We are ramping to the launch of Windows Vista SP1 and most of the Microsoft watchers are speculating whether business, particularly enterprises, will move to Vista once this major patch is out. In thinking back to Windows 95, we had similar issues, but Windows 95 had some rather significant and unique benefits as well and the speculation on Windows 7 suddenly has a Windows 95 feel.
Windows 95: A Perfect Storm Product (Almost)
The ramp to the Windows 95 launch was in many ways very much like the ramp to the iPhone. Folks were excited about the offering, news programs ate up every code change, and there wasn't a month that went by in the release year where some major news service wasn't covering the offering. There wasn't a lot of other sustaining news, particularly in the technology market, and this was to be the big breakout product.
Application developers, seeing what appeared to be a massive wave, were all over themselves trying to build applications for the offering, and we had hardware vendors coming out of our ears who wanted to build specifically for Windows 95. This led to one of the most amazing launch events I've ever attended; the Microsoft campus was turned into a circus with the main tent showcasing the product in a presentation that concluded with the developers taking a bow.
The boxes containing the new product had white fluffy clouds on them and, coincidently Redmond, Washington had matching weather; the sky actually matched the art on the boxes. I mention this because it added significantly to the impression of the event. There were tents all over campus with hardware and software being shown, all designed to revolutionize the PC. You couldn't help but walk away seeing this as the future. I remember telling the Mac guys that they were so screwed because they had nothing that could match the impressions that were being created during that time. Had Microsoft continued to execute to that level, I believe Apple probably wouldn't have made it until Steve Jobs' return. But...
The "Almost" Part
Post-launch, the team crumbled. There was so much that was new, people started running into significant problems with the product, particularly when installed on older hardware. Drivers were a nightmare and the unique configurations that were resulting had significant system failures occurring in massive numbers. To deal with long wait times, Microsoft support did one of the stupidest things I've ever seen that company, or any company, do. They busied out the support lines to hold down the wait times -- this meant they had no idea how big the breakage was and couldn't staff up to take control of it if they wanted to. Sales cratered, Apple missed a bullet, and Windows 95 went from being the most amazing product that Microsoft had ever done to one that carries a stigma, even today.
But it was still driven by users into the enterprise at a relatively high rate because its aging predecessor simply wasn't up to the task. Its line ended with a whimper when Windows ME shipped. To this day, there is likely no product that holds lower regard in the operating system space than ME, and the professional market largely moved to Windows 2000/XP. Next page: Deja vu?
Windows 7: Another Better Windows 95?
The early indications are that the Windows team at Microsoft is going to try to push the envelope again with Windows 7 and make some major changes. For consumers, this will likely be a major event and we'll see if folks can get as excited again about a PC as they once did.
With a lot of speculation on when this offering is coming out, Windows 7 SP1 won't be here before 2010 in any case. We probably shouldn't even be thinking about it yet. But, we started talking about Windows 95 long before we knew when it was going to launch. It is this early buzz that makes this product appear to be on a Windows 95 path.
For IT, however, particularly organizations that haven't moved off Windows XP, the Windows 7 launch could be an ugly time; the user demand for this upgrade could be similar to the Windows 95 wave and much more disruptive.
The key will be to make sure that the move to Windows 7 isn't user driven and instead is a measured move. Next, we'll talk about a core group of customers, resembling Apple customers in their zeal, that seem to be demanding Vista, and we'll close this series with the suggestion that you consider moving to Vista SP1 to make sure you are able to move to Windows 7 at your own schedule.