Windows 7 – not so make or break time for Microsoft

Windows 7 screenshotThis week is only about one thing in the computer world – the release of the Microsoft’s new operating system Windows 7. With the ghosts of the Vista release fiasco still haunting them, some are also questioning whether its success or failure could also mark a historic moment in the evolution of Microsoft. Will it be the operating system that restores some pride to the much maligned company and gets it back on track in the operating system world or could it spell the beginning of the end of Microsoft’s domination of the PC market?

One thing we can say with certainty is that it can’t be worse than Windows Vista. The only way is up for Microsoft in terms of operating systems which isn’t a bad place to start from. Vista was not only delivered two years late but caused all manner of incompatibility problems with third party software and hardware (including even Micrsoft’s own Zune!) and had users flocking back to Windows XP. It says something that one of OnSoftware’s most popular posts ever was a simple list of Vista themes for XP proving that users liked the look of Vista but hated the bloated Aero engine and frustrating functionality.

The timing of the release is also probably better for Microsoft. Apple have recently proved that they’re not immune to new operating system cock-ups with basic incompatibility problems surrounding the release of their latest operating system edition, Snow Leopard. And Microsoft executives must have breathed a sigh of relief when Google announced that its new operating system Chrome OS won’t be launched until mid-2010. However, Google have announced that they will be releasing the code for it later this year which could yet throw a spanner in the works for Windows 7.

From a functionality perspective, it also seems Microsoft have done better this time. Our very own Elena took the Windows 7 Release Candidate for a test drive in May and was impressed particularly by the new Mac Dock like Taskbar for program launching and Libraries which makes file management more intuitive. Other Softonic users were similarly impressed noting it was a return to XP form but with many of the useless aspects of Vista removed and improved upon such as Jeremiah_M who reported:

Well, after going out and buying a Mac, since I swore off Windows Vista, I downloaded the Windows 7 RC. I can honestly say I’m impressed. I noticed that all the drivers for my ASUS N80 laptop for Vista work absolutely fine except the video driver. Downloaded the BETA driver from nVidia, and ran some game test. So far no crashes, 20% increase in frame-rate test over Vista, and everything loads so much faster and runs so much more smoothly. Honestly makes me wonder if it isn’t a truly beefed up version of Windows XP SP3, with a lot of the good features from vista, without all the garbage.

However, if looks could kill then Windows 7 resemblance to Vista may be its biggest problem. Elena noticed that it still retains the same Vista-like appearance and overall, didn’t introduce any remarkable changes. First impressions last and consumers will expect a lot more than a slightly improved XP with a Vista look for $120 when Apple customers paid a mere $30 for Snow Leopard. Microsoft would of course argue that Windows 7 is an entirely new operating system whereas Snow Leopard, by Apple’s own admission, was mainly a tweak of Leopard. The proof is in the pudding however and it will be users that decide whether Windows 7 is just a tweak or something new entirely.

The litmus test for Windows 7 will be in the netbook market. Netbooks represent the PC market’s fastest growing area and at the moment, most carry XP instead of Vista because the latter is too bloated to work properly on most netbooks. Since 96% of netbooks already run Windows, if Windows 7 is basically an improved XP with a Vista look but smaller CPU footprint, then it could be a runaway success.

Sink or swim however, the success or failure of Windows 7 won’t have a massive bearing on the fortunes of Microsoft. Windows is so widely used in offices and business environments that switching to Apple, Linux or even a new Google OS would just be too problematic or costly for most companies and organizations. Commercial consumers at least will do what they’ve always done with new Microsoft OS releases – like it or lump it and the software giant will sail on regardless.

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