Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

Summary: A year ago today, I was in New York City at the official launch of Windows 7. After one year on the market, how is Microsoft doing? And what do you expect to see in Windows 8?

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A year ago today, I was in New York City at the official launch of Windows 7. After a long public beta, and with the released code widely available months earlier, there wasn't much left to unveil at that point, except for an impressive collection of PCs from OEM partners designed for the new operating system. Most of the Microsoft employees I talked to that day seemed relaxed and genuinely confident. A year later, that confidence is still there. Windows 7 is still selling like gangbusters and the public seems pleased. Back in August, I said: "Windows 7 has been a quiet success, maybe even a phenomenon." That's still true.

In my original review, I called Windows 7 "as close to an essential upgrade as I have ever seen," and I predicted that it would improve with age. A year later, I can already see many of those improvements.

From the standpoint of stability and reliability, Windows 7 has exceeded expectations. The hardware ecosystem was ready, after having been burned badly by Vista, and the Windows Core team did a good job of responding to issues in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. With this release, Microsoft might have finally silenced the "Never buy till the first service pack" skeptics. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 was released almost exactly a year after Vista's consumer launch, and it was desperately needed. Microsoft says it doesn't plan to finish Windows 7 SP1 until sometime in the first half of next year. That doesn't seem to bother customers, who have been buying Windows 7 at a rate of 657,000 copies a day over the past year.

One of the biggest under-the-radar improvements to Windows 7 in the past year is the release of Windows Live Essentials 2011. Some reviewers have grumbled about design decisions Microsoft made with the apps in this collection—especially the changes to Messenger—but there's no question these are full-featured programs, not wimpy starter editions. Photo Gallery is particularly impressive with its extensive set of features for importing, managing, editing, and sharing photos. I don't think it's any accident that Apple spent the lion's share of its time this week on detailed demos of its competing apps in iLife '11. I'm looking forward to comparing the two suites when my iLife upgrade arrives in the mail (amazingly, Apple doesn't offer any way to buy and download iLife).

Even a year later, I continue to be surprised that Windows 7 is so much more efficient than Windows Vista. It uses less disk space than Vista and outperforms it across the board, even on relatively modest hardware.

In the missed-opportunities category, Microsoft deserves special mention for its inability to capitalize on its long history of developing Windows for tablets. Although Windows 7 fully supports touchscreens, the OS itself isn't well suited for full-time operation with a fingertip. I have three touch-enabled PCs in this house—two all-in-one desktop PCs and a Dell Tablet PC. The touch features feel like a novelty, and I rarely use them. I'm pretty certain that smart people in Redmond are working to make touch features a more natural part of Windows 8, but we're unlikely to see any of those efforts for at least another year, giving iOS and Android tablets an awfully big head start.

I continue to be amazed and impressed with Windows Media Center. Last week I upgraded our living room Media Center PC with a Ceton InfiniTV tuner, which uses a single CableCARD to tune up to four HD cable channels. (I'll have a more detailed look at that system next week.) The Media Center interface is fluid and elegant, easily more usable than any alternative, including TiVo, and the whole system has been a joy to use. My sources in Redmond tell me, however, that the Media Center team was essentially disbanded after Windows 7 shipped. I hope that Microsoft is planning a Windows 8 Media Center that will be capable of going head to head with Apple and Google's TV offerings. If they let that work go to waste, it will be another tremendous missed opportunity.

In the year after Windows Vista was released, I spent an unfortunate amount of time and energy writing posts about how to tweak, tune, and work around its flaws and usability headaches. What I've enjoyed most about the last year has been not having to do the same for Windows 7. No, it's not perfect, but it's very, very good. Microsoft seems to have figured out, finally, that the best way to design great software is to focus on the user's experience, not just check off items on a feature list.

If Microsoft follows the playbook and the three-year development cycle it used so successfully for this release, the first beta of Windows 8 will appear roughly a year from now. In fact, the window for feedback that will actually influence the design of the next Windows version is closing soon. What are the flaws in Windows 7 that you want to see addressed? What features are at the top of your must-add list? Leave your comments in the Talkback section.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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Talkback

233 comments
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  • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

    I think there is a mistake in your third to the last paragraph. Did you mean Vista instead of Windows 7?
    kmathews
    • Typo fixed shortly after publishing

      @kmathews Thanks for the quick feedback!
      Ed Bott
    • i think he means...

      @kmathews
      ... he is "amazed and impressed" with all microsoft products and continues to be the worst, most shameless microsoft shill on the interwebs.
      banned from zdnet
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @banned from zdnet

        Windows XP gets the job done, but Windows 7 is USEFUL. BIG DIFFERENCE.
        DonRupertBitByte
      • You Are The Worst, Most Shameless Shill For...

        @banned from zdnet <br>Ed is proficient and focused on the Windows operating system. His reports and blogs are addressed to those people who are interested in them.<br>Any problem you have with Ed, is undoubtedly a problem that you have with Microsoft... Grow up and admit it, and quit haunting the blogosphere attempting to turn people against Ed. He does a hell of a job, and his reports and blogs are valuable information for those of use who are the focus of his efforts.
        Steve@...
  • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

    All signs point to Microsoft doing extremely well. I don't think there was anyone who doubted the success of Microsoft Windows 7 except a few linux fanboys. Everyone else had their eyes open and their jaws to the ground when they saw Windows 7. The fact is that Windows 7 offers so much more than its predecessors. Its much more reliable, stable, and secure.<br><br>240 million licenses can't be wrong.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Inertia.

      @Loverock Davidson
      Inertia. Inertia. Inertia--the only thing that keeps Microsoft going. Inertia.
      Userama
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @Userama
        Envy, envy, envy. The only thing the shills show every day.
        People buy Windows because they like it. Everyone knows the alternatives, they choose the better option.
        mdemuth
      • @mdemuth: If only Apple bothered to advertise that it had an alternative OS

        [i]Everyone knows the alternatives, they choose the better option.[/i]

        To be fair, Apple does absolutely no advertising at all so no, most people don't know about the alternatives. Apple should come out with a series of ads that compare Macs and PCs so that people could be informed about the choices that are available to them. They could write the ads with 2 people, 1 personifying a Mac and the other personifying a PC. The PC guy would get into all sorts of trouble but everything would always be just fine with the Mac guy. That would show people that they could get rid of their PC and buy a Mac.

        But Apple refuses to advertise their Macs or their OS.
        NonZealot
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @Userama
        Naw. It's those damn corporations. They've got all those Microsoft shills with Microsoft Windows certification and they're too scared to bite the hand that feeds them. One guy in IT dictates to 50,000 employees what computer and software to use. Only now are employees starting to get a choice of what computer they have on their desks. As consumers buy Macs for themselves, they'll get sick and tired of having to use those old Windows crapboxes at their workplace. That's why I'm glad Apple appeals to top executives because maybe they'll force IT to get more Macs on employees' desks to step up productivity. I think Windows 7 is a fine OS and I use it on my Macs. I'm only saying that corporations shouldn't force Windows devices down employees' throats, that's all. There's absolutely no need for Microsoft to have 90% of the desktop sector to itself.
        ConstableOdo
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @Userama, Inertia is never the only thing that keeps something going. Without some external power behind it, inertia dries up. One reason MS has so much inertia, is because it works well enough not to justify the extra cost of a mac system. Also there are quite a few people who genuinely prefer using it including hundreds of thousands of experienced IT professionals around the world. Most computer users are able to understand that choice of OS more comes down to personal preference than anything else. Certainly both systems perform well and can perform all tasks asked of them. Would you rather drive a Ford or a Chrysler? Does it really matter what you prefer to anyone other than you, Ford and Chrysler?

        @ConstableOdo, ask your sysadmins about that. I think they will agree with you only once all software is cloud based!! In anyone business, consistancy of platform across the majority of desktops is fairly vital otherwise there will be a mess of compatibility issues. One example, a company I do work for, their main accounting package is through a vendor that doesn't have a MAC client nor a MAC version of their CAD package. Another example would be a company that does primarily desktop publishing that uses programs for which there are no Windows versions. Once a company has standardised on a particular platform, it can be very difficult and expensive to change, and often impossible to accomodate mixed desktops.
        pitdroidtech
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @mdemuth,<br>No, people buy Windows because they don't know of an alternative except for the Apple stuff. Let Linux do some better advertising and then say that crap. I grant you, Linux needs some pc builders like the ones who build with Windows and better advertising, this could be a very lucrative avenue for someone with the funds to setup and support Linux machines other than geeks.
        (Edit) I use both Windows XP and Ubuntu 10.04, they both have their problems, my dads Windows 7 machine gave him all kinds of headaches.
        Clayman1000x
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @Userama

        Win 7 is a fine OS. Aside from OSX, it is my fav so far.

        Linux is ok but I would never put it on a desktop machine where I needed to get things done with. Linux is a fantastic server OS (my server OS of choice) but I don't have the time or patience any more to jump through the hoops to get simple everyday stuff to work. If I want to do may taxes I just want to buy turbo tax and be done with it. Screw wine and all that. I want it to work the first time. Period. I am sick of work a-rounds and waiting for bug fixes.

        Sorry to be the voice of reason, moderation and practicality but I have had it with trying to get FOSS software to work. I have spent far too much time reporting bugs and waiting for fixes to give a crap anymore. I am willing to nut up the coin for something I know will work out of the box and does not have some bug hidden in some not often used feature that will turn into a show stopper for me because the developers don't think it is important enough of a bug to fix.

        FOSS represents more than half of my day in day out tools. I author and contribute to a bunch of FOSS apps and communities and i can say without hesitation that some, not all, software is worth paying for. Oracle, Photoshop and MSSQL for instance. And for me, Win 7 is a no brainer. All the apps I work with, and the OS itself *just works* and that is really all that matters. Getting my work done. Remember, Linux and FOSS is not a religion, it is a piece of software.
        Duke E Love
    • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

      @Loverock Davidson

      Yes they can. Look at those that buy GM cars and those that shop at Wal-Mart.

      As someone else said, Inertia is all that keeps MS afloat. It is [b]NOT[/b] superior products.
      itguy08
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @itguy08 Nothing wrong with GM cars. But enjoy your Toyota if that's your kick. I don't buy anything at Wal*Mart though. Target either. Amazon and free 2 day delivery all the way! And yes I love Windows 7.
        JoeFoerster
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @itguy08
        And as someone else indicated, I will take 240 million opinions against one biased, microsoft hating, envious opinion any day. Have a nice day! And, thanks for playing.
        eargasm
      • you are so full of it....

        @itguy08 ... try designing an OS from the ground up and make it as reliable and stable as Windows 7 is! Perfection is the art of continuance and perserverance and MS is doing just that. Windows 7 is a superior product and so far as the public is concerned, out selling any OS 20,000 to one. Tell us now that isnt a superior product. Proof is in the public eye.
        dtroyerSMU
      • RE: Windows 7, one year later: How's Microsoft doing? And what's next?

        @itguy08

        No, Windows 7 (especially 64-bit) is an EXCELLENT product from Microsoft for a change. Especially if you skip over Vista like I did. I even bought my first legal copy of a consumer Microsoft product as a result of the high quality. Windows XP by comparison was just a cosmetic upgrade of Windows 2000.
        DonRupertBitByte
    • I agree, 240 million licenses can't be wrong.

      @Loverock Davidson
      All other OSs are a flop.
      http://www.zdnet.com/tb/1-89355-1695209?tag=talkback-river;1_89355_1695209

      :) :) :)
      NonZealot
      • Put a mini flop against 240 million full sized flops...

        @NonZealot <br><br>and you'll see that it's nothing. Windoze is still the real flop here, it flops were no other OS has flopped before because this flop costs real money, huge amounts of it.

        Just look at Microsoft's stock price, what has windows 7 done for it lately? It's in the gutter!
        OS Reload