Five things Steve Ballmer won't tell you about Windows 7

Five things Steve Ballmer won't tell you about Windows 7

Summary: On Wednesday night, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is going to step on stage at the Venetian Hotel’s Palazzo Ballroom to give the keynote address that kicks off the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s the first time for Ballmer, who’s taking the slot that his predecessor Bill Gates has had for years. It’s widely expected that Ballmer and an entourage of product managers will publicly unveil Windows 7 Beta 1. But I’m going to be listening for the things that Microsoft chooses not to talk about. In the spirit of the occasion, I offer these predictions of five things that Ballmer will take great pains to avoid saying.

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On Wednesday night, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is going to step on stage at the Venetian Hotel’s Palazzo Ballroom to give the keynote address that kicks off the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s the first time for Ballmer, who’s taking the slot that his predecessor Bill Gates has had for years.

It’s widely expected that Ballmer will publicly unveil Windows 7 Beta 1, just as Gates used the stage to announce previous Windows versions. He’ll no doubt have an entourage of product managers to help him do the actual demos, hopefully inspiring a wow or two from the assembled throngs.

I’m looking forward to the demo, even though I don’t expect any surprises. Mostly, I’m going to be listening between the lines, paying attention to the things that Microsoft chooses not to talk about. In the spirit of the occasion, I offer up the following predictions of things that Ballmer will take great pains to avoid saying.

1. “Some of you are going to hate our new OS, no matter what we do.”

Building software is part art, part science, and all compromise. Every design decision involves tradeoffs in performance, in ease of use for novices versus raw power for experts, even in esthetics. I addressed some of these issues in a post I wrote last year, How do you benchmark real-world work? I fully expect each succeeding wave of Windows 7 reviews to include plenty of “Microsoft sucks” commentary. Especially from InfoWorld.

The back and forth between my ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow and me last week illustrates this principle perfectly. Jason (and the commenters who agree with his point of view) want Microsoft to offer an option that allows them to use their system using the Windows interface they mastered in 1998. I think pursuing that backward-looking strategy would be a massive waste of limited development resources

The bottom line is you can’t please everyone, and one size will never fit all. So the big question for Microsoft is whether they can please enough people and generate enough positive buzz to drown out the negative voices.

2. “Good luck finding drivers for all your old XP-only hardware.”

Over the past few months, I’ve installed and used Windows 7 on a dozen separate systems, representing a wide range in hardware capability and all sorts of different form factors. Virtually every one of those systems had also run Windows Vista at some point in its lab lifecycle, which made it easy for me to track down the best drivers for each subsystem and peripheral.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve discarded or replaced a handful of devices that didn’t work at all with Vista: several network cards, some storage adapters, a scanner, a TV tuner. In every case, I had to replace the unsupported part or do without. The good news is that the driver model for Windows 7 is identical to that of Windows Vista, so all the hardware I now own (and all the drivers I've bookmarked and saved) will work on upgraded systems.

So, what happens to people who decided to skip Vista and stick with XP, for whatever reason? They get to face those exact same issues. If your device doesn’t have a driver for Windows Vista, it will not work under Windows 7. Period. Full stop.

3. “We’re still at the mercy of our clueless OEM partners – and so are you.”

Some of the worst complaints about Windows Vista came from users who were subjected to horrible installations from OEMs, with poorly written drivers, inadequate hardware, and great heaping helpings of crapware to slow everything down to a crawl.

I had the chance to see this phenomenon up close and personal last year, when I rebuilt a Sony VAIO whose performance with Windows Vista was so awful that its owner basically wrote it off and bought a new MacBook. After a clean installation, including Vista Service Pack 1, its performance was eye-opening and impressive.

Since that time, Sony, Dell, and other top-tier OEMs have cleaned up their acts impressively. But even if Windows 7 turns out to be an excellent operating system, there’s still the potential for it to be scuttled by sloppy or greedy hardware makers. Microsoft executives are jawboning like crazy with their hardware partners; you know they’ll be holding their breath after the launch to see how those systems perform in the real world.

4. “It might be years before we have a killer application for Vista or Windows 7.”

The myth of the “killer app” has never been stronger than with Windows Vista. The idea refers to some program that performs an absolutely irresistible function and only runs on a particular platform. If you need that program, you have to upgrade to the new OS.

But software developers, including Microsoft, aren’t interested in cutting off customers who still use older platforms, especially in this tight economy. So, as a result, most popular Windows programs these days are written to run on Windows XP, Vista, and (soon) Windows 7. And there’s no sign that’s going to change anytime soon.

If anything, Microsoft is doing its best to avoid any kind of Vista-only software. The new Windows Live Essentials bundle, for example, works on XP and Vista, as does Windows Live Mesh and every member of the Microsoft Office family.

None of those programs are going to drop XP support anytime soon (although it's remotely possible that the next version of Office will work only on Vista or later). That strategy of wide backward compatibility is the right thing to do for customers, but it bolsters the argument of those who contend that a killer app is the only reason to upgrade.

5. “Our licensing terms are as hopelessly confusing as ever.”

Microsoft hasn’t gotten around to announcing how many editions of Windows 7 it plans to produce or what their prices will be. But one thing is certain: the confusing, multi-layered Windows business model isn’t going to change.

Royalty OEMs (the big PC makers like HP, Dell, Sony, and Toshiba) have one price list and one set of terms. Small system builders have another set of rules. Retail copies are horrendously overpriced.

Enterprise customers have to navigate through a thicket of price lists and volume licensing programs that actually require their own certification programs. And even Microsoft sometimes contradicts itself completely on how licensing terms apply to some customers.

Those are my predictions. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the keynote for yourself, in low (100k), medium (300k) or high quality (750k) streams.

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • VISTA tax

    "Over the course of the last two years, I?ve discarded or replaced a handful of devices that didn?t work at all with Vista: several network cards, some storage adapters, a scanner, a TV tuner."

    Fantastic.
    nizuse
    • Oy.. It's not THAT bad...

      First off, we don't know how old those devices are. For all we know, those NICs could have been ancient 10BaseT cards that are slower than a glacier.

      Just wait till the Snow Kitty gets released... From what we've heard about it so far, it's going to REQUIRE an Intel based Mac. Now we're going to see Mac users having to toss out perfectly good PPC based hardware because it won't run the latest and greatest OSX...

      The point is: Technology moves forward. Things go obsolete. Feces occurs. Move on..
      Wolfie2K3
      • So you say you don't know.

        ..
        nizuse
        • I could have sworn I did... n/t

          n/t
          Wolfie2K3
      • Well said - Apple "tax" seemingly infinite

        It's silly to talk negatively about how switching to Vista, or Windows 7, requires one to discard older hardware and software. The same was true with Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 98, etc., etc. And the same is, of course, absolutely and frighteningly true with the Mac.

        Consider what it means to switch to a Macintosh (and yes, I own a Macbook Pro, and run Linux machines, as well as my Vista and now Windows 7 systems). First, there's absolutely NO software that will work with the Mac, unless one runs in Boot Camp or a virtual machine. Second, there is far more hardware that _won't_ work with a Mac than _will_ work with it.

        The biggest advantage that Apple has is that it controls the hardware as well as the software. Macs work better not because their inherently superior, but because Mac can optimize the OS for a very limited set of machines. Vista failed not because it was inherently bad, but because the drivers produced by third parties were terrible, something that Apple simply does not--by design--have to deal with. Yes, that's a great move on Apple's part, it's brilliant strategy, and it's also something Microsoft would never get away with.

        Yes, there's an Apple "tax," and there's a Vista "tax," and there will be a Windows 7 "tax." As Wolfie2K3 pointed out, as technology advances, things are made obsolete. One day, we'll all be struggling with reading our old CD's and DVD's. Such is life, and one simply needs to accept and plan for such changes, rather than crying about them.
        coppockm
        • Head in sand? Not this guy . . .

          Computer Hell:

          "Unless the computer is re-architected from scratch, which will not happen in the next 100 years, we are set on a path of never-ending misery. Windows Vista proves it."

          John C. Dvorak
          PC Magazine
          Jan 29, 2007
          brian ansorge
          • Dvorak?

            Srsly.
            Sleeper Service
          • WELL SAID !!

            WELL SAID !!!!!!!!
            Vinces314
        • Why accept needless changes?

          Funny as it may sound, coming from me (a radical progressive) change for the sake of itself is ridiculous. I still have the Photoshop 4.0 LE program that came with a printer I purchased ten years ago. Works just fine in XP SP3, and while I've advanced into well into CS4 since then, I'm still amazed at what a wonderful piece of software that "limited edition" was. I have lots of programs that are old and running like a charm.

          Here's an idea for anyone creating an operating system. Stop trying to justify yourself with silly whizbang garbage, stop changing things out of boredom, and stay the h*ll out of my way! I have many programs -- old, new, free and paid for -- to do the things I want to do.
          lastar84
          • Change For The Same Reason As Always

            If they don't change things, they have nothing new to sell,
            and no profits.

            Try selling that to the MS / Apple / Adobe people.
            Leans_To_Center
          • money money money

            There's a reason I switched to Linux and you just pointed out that reason. If a software developer is in it solely for profit then the software will be made to sell the most copies, not to do the best job. Vista sucked just enough so that when people saw Windows 7 come out, they thought "finally". I've looked at several paid programs vs. the free alternatives and found that, in most cases, the free alternative actually does a better job with less bloat. Even free software made by Adobe is crap when compared to software made by smaller companies that actually care about the product. For example, Adobe Reader when compared to Foxit Reader on Windows. Adobe is bloated, slow to load with limited abilities and slows your PC to a crawl when in use. Foxit is small, takes less than half the time to load, reads PDFs just as easily and even lets you edit a PDF file or create one with the free software, something you'd never get to do with Adobe. Comparing an OS works the same way. I'm working with Ubuntu right now. I paid nothing for it. It's a smaller size and takes up less system resources when compared with XP. I have at least as many of those "high end" effects that Vista was supposedly giving for the money. I've had no driver difficulties, though from what I've read that's not always the case. I can use ever piece of hardware I own with Ubuntu with no configuration necessary. I even get better performance out of the apps that run on multiple platforms. Blender (a free 3D rendering tool capable of creating full, feature length, feature quality animations) runs faster and more smoothly on Ubuntu than it did on XP on the same machine. My browser runs more smoothly on Ubuntu. Last.fm loads more quickly and even my msn software (aMSN since the actual software isn't made for Linux, you'd have to ask microsoft about that one) even my msn software runs better. I have downloaded a few files and one or two programs from websites and noticed a difference in download speeds of 10X that of XP at the lowest. When my PC runs at its top speeds, I dare an XP user to match them. All that came free, but if I pay for the newest OS from MS, I have to upgrade my hardware, most likely find new peripherals since mine will no longer be compatible and I will have to spend well over the $200 I spent for my used system with such great performance under Ubuntu. The only thing left to MS that Linux can't do is running Direct X games. One lawsuit announcing the monopoly on gaming and even that will change. Either MS will have to give access to Direct X to all other OS platforms or gaming engineers will have to design games that will run on multiple platforms.
            tmsbrdrs
        • coppockm

          coppockm said:
          "First, there's absolutely NO software that will work with the Mac, unless one runs in Boot Camp or a virtual machine."

          Wow! Image, all these years I've been using Macs and all the software I've been using over those years has just been my imagination! Thanks coppockm!

          And while we are talking about non-existing software on the Mac, just think; the gui version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark Xpress, and many more that are running on Windows, is just your imagination because none of those would have existed if it wasn't for the Mac.

          coppockm said:
          "The biggest advantage that Apple has is that it controls the hardware as well as the software."

          Wait! didn't you just state their is NO software for the Mac?

          No software for the Mac, ha!, typical Windows fanboi post.
          And by the way, stating their is no software for the Mac, invalidated your claim you own an Apple laptop.
          Axsimulate
          • Errr okay...

            [i]"Wow! Image, all these years I've been using Macs and all the software I've been using over those years has just been my imagination! Thanks coppockm!"[/i]

            He means software for Windows. Are you to dense to figure that out?
            logicearth
          • RE: Errr okay...

            Go re-read his post. Do you really think he said there is no software for Windows?

            Pot calling the kettle black comes to mind.
            Axsimulate
          • RE: Errr okay,,,

            [i]Go re-read his post. Do you really think he said there is no software for Windows?[/i]

            The OP was saying that when someone switches from Windows to Mac OS X, none of their software on Windows will work on Mac OS X. That's what the parent was trying to get across.
            MarkKB
      • Another MS preacher

        It seams people can't even comment on a TOTALLY MS-based article without bringing up Apple?

        Are you really that jealous that you have not bought a Mac yet? Spare me the "they cost too much" crap. You can get a very good IMac or Macbok now for VERY competitive prices.

        Exactly what PPC based hardware are you talking about?

        Any Mac user with a PPC based Mac will be fine. See, They don't have to upgrade to the latest OS. MS has been basically Intel-Only for many years now.

        Sure they did a little server stuff in the ITanic and other platforms in the WinNT days.

        But tell me the last time you could buy a non-Intel computer with MS-Windows on it?

        Again, you won't "see Mac users having to toss out perfectly good PPC based hardware because it won't run the latest and greatest OSX". You are just stupid for even thinking that. I can certainly tell you have never even freaking OWNED an OSX-based system.

        Stick to Winders. That seems to suit you fine. Oh, and stop with the little "Mac users will do this or that" crap. Actually BUY a Mac and then you can have an opinion.
        Jim4Prez
        • Fix

          Non-Intel should be non-x86.
          Jim4Prez
        • I have a Mac, and...

          My understanding is that Snow Leopard will be Intel-only. That means that folks with PPC-based Macs won't be able to upgrade. The original point here was that it's true in the Mac world as well as the Windows world: eventually, older hardware and software gets abandoned.

          So, I don't think your point is perfectly clear.

          Incidentally, yes, you can get decent Mac hardware for decent prices. Used. Off eBay. Or refurbed. Or, every very now and then, discounted (because of course Apple controls Mac pricing with an iron fist). However, you can't get decent _new_ systems for much less than $1000, as you can with Windows PCs--where you can easily get a decent system for $500, or even less.

          Yes, there IS a Mac premium, and in fact, that's on purpose. It's Apple's entire strategy--position themselves as the high-priced, superior product. And they'd be fools to do anything different.
          coppockm
      • Snow Kitty and PPC

        Those PPC Macs that users will
        have to discard will be a
        minimum of 6-years-old.
        Besides that, Leopard, like XP in
        the Windows world, will remain a
        supported OS for some time to
        come, so no discard required.
        Asiafish
        • Ok... You're missing the point.

          The OP was bemoaning how some of Ed's hardware was no longer supported under Vista/7. My point was that pretty much ALL hardware will, eventually, be put out to pasture. Even Macs.

          A few old NICs, an old scanner and a tv tuner card (which will likely be obsolete come the middle of next month anyhow) are a small price to pay.

          If you want to pet the Snow Kitty, you best have an Intel chip inside. Of course, the older versions of the OS will still be supported - for a while. At least until the next rev after Snow Leopard comes out. But even those will eventually no longer supported.
          Wolfie2K3