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.

windows 7 beta review

so, i’ve been running win 7 beta on my main machine for a little while now and thought i should share my thoughts, since, you know, that’s kind of the whole point of this beta thing…

boot time

bootup time is significantly faster than vista and xp.  i’m actually pretty surprised at how quickly it’s able to load all my crazy startup apps since it was always a good 5-10 minutes before vista was usable after loading the desktop.  i could do without the light-of-god startup wallpaper, though.  i was hoping it was just an installer wallpaper, but, no, it’s there every time i boot.  however…

uptime stability

it seems pretty stable when it’s up.  i’ve only had to reboot it a couple of times in the last week or two i’ve been running windows 7, and i leave it on all the time.  one of those reboots was after the install.  one of them was a hard reboot after the install when i must’ve tried to open too many windows before it was ready and it locked up hard.  since then, i’ve been a bit more generous and let it finish its thing before trying to start up anything.

installation

horrible, horrible, awful, worst thing ever.  like cutting my fingertips with a lemon-soaked razor blade and force feeding them to myself with some vinegar while being tarred and feathered.  right now, you can only upgrade from vista.  fine.  so i start up the installer.  the installer says there might be a problem with some RAID controller i don’t care about because i’m not using a RAID array.  it asks, do you want to upgrade to the most recent version of the software?  sure, i say.  it is a beta version, after all.  so it does the update and says the installer can’t continue without a reboot.  so i reboot, and assume that i can boot off the cd and continue the install.  negatory, good buddy.  i wait the requisite (?!) 20 minutes or so for it to finally get to a screen where i can actually do anything at all when the installer tells me, “i’m sorry, you need to be running Windows to be able to update it.”  now, having used microsoft for, oh, i don’t know, ever, being required to have windows running… in order to install windows… aaaah…. does. not. compute–

so, i reboot again, and start the install over.  this time, i skip the update — natch — and plow ahead to the install.  it says i may have a problem with some RAID controller i don’t care about only now skype might not work.  crap.  i actually use skype for communicating with customers, so if that were a miss, i’d be s.o.l.  i quickly google “win 7 skype” and find two relevant links, one of which is a pc computing site reviewing the beta who also got the message, but said skype worked fine, and one was a somewhat aggressively dumb-sounding blogger who lamented over the fact that skype wasn’t working, so he had to resort to using the “butt-ugly” skype 4 beta — so my worst case scenario is i have to use an “ugly” beta skype.  whatever.  after that the install went without a hitch and skype did work, but i had to tell windows that i understand there may be problems with the performance and yeah, i do this at my own risk, yadda yadda yadda.

user experience

huh?
huh?

so far, in using win 7, i’m a big fan.  i agree that the new taskbar is awesome, especially the preview windows and being able to cycle through them, although i’m a little lost when it comes to the reason for hiding all the windows and showing the desktop but with the outlines of your open windows — i.e., when would i need this?  i don’t agree that the new taskbar beats the osx dock — it still seems too clunky to me, but it works in addition to the dock and thank god stardock’s objectdock still works in win 7.

overall performance seems a lot faster than vista.  i haven’t done any real benchmarking but it feels faster, and since that’s one of the main improvements microsoft was working on, i’m trusting that it actually is faster, especially since win 7 beats vista on netbooks. (yes, this is a gizmodo farm, but it’s been my primary source of news and information regarding windows 7, and was the inspiration for me to make the upgrade, so i figure it’s justified.)

most of the rest of the user experience just repeats what vista started, and i actually liked the gui in vista, so i’m not complaining.

 i’m not a fan of when a security warning window pops up (like when you need to unblock an app that is trying to access the internet), it blacks out your whole screen until you respond to the security pop-up.  windows 7 also did some crazy shiznat with my gamma after installing, and i had to run through the display wizard to make it not suck.  additionally, ie8 is a pile of poo, and displayed arcanepalette.com in completely new and excitingly bad ways as compared not only to  other browsers, but additionally to ie7 and its’ own “compatibility mode.”  as a web designer, this is insanely frustrating — how am i expected to design for browser compatibility when even the browser isn’t compatible with other versions of itself?  (arcane palette looks fine in ie7 now)

hibernation is broken

as has previously also been mentioned on giz, hibernation is broken.  i just got a taste of it tonight as i came to my computer and found it mysteriously off.  this often happened in vista, too, when there was a power hitch, and the pc switched over to the backup battery — vista would run for the hills and go into hibernation even when i modified the power options to not do that unless it’s running on the battery for 5 minutes.  unsuprising, then, that win 7 seems to have done the same thing, only this time trying to resume left me staring at a black screen for several minutes until i cold booted.  unlike some other reports, though, that, and saying screw the resume, just boot me up when prompted was all that was needed to get me going again.

overall

my overall reaction is, wow, come july, when this thing actually ships, and subsequently august when it’s going to brick my computer, i may actually spend the cash to buy this os outright.  seriously.  i mean, this is an operating system i’d pay money for, much like osx (although, i maintain that if you’re upgrading the current os, it should be free, or a discounted upgrade, rather than dropping 150 bucks every time you move the decimal up a notch…i’m looking at you, apple).  i honestly haven’t been this excited about windows since ’98, and subsequent releases when i often said “yeah, windows 98 may have a couple bugs here and there, but i know my way around them, and at least it’s not windows ME…