Twenty-five years ago yesterday, Bill Gates unveiled Windows 1.0, which means it was probably 25 years ago today that the first critical assaults on the operating system were launched. A quarter century later, both Windows and its legions of detractors are bigger than ever, as evidenced not only by the pummeling taken by Windows Vista, but by some recent rips on Windows 7, barely in its alpha stage and apparently targeted to ship by this time next year. (Note, though, that Windows 1.0 didn’t actually get to market for two years after the unveiling, establishing another ongoing tradition, delivery slippage.)
In conjunction with its Professional Developers Conference late last month, Microsoft let a few dozen reviewers and analysts play around with an early version of Windows 7, preinstalled on spiffy Dell laptops that the recipients were free to keep on “indefinite loan,” and the result was some pretty complimentary coverage indicating this version “seems to have ditched or fixed many of the more annoying aspects of Vista.”
Now, per tradition, the doubters and detractors are weighing in. At InfoWorld’s Test Center, Randall Kennedy did some under-the-hood exploring and benchmarking of the early Windows 7 and concluded: “Bottom line: So far, Windows 7 looks and behaves almost exactly like Windows Vista. It performs almost exactly like Vista. And it breaks all sorts of things that used to work just fine under Vista. In other words, Microsoft’s follow-up to its most unpopular OS release since Windows Me threatens to deliver zero measurable performance benefits while introducing new and potentially crippling compatibility issues. … IT organizations rejected Windows Vista en masse, and Windows 7 is Microsoft’s response. Simply put, it’s not enough. Slapping an upgraded UI onto an already discredited OS platform fools nobody and serves only to further alienate the very enterprise customers whom Microsoft claims to be wooing.” And at Computerworld, Steven Vaughan-Nichols chimed in: “What’s really going on here is Microsoft’s same old, same old. Microsoft is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by making Windows 7 look great in staged events and by bribing reviewers with expensive laptops. They’re also trying to freeze everyone’s purchase plans by making Windows 7 sound like the next great thing, so why would you want to consider say Ubuntu 8.10 or a new Mac? … Of course, you can keep hoping that Windows 7 will be the next great thing, but, based on what those of us who are taking a real look at what’s coming (have seen), you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”
Beating up on Microsoft, as opposed to uttering a slightly discouraging word about Apple, has always been a pretty safe pastime, partly because Windows annoyances are so widely shared and partly because Windows users have never exhibited the vocal passion of their Mac counterparts. But in the comments to these early critiques of Windows 7, it was interesting to see a healthy wave of bashing backlash, berating the authors for knee-jerk bias and arguing, rightly, that it’s still too early in the development process to draw any valid comparisons with Vista. Maybe Microsoft is making some progress with its “I’m a PC” effort to get the users of the dominant operating system to start biting back like underdogs.