Microsoft Thursday launched the next version of Windows, dubbed Windows 7. The problem is: a majority of current Windows users still use XP, which is getting to be nine years old now.
After the launch of Windows Vista, people had no option but to buy PCs pre-loaded with Vista. Some paid extra to "downgrade" to Windows XP.
The main issues with Vista? Widespread reports of sluggishness, frequent hangs and crashes, and incompatibility with certain software and hardware. Vista was basically a troublesome experience.
Somewhere down the line, Microsoft had lost touch with consumers. And it has worked hard to correct the shortcomings.
Windows 7 was available for thousands of Beta testers worldwide since January, and Microsoft listened to what they had to say. Many bugs have been ironed out -- this time before the official release of the product.
According to PC vendors, market acceptance of Windows 7 is much higher than it was for Vista. This is good news for the new PC market and Microsoft. To quote most reviewers of the pre-release versions: "Windows 7 is what Vista should have been".
And Windows 7 is a "make-or-break" situation for Microsoft, especially after the Vista debacle. But Wired magazine summed it up aptly: "Although Windows 7 will be familiar to XP users, fundamentally it's different enough to make you change the way you think of Microsoft."
Here's why I think Windows 7 will encourage thousands of PC users to spend their money to upgrade.
* Speed - It's faster on the same hardware
* Compatibility - It has lower hardware requirements and works well on older machines and netbooks
* New features - Windows 7 is prettier than Vista and comes with new features like aero peek, aero snap, aero shake (to handle multiple open applications and windows better), easier home networking
* Longer battery life - Users will get better battery life with notebook PCs since Windows 7 makes more efficient use of system resources.
* Hardware advantages - It will boost performance with newer multi-core CPUs
* Increased security - The new Windows Action Center integrates security and maintenance into one package
* New Media - Native support for Blu-Ray, ISO image burning and new media formats and codecs to fully take advantage of the digital age.
Will businesses upgrade?
This is a particularly tricky question. It takes time to deploy an operating system on a large scale and decision makers may be hesitant of shaking up a current system on XP that "works" and has nothing wrong with it.
Even so, it makes sense to consider that:
* After almost nine years, XP is beginning to show its age; it cannot last forever
* Rather than upgrade hardware, companies can spend the same amount to upgrade to Windows 7; of course, this probably only applies to PCs less than 3-4 years old. Beyond that, it doesn't really make sense to stretch the hardware
* Windows 7 offers much improved security
* There will be inevitable compatibility issues with XP as it gets even older, plus discontinued support from Microsoft
But Microsoft also faces major challenges with Windows 7:
* Windows 7 does not offer a very smooth transition from XP -- there is no upgrade option, only a fresh install; the data however remains
* There could be possible employee training and network management issues for corporates
* The economic slowdown will hamper upgrade
* Vista still casts a shadow on business users of Windows and turnaround will take time
* Chinese pirates have already hijacked the launch of Windows 7 and copies with authentic-looking packaging sell for as little as $3 in China
* Prices for the full versions are likely to be high, which is a problem
I think businesses will not immediately switch to Windows 7. In the long run, yes. Right now, there aren't many tangible benefits (or at least none that have been properly communicated).
But it's a whole different story for consumers. After having used Windows 7 for over six months now, I can tell you Microsoft has something big here. They've finally got their act together!