I really was anticipating a battle royal between Microsoft and Apple and thought both companies would come to the mat with their best stuff. It felt like Apple was so focused on maintaining high margins last quarter that it gave up a huge chance to grow share, and its stealth launch of a couple of PCs and a multitouch mouse just seemed lame next to the massive rollout of Windows boxes.
Seriously, competing with a touchscreen product with a multitouch mouse is sort of like GM competing with Ford’s antilock brake system with a vibrating brick you glue to the break pedal. If Microsoft had done this instead of Apple, Mac fans would be rolling in the aisles. They don’t seem to be finding this that funny.
I did get some mail from Apple fans pointing out the similarity between the new hardware, software and experience to an Apple from folks who evidently didn’t quite grasp that this similarity comes at around 50 percent of the cost. They also seemed not to get that touch, like the iPhone does touch, is done on the screen — not on a touchpad or mouse.
It amazes me how Apple fans seem to focus like a laser on who copies whom, particularly with the patent infringement litigation popping up all around Apple. It seems incredibly hypocritical to me, especially given how Apple started.
I’ll share my observations on the Windows 7 launch and some of the things I got from several of the customers who were either trying out or deploying the product — yes, one enterprise had actually deployed Windows 7 on 2,300 machines.I’ll close with my product of the week, which kind of has to be Windows 7.
Windows 7 Surprise 1: IT Loves Windows 7
For launches, Microsoft is at a severe disadvantage because it believes strongly in public beta tests, which make it very difficult to create the same kind of shock and awe Apple gets from surprising its audience with new and different things.
However, that surprise comes at a cost, which I think is directly related to how buggy the most recent releases of OS X and the iPhone were. Windows 7 came out relatively clean, and part of the reason people pay more for Apple is the perception that Apple provides higher quality.
That perception currently seems out of kilter with reality. One of the surprises was just how well the corporate trials were going. BothDel Monte and Baker Tilly (an accounting and business process firm that deployed Windows 7 on 2,300 machines) indicated improved moral and employee retention advantages. Baker Tilly added that it was saving US$200 a year on every desktop due to a combination of management improvement, stability, compatibility and energy savings.
This is the first time I’ve seen a large deployment done before the official launch, and the first time an early deployment that was used as a reference wasn’t cofunded by Microsoft. That’s right — according to Baker Tilly, Microsoft didn’t chip in at all. Dell did use this for training and discounted the services, but Microsoft didn’t buy this deployment; Baker Tilly did it for competitive advantage and migrated from XP.
Del Monte, on the other hand, was waiting for a series of updates and indicated Windows 7 had showcased some bad coding practices some of its vendors had been using. It was waiting for the vendors to correct their code before deploying and only had 65 machines in test. But Del Monte actually gushed about the product, and IT guys rarely gush about anything.
Overall, based on a recent ITIC survey, the sense is that corporations will likely move aggressively on this product — which for them means after only a year of testing, and some of that testing clearly started months ago. 2010 could turn out to be a big year. Windows 7 isn’t Vista as much as Apple might wish it were.
Surprise 2: Themes
On the night before the launch, Microsoft released a bunch of new themes for Windows 7. I’m a big fan of customization; I like my system to be uniquely mine, and having the ability to build my own theme is actually kind of cool. However, I kind of got hooked on the Infiniti theme, because it is based on a prototype car that I really hope Infiniti builds — I want it in the worst possible way.
Additional themes are based on motorcycles, other hot cars, video games and locations. I imagine there will be many more as content owners use this to promote TV shows, books, movies, and other video games.
Surprise 3: Media Center on Steroids
Microsoft really bulked up the media center, and the best part is the huge increase in Internet TV stations. This really makes the product work as a unique set-top box, even if you never use the tuner function. This is important, because even though the tuners are vastly improved — those of us that build systems can now get get cable-card enabled tuners — the pain-in-the-butt cable card would remain daunting for most.
I have eight cable cards, and the cost and pain of having them installed just doesn’t seem worth it. I will say this: It’s clear that if you’re a FIOS customer, the result could be really cool, because FIOS allows copy everywhere, which means ultimate portability for most content (remote streaming, laptop caching, multi-room viewing etc.). Overall, Media Center suddenly looks more interesting (and there is evidently more coming).
Surprise 4: Massive Multi-Room Streaming
Microsoft showcased streaming videos and pictures to around 11 TVs connected to set-top boxes, with built-in media extenders. Connected to an Xbox and one digital picture frame from one mainstream laptop, it wasn’t even performance constrained. You could’ve still worked on the box.
Granted, this is more of a technology showcase, and I doubt anyone would really do this — but for those who want to build a whole-house video and audio distribution system, Windows 7 could actually be the hub.
While this wasn’t new or surprising to those of us who have been using Windows 7, I want to point this out as my co-favorite feature. Historically, Windows users, and I’m no exception, have had nightmares making their networked stuff visible. It seemed like things were there one day and gone the next. In addition, you had to copy stuff from machine to machine, often creating redundant copies or overwriting things you didn’t want to lose.
Home Group coupled with Libraries is a godsend. Everything is always visible, and if you copy something to a library, it is instantly visible on all Home Group enabled machines. It’s like Active Directory without the administrative overhead.
My other co-favorite thing is that Suspend works, though it is interesting to note that boot is vastly faster. Lenovo said it was doing full boots of Windows 7 on next-generation SSD drives in less than 10 seconds, which is blindingly fast. However, I have two Atom/Ion desktop machines, and these things were not only incredibly cheap (under $500 with SSD drives) but they go to sleep and wake up in about two seconds.
Being able to walk up to a completely blacked-out machine and move the mouse to get it going has been something I’ve always hoped to do but rarely have been able to accomplish.
Product of the Week: Windows 7
Seven has always been one of my two lucky numbers, and I have truly enjoyed working on this product since January. While Microsoft had to comp me an MSDN subscription so I could broadly test the product on a number of machines, I also bought several copies myself just so I could give it away as a gift.
My hope is that this product represents a new Microsoft that can once again focus on trying to build amazing desktop products and giving Apple fans heartburn.
Based on the mail I’m getting, I think that heartburn must be really hurting at the moment, because so many seem to be desperately trying to say Apple did this or that first. What they seem to forget is that Apple’s success is often not tied to being first but being the first to do it right — and that was once Microsoft’s strength as well. It looks like it may be its strength again.
From the Beta testers and analysts I’ve spoken with and know to the enterprise clients that have deployed and tested this product and love it, Windows 7 has been a breath of fresh air in a market that desperately needs it.
As a result, I can think of no better candidate for product of the Week than Windows 7. Nice job, people. Now, if we can just get Microsoft to copy the way Apple presents a product…
Maybe by Windows 8.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.