how windows 7 will sell more by being free

windows 7 ships on october 26.  when that day comes, you’ll start to see (if you haven’t already) a lot of reviews.  i’m guessing most of them will be very positive.

here’s the thing: windows 7 is a very good operating system.  it’s generations better than previous versions of windows and will definitely give OSX a run for its money.  there are new innovations in win 7 — actual, useful innovations in how to manage your windows, shortcuts, and desktop.  stunning new visual effects that put earlier versions of windows to shame that actually work without slowing your computer to a crawl, and compare with what Apple has done for years. even intelligent and functional troubleshooting support when you have problems.

and i should know: i’ve been using windows 7 for months.

what microsoft realized after vista is that image — more than the product itself — is everything.  this was proven when they did their mojave experiment, a bait-and-switch product test of vista which gave people (who had already decided not to upgrade to Windows Vista) a glimpse at a “new” operating system (actually Vista in disguise).  what these people realized is that when they actually saw Vista, they liked it. but the knowledge that microsoft had actually succeeded in making an operating system that people really liked alone wasn’t enough to salvage Vista’s bad rep.  could they still be battling the negative public opinion of the company since their antitrust case in the 90s?  microsoft needed to go one step further than they did with vista: they needed to make a great operating system that far surpassed anything they’d done before, and they needed to repair their broken image.  so they held a public beta of the new windows 7 operating system and gave it to the one group of people that mattered the most: the geeks.

let’s face it, geeks weren’t behind vista.  the heavy-handed addition of new gadgets and visual effects (at the expense of speed and reliability) and extra security measures (like User Access Control — invariably the first thing people turn off on a vista installation) made geeks rail against the operating system.  sales and public opinion were so bad that they extended support (and sales) for windows xp — many of us in the geek crowd saw this as a) admission of failure and b) an apology.   i used vista — it wasn’t all bad.  it was slow, and the network security measures made accessing my samba shared folder slow (something that carries over into win 7) was obnoxious.  but many of the complaints against vista could be overlooked or turned off.  but vista also got a lot of things right.  like, for example, that an appealing visual interface matters — something Apple has known for a long time.  and that, for 99% of their users, ease-of-use and accessibility is important — make everything easy to find and use — evidenced by some of the explorer upgrades (albeit undermined by UAC).

this wasn’t the first time microsoft previewed their new operating system.  however, it was the largest scale public beta they’ve ever done.  windows 7 picks up where vista left off and adds performance to the mix.  i won’t go into the list of features as this is less of a product review and more of a testimonial.  if you want a full features overview, gizmodo has a roundup of their complete windows 7 coverage which is a good place to start.  i was understandably reluctant when giz first announced the win 7 beta.  great, a beta version of windows, i thought.  as if windows didn’t have enough bugs in their released versions. a beta version of windows seemed to be asking for trouble.  but the initial reviews showed only minimal problems, and a lot of benefits.  not being overly attached to using a scrounged copy of vista, i went for it.  and i’m glad i did.  i love OSX, but the windows 7 experience (combined with the dock-clone for windows, objectdock ) makes me feel like i’m not missing out on something (except, maybe, garageband ).

here’s the real seller for microsoft, though, is this: windows 7 will be the first version of windows i’ve paid for since windows 98 .  i used to do tech support, and in tech support, it was somewhat of a joke if someone admitted to paying for a copy of windows.  everyone knew a list of places where they could get a copy for free — sometimes even just pilfering a corporate license from work.  we all knew that windows was an accepted necessity (although, for a lot of us, myself included, not that much of a necessity, and we ran linux instead of, or in addition to windows), and many of us thought that we certainly were not going to pay money for something we spent all day trying to fix for other people.  windows 7 changes that, and not because they’re doing a new Genuine Advantage thing.  by giving it away to geeks, developers, and technophiles  — and making it usable through summer 2010 to all beta and RC previewers — they’ve established that, this time at least, they’ve got their money where their mouth is: a great, feature-rich operating system that performs well and doesn’t suck.  and i’m not alone in saying that i’d be willing to pay for that.  glancing at the comments over at gizmodo, that sentiment echoes among many others.  for my own part, i really would rather use a legitimate license than be forced to find a hack or a workaround — it gets tiresome.  being a part of the beta and RC preview, it was relieving to not have to worry about that.  maybe i’m getting older and this is a new, more conservative me talking.  and the limited-time pre-order prices ($60 for Home edition, regular $199) helped a lot.  but it’s just like file sharing in music — if i hear something i like, i’m more likely to pay money for it, either go to the show or buy the cd.

we’re still a little over a month away, but i’m predicting windows 7 will be a huge success.  and i challenge you to find a review of windows 7 that says it sucks and isn’t written by a semi-literate neanderthal on a bulletin board.  the question isn’t whether it’s good this time.  the question is whether it’s good enough that it’s a rightful standard, or just another necessary evil.





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