Windows 7 was released to manufacturing and faces an installed base of users who don't yet know what to think of this new OS. They are a little jaded by what happened with Vista. This provides an opportunity for competitive displacement, and both Apple and Google are going for this gold. With the Windows 7 RTM, we start to put the Vista name and product rapidly into the past, along with Windows ME, DOS 5.0, and other less than memorable Windows Platforms. With today's announcement that Windows 7 is released to manufacturing, and large numbers supposedly already sold to business, it is time to start looking at this now very real offering.
Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been but is it enough to hold off the erosion to Apple and the possible erosion to the Chrome OS. Let's break out the crystal ball and look ahead to what Windows 7 faces.
I was chatting with one of the top technology reporters yesterday and he indicated that he and his wife are switching to the Mac platform. He has wanted to move for several years but his wife has been tied at the hip to Windows. Well, it seems that she got a virus last week and when she called McAfee, her AV vendor, to complain, they told her that to get rid of the virus she had, she needed to pay them more money. She saw this as extortion and, after her husband explained that Apple didn't have a virus problem, she agreed to move to the Mac. I've been seeing this same story play out a lot this last year and Apple's numbers, reflecting a market share growth of between 7 percent and 9 percent over the last quarter, would seem to confirm that Apple is on a ramp.
Apple sells on the idea that its product is simple to use, boots very quickly, doesn't require a lot of patching, is immune to viruses, and doesn't require painful migrations to new operating systems or new hardware. Post Windows 7, Windows users will see faster boot times, less painful migrations (assuming they don't miss an upgrade), and with the coming free virus program a better resilience to viruses. But Apple would still appear to have an advantage. To even close this gap, most Windows users have to get off of XP, which will be a relatively painful migration (compared to a Vista upgrade). Granted, to get this experience you have to pay a substantial premium for Apple hardware but an increasing number of people appear to be more than willing to do that to get a premium experience. Apple will likely never get more than 30 percent of the market, but the percentage it does get will likely be the most profitable in the segment.
For Google, things aren't quite so rosy. Google Chrome won't show up in time to benefit much from the Windows XP to Widows 7 upgrade pain and Google has about as much focus as a three-year-old that guzzled three Cokes and mainlined 20 Pixie Sticks (pure sugar). I got a call today asking me, and I kid you not, if I'd heard about the car Google was working on. Car?!? OMG.
In many ways, Google is turning out to be the polar opposite of Apple, and it is making me really appreciate Apple's focus and willingness to market at the moment. The difficulty with the Chrome OS is that it is simply too different and it feels like Google missed the whole "embrace and extend" thing that Microsoft initially demonstrated and Apple is learning to copy with things like MobileMe. Even if you look at Android, the new HTC phones embrace Windows not through Google but by going around them and licensing directly from Microsoft. Apple licensed ActiveSync itself directly and didn't need AT&T to do it. It is very much like Google has missed a meeting. It doesn't market its offerings, its new OS is late (and it could have bought Hyperspace from Phoenix and arrived on time), and it is so different that it is unlikely to be embraced by buyers. And all of this is in turn probably because Google can't focus to save its own life.
Wrapping Up: Apple Hit, Google Potential Miss
Windows 7 is a stunning product and I've been on it since January. With the enhancements, most should prefer it strongly to what has gone before. However, Apple will likely take share and further consolidate its position as the one Lexus vendor in a market made up of lots of Toyota vendors. Google's attempt to rediscover the Yugo in a PC will probably fail and keep Microsoft from being squeezed between Google and Apple. In the end, Apple still likely needs to establish a lower-end product line (or license the MacOS) if it wants to dominate, and Microsoft has to embrace the more premium (less disruptive) experience users want if it intends to hold its dominant share. And, of course, Google needs to learn the word "focus." In the end, this battle will likely be decided by the vendor that first learns how to address its competitor's strengths effectively without falling over its own weaknesses.