Windows 7: Apple and Microsoft's Gift to Windows Users

Rob Enderle

This is Windows 7 launch week and I just finished going over much of the marketing creative that'll you'll see in a few days. This is some of the best work I've seen, and the fact that it is coming from Microsoft is largely because of Apple. I think there are some lessons here, the first being that negative campaigns tend to focus competitors and Apple's Mac vs. PC campaign focused Microsoft in a way I haven't seen in years. The result is possibly the best desktop product Microsoft has ever created. Even IT seems to be getting excited. However, I doubt Steve Ballmer will be sending Apple a thank-you card.


However, if you get to use the product, you may want to. I've loaded Windows 7 in its final form on about 10 systems now and, with a couple exceptions which I'll note, it has been a pleasure to work with. I should point out that several times it actually worked much better than I expected.



I've had two problem systems: One was an upgrade and one was a clean install. On the upgrade, the system works fine in use, but it won't sleep properly. This was the same behavior I had with Windows Vista on the same system, and it appears that I've effectively passed this behavior on when I upgraded. Every other system is suspending and resuming flawlessly.


The other problem is with my old Intel V8 box. These were sent out as examples of what Intel could do and they are stunning, in terms of performance, 8-core systems with twin high-performance linked graphics cards. They are more like high-end workstations or servers than desktops. This is the only system that seems to want to crash from time to time, and I think it is because it is running custom Vista drivers that simply don't work that well with Windows 7 yet. Specially built systems are always risky with any upgrade; I don't mean home built, either. The motherboard in this product is derived from a server part and is exceedingly rare.

Suggested Approaches:

This suggests that -- and this shouldn't be surprising -- if you have special hardware that is relatively rare, you should likely hold off on Windows 7 until, and unless, you know there are Windows 7 drivers for it. Custom systems tend to be designed for a particular code base and work best when they stay on it. The Intel system was rock solid on Vista because it was designed to be, but once out the door there was no real need to continue that support.


Clean installs, while they take a bit longer, are always better. You end up with a new system with all new drivers. If you do an upgrade, there is a chance malware, improper settings, or non-compliant drivers will pass to the new system, and you'll spend days trying to figure out what has gone wrong. If you have a virus, it is likely it, too, will be passed to the new system and, because it is part of the initial boot image, it may be much more difficult for an antivirus product to find it. Several of us have concluded that it's worth the time to do a clean install.



Unlike Vista, with the exceptions noted above, Windows 7 has installed very cleanly. After about 15 minutes, it has been fully patched and ready to run. I sometimes run down the latest graphics driver from the vendor site because the product isn't released yet, but this is the easiest clean installation experience I've ever had. Granted, I'm generally using hardware that is less than 2 years old, which historically provides the best experience anyway, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how easily it goes in.


Desktop suspend, particularly on new hardware, is worth the price of admission. Particularly on the two low-powered Intel Atom/Nvidia Ion boxes I have, the systems drop into low-powered sleep -- all lights and fans go off and then nearly instantly wake up when I move the wireless mouse. This was vastly better than I expected. I found I could live on these new dual-core Atom/Ion-based products very well. This is nice because they are nearly silent and they use about 30 watts, a fraction of the power of a typical desktop.


My Panasonic Toughbook, which has a large amount of custom Panasonic software on it, did the in-place upgrade flawlessly. Everything just worked and it saved me a ton of time I would have spent running down Windows 7 versions of the various applications.


One cute feature in Windows 7 is that when you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot that requires you open a Web page and sign in, the task bar icon generates a message telling you to do this so you don't sit there wondering why you're connected and nothing seems to be working. There are vastly longer lists of things to like that others have posted. One of our friends was complaining that she couldn't just upload a picture and instantly share it, putting her on the list of folks who will love the new Libraries. This really does feel like a hit at the moment.


Overall Impressions:

I've been on this platform since January through the late beta and into the RC cycle. My XP machines are long gone and I have only a couple of boxes still running Vista. Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been: It is fast, key features work as expected and there is enough new to be interesting, but not so much that it's overwhelming. The addition of Security Essentials closes the door on built-in antivirus, even though it isn't really built in yet (just free, thank antitrust for that) and Windows Live adds the iLife like elements that were lacking for consumers.


For corporations, the stability and improved useful security -- as opposed to annoying "turn the goddamn thing off" security Vista had -- is welcome. The fact that the ecosystem is up to speed this time means problems related to drivers and application compatibility are vastly reduced. There is an optional XP mode that allows you to run XP in a virtualized layer, though I don't recommend using it unless you have no choice because I believe it leads to bad security practices. (It effectively doubles the attack surface of the product and delays the elimination of out-of-date and likely vulnerable applications). It's clearly nice to have a choice and you may not be able to move some critical app, though you probably won't be able to stay on XP forever.


Given a choice, bring Windows 7 in on new hardware or my second preference is to do a clean installation, but I have found in-line upgrades generally go well from Vista unless the system was already experiencing problems (the problem may migrate as well). Hardware is pretty cheap. The signature laptop that enables all the key features from Acer is less than $800.


Wrapping Up:

I'm reviewing a survey (I'll post on this later) by Sunbelt Software and Laura DiDio on deployment plans (consistent with last year's survey) that suggest most companies will begin their deployments of Windows 7 within 12 months. I expect much of this will be gated by the release of Office 2010 which the OEMs tell me is extremely good (I haven't seen it yet). This suggests the beginning of an evaluation cycle once people get back from the holidays and start considering alternative hardware choices like netbooks, ultra-small form factor desktops and all-in-ones, which increasingly will be available to cut both purchase and energy costs.


Windows 7 means change, and I think it is a change for the better. Over the next few months you may want to consider what else you may want to change at the same time. It's something to noodle on with your eggnog or Halloween candy. You might also want to toast Steve Jobs, because, without his pounding on Microsoft as much as he did, I doubt Windows 7 would have been this good.

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