here's a video I did in March, which includes some Microsoft-generated footage about its enterprise ecosystem.
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.