The Virtuous CIO  

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September 12, 2010 — Windows 7 Again

This seems like a good time to revisit the Windows 7 issue. A couple of weeks ago I acquired my new work laptop, which came with Windows 7. I removed the Windows XP workstation from my office, and it now relying solely upon a Windows 7 desktop. Since our strategy is to install Windows 7 and Office 2010 and, I decided it was time for me to eat our own dog food (as our friends at Microsoft phrase it).

Over the past several weeks I have had fairly extensive experience with Windows 7. The notebook came with Windows 7 home premium, which I had to replace with Windows 7 Professional (this is something allowed us under our campus license agreement). Rather than allowing our service desk to do the installation, which is the normal procedure, I decided to do the setup myself. I now have a completely functional laptop, which dual boots into Ubuntu Lucid, by the way.

The installation itself was relatively trouble-free. Windows 7 is docile on the installation, and most of my challenges were related to the particular software load I needed. Everything works well, and the battery life is terrific. The only challenge I currently have is the temptation to spend most of my time in Linux rather than Windows. More about that later

The desktop installation was slightly more difficult because of some software which is unsupported under Windows 7. Rather than using the XP mode, which is available in 7, I chose to use VM Ware workstation since I already had a license for it. I was able to configure a virtual machine to run the software I needed.

So... everything is installed and running properly. Windows 7 performs well and has been reliable so far. I think we will probably have a successful migration in our organization. That being said, I can now descend into my gripe session.

Let's be honest here: other than one significant issue my complaints are petty and inconsequential. The more I use Windows 7 the less I like it. Windows XP fit like an old shoe. I could sweep through the operating system with a series of keystrokes and do so mostly unconsciously. I now have to think about each interaction with the OS. The changes in the desktop organization seem gratuitous and have not improved the ease of use in any meaningful way. Yes, I know I can press the start orb and use the search field to quickly find the function I need, but my use of XP has become so ingrained that I often cannot remember the name of the function that I need to search for.

The Aero GUI is pretty, and easy for the novice to use, but I get impatient with the lag as the system maneuvers the attractive graphics around the screen. I am not opposed to the flashy graphics, but I have found the similar graphics in Linux to be faster and easier to comprehend. I wonder how much of the graphical design was based upon the need to attract the consumer, rather than improve productivity.

The Microsoft tradition of doing things "our way or no way" is fully active in Windows 7. Microsoft has put a lot of time and effort into keeping the average user out of trouble. I get annoyed when the computer attempts to hold my hand. I know what I am doing. When I need help, I know where to go ask. On the other hand, I know that experts are fully as capable of screwing up a computer as the newbies. I speak from experience. I do believe I should have the freedom to screw my computer into the ground without the incessant nagging from Microsoft.

The only significant issue in terms of the update that gives me pause is the lack of any compelling business reason to move to Windows 7. This was true when the product was introduced; it is still true today. It's a nice operating system, and Microsoft did a good job on it. Business has grudgingly agreed to go along with the upgrade, although this is not happening as quickly as everyone thought it would. I try to understand Microsoft's frustrations on this. Here they have a nice shiny new operating system and everyone wants to stick with Old Faithful. They have stuck with supporting XP far longer than anyone thought they would, and I am sure they are weary of it. But, as they say, that's not my problem.

My solution would be for Microsoft to fork the Windows code base. Like any software company, Microsoft would be loath to do this. It would force them to add resources to support a separate product, which would be in direct competition to their flagship. But think of the public relations advantages of taking XP and renaming it "Windows classic." This would allow them to continue marketing a beautiful, glittery consumer product that people would love. It would also give them a product that would allow people in the office to get real work done. There is a precedent out there to. Several years ago Intel was at it hammer and tong is to move the computing universe over to the 64-bit Itanium processor. AMD came along and created a set of 64-bit extensions to the classic x86 instruction set. Intel is probably still hurting from that little misadventure, but the customers are happy.

The accepted wisdom says that Microsoft has passed its peak as a business. I do not know if this is true or not, however, listening to the customers never hurts. Microsoft would spend a considerable amount of money in revitalizing the XP code base. They would also generate a considerable amount of goodwill in such an action. So, how about it, Mr. Ballmer?