Windows 7: the grown-up Vista

It is the very lack of innovation in Windows 7 that makes it a success.

Windows 7 is winning the hearts of early users and testers alike, despite the fact that it is largely just a tuned up edition of Vista. Ironically, it's this very lack of change that seems to be what users seem to like most about it. Back in 2006 Windows Vista hit the market with a big thud, and masses of customer opprobrium. Three years later, however, Windows 7 is set to hit the market with an entirely different type of reception. Beta testers, and reviewers, are offering rave reviews (for the most part), giving high marks for performance, compatibility, and user interface improvements. The positive impressions surrounding Microsoft’s newest operating system say more about the misperceptions of Vista than they do about how good Windows 7 is. After all, Windows 7 is little more than a souped up edition of Vista. It’s not as if Windows 7 really changes any of the key issues that had caused so much criticism of its predecessor. The host of compatibility complaints surrounding Vista are still present in Windows 7: any applications, or hardware, that failed to work on Vista will continue to malfunction on Windows 7. Neither have the Vista user interface changes, which also caused XP aficionados to lament, been reversed in Windows 7. More than anything, the primary reason Windows 7 is going over so well is time itself. Over the last three years the entire software and hardware ecosystem has finally caught up, providing versions that are fully compatible with Vista. It has reached the point where user experiences with Vista are actually pretty good today. There is hardly any software or hardware on the market that won’t work with it. Ironically, it is the very lack of change, or innovation, in Windows 7 that so pleases the early adopters. By contrast, Vista truly was innovative, and saw the introduction of significant changes in many areas, including security and driver models. Unfortunately, the result of the ambitious improvements introduced with Vista was to break compatibility with many existing products, and this (more than anything else) led to the lackluster reception. This is not to say that Windows 7 is a bad operating system, far from it (I am using it on the very machine I am writing this article on). On the other hand, I never thought Vista was all that bad. Provided you weren’t trying to run old hardware or software with kernel mode drivers, it worked very well, and had far fewer security hassles than Windows XP. Most of the applications that have problems running on Vista are broken for very good reasons (often because they violate good coding practices, and create vulnerability or reliability issues). The real challenge for Microsoft will be how it handles the next version of Windows. If it sticks with the Windows 7 minimalist strategy, it will be difficult to make much significant headway in moving the bar for innovation. As if any further evidence were needed, Vista unequivocally proved that products with large existing user communities can’t be changed without facing a backlash. The more Microsoft tries to innovate in their operating system, the more they are likely to upset their customers. This is the classic [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology]innovator’s dilemma[/url]: too much change alienates most of your customers, but too little change leaves you vulnerable to losing influential clientele who love adopting novel products. NOTE: I have written an in-depth [url=http://bit.ly/40b05F]article on the challenges Microsoft faces[/url] when attempting to innovate, citing examples I came across while working as a member of the Windows engineering organization.

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