Windows 7: A sound of thunder

Windows 7: A sound of thunder

Summary: The amazing thing about Windows marketing is that everything a user might want is always available in the next version. Try and ignore the marketing thunder and check out a version of Linux. You might just find it gets you off the Windows upgrade treadmill for good.


Windows 7: A sound of thunderI didn't want to write this column. I live as Windows-free an existence as most people can these days. Of course I have to run Windows as part of my job, in order to make sure that Samba, the software I write, will interoperate correctly with all the multiple Windows versions out there. I also have to install some Windows applications using the Open Source Wine project, which emulates Windows on Linux well enough that some binary Windows applications will install and run straight off the DVD. Like most people, there are some Windows applications I just can't do without, although in this case it's my three-year-old son who finds an amazing amount of joy in his toddler games, none of which have yet been ported to Linux. Wine works amazingly well these days for this sort of thing, well enough that my wife no longer complains about the computer "being hard to use".

However, Windows hasn't been my desktop environment for about seven years now. I have found I have no need for it; a Linux desktop does everything I need to do very well. That's not easy to do, as I'm not a casual user. I do tend to have  rather demanding requirements for my desktop, as regular readers of this column might note.

Yet Microsoft's recent announcements about "Windows 7", the new version of Windows, find me sitting here feeling I have no choice but to discuss it, or be drowned out as a hopelessly irrelevant columnist. This is the power of the marketing megaphone of the monopoly player on the desktop, even though it isn't my desktop.

According to Microsoft, Windows 7 is the version of Windows everyone has been waiting for. According to the "What's New" section of the Windows 7 website  it will be "Faster and Easier", it will "Work your way", and give you "New Possibilities". I must confess it sounds less than thrilling to me, but these are the things the Windows marketers thought it was worth pointing out about the new "center of people's technological solar system" -- to quote Steve Ballmer.

But wait a minute. Let's get in the time machine, go back a few years and take our foot off the crushed butterfly of Windows Vista and look at what was promised for the previous version of Windows. Windows Vista is "safer and more reliable" and there were "dozens of wonderful new features". Dozens! After five and a half years in development, there are dozens of new features.

Of course I'm being overly critical here -- more than a touch of sarcasm -- but I'm sure you get the point. The amazing thing about the world of Windows marketing is that everything a user might want is always available in the next version of Windows. Up until the time that version is released, then after a year or so of the reality of the software sinks in, and the upgrade drums start to beat about how wonderful the next version of Windows is going to be.

I'm reminded of the fictional TV show "Treadmill to Bucks" invented by Stephen King in his wonderful Science Fiction novel The Running Man (Don't confuse this with the Hollywood movie of the same name. Just read the book. In fact, try and forget the movie ever existed, for all Hollywood adaptations of Steven King except “The Shining”.)  Destitute patients with a heart condition are "invited" to answer questions on camera whilst walking on a treadmill of ever increasing speed to try and earn money for their relatives. This Windows treadmill never stops, and the endless stream of bucks being spent are those of Microsoft's customers, forever on the road to upgrade nirvana.

I got off this ride some time ago, but surely this must be irritating to customers who just want a version that doesn't become considered obsolete junk as soon as the next version is discussed in the press.

But Windows 7 does seem to be different. The main difference is that it is being massively rushed out the door of Redmond, in rather an unseemly haste. The reason of course is the disaster that was Windows Vista. The marketing hype for Vista is barely dry on the page and yet we're being told Windows 7 is the version everyone has really been waiting for. It does seem that Windows Vista was a failure of epic proportions for Microsoft and the job of the marketing people is now to convince their customers to skip Vista and move directly to Windows 7. A more honest assessment of the Windows 7 hype might be "forget Vista, this is the Windows you really want to upgrade to!"

Yet don't think this means customers have switched to alternative systems -- the lock in effects of the monopoly are far too powerful for that. Both MacOS X and Linux do seem to have enjoyed some modest gains in popularity on the desktop, Linux mainly outside of the USA where disposable income is less, but the majority of desktops are still firmly Windows. No, Windows 7 isn't competing against Linux, Windows 7's main competitor is Windows XP.

Windows XP was so successful, so widespread, that the desire of most customers would be to keep that version around for a much longer time, with updates and security patches as needed, but no radical new version to install. No forced upgrades.

The irony of course is that this is exactly what most modern Linux distributions provide. Yes, they churn new releases out every six months, a change rate much faster than that of Windows. But, unlike Windows, this is a treadmill where the customer -- not the vendor -- has their hand on the speed control. Customers can and do decide to get off the exercise machine, and stay on a particular release that meets their needs and upgrade at their own pace, not at the requirements of a third party. Because the code is Open Source, even if the vendor does not support an older version anymore, there are third parties who can be contracted to maintain versions indefinitely. I know this works as there are companies who do this work for my own project, Samba. When the security patch stream runs out from the code creators there are people who will work for hire to take fixes and back-port them to versions we no longer support. We don't mind, it takes a support load off the Samba Team. Everybody wins.

All of this doesn't help Windows desktop customers, though. The lock-in means that not only does Linux have to be better than Windows, it has to be a better Windows than Windows, and run all the custom applications that customers have come to depend on over the years. This is a hard job for any operating system, especially when the target to be emulated is as deliberately baroque as the Windows application environment.

Coming at the time of an economy in recession, it looks like Microsoft might actually be  scared that customers might not spend money on a Windows upgrade. There's no way to go back in time and prevent the damage to Microsoft's credibility done by the Windows Vista release; we'll just have to wait and see what the future actually holds for Windows 7. In the mean time, try and ignore the marketing thunder and check out a version of Linux. You might just find it gets you off the Windows upgrade treadmill for good!

See also:

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Is Ubuntu becoming the generic Linux distro?

Christopher Dawson: How to switch to desktop Linux

Linux: The Joe Sixpack Strategy

More Windows 7 News and Commentary:

Windows 7: A better Vista?

Ed Bott: Windows 7 in 2010? Ha! Try July 2009

Mary Jo Foley: Microsoft expands public beta after download fiasco

Joe Brockmeier: Windows 7 as 'Linux killer'?

Video: Ballmer previews Windows 7

Windows bit-rot: Fact or fiction?

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Windows 7: A sound of thunder

    [i]I didn?t want to write this column.[/i]

    And you shouldn't have. All your accusations are false. Windows Vista was not a disaster, you may think it was because you stick to reading sites like slashdot who would never print anything good about Microsoft. Even the Microsoft team debunked the Vista being terrible myth with the Mojave experiment.

    Then you went on about an upgrade treadmill. Microsoft in no way forces you to upgrade. It is better if you do for the new features and enhancements with each new version of Windows. Customers can upgrade if they want, they have the choice not to and its done every couple of years which is about hardware upgrade time anyway. Compare that to the every 6 month upgrade of linux and daily patches involved with it. In fact each new version of linux doesn't offer anything new. Its just upgraded packages that still keep the same functionality as before. Nothing new, no new features, no new enhancements. Nobody cares if your grep was version 2.53 and is now version 2.54.

    The bottom line is people are choosing Windows based on its technical merits and how it allows them to be productive. You can't get that kind of satisfaction from linux.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Don't you bore yourself being such a fool?

      For Christ's Sake, wise up man!
      InAction Man
      • How about you debunk his arguments then?


        Talk is cheap, son.
        Sleeper Service
        • His so called "arguments" have been debunked too many times

          Either he comes up with some fresh ones or stay silent to avoid making a fool out of himself.
          InAction Man
          • No he brings up valid points

            I am a technical user and I have tried installing Fedora 10, Mandriva 2009.1 (Powerpack), and Kubuntu 8.10 on a 2006 Dell XPS 400 - with hardware upgrades that bring it to 2008, and nothing uber propreitary to Windows.

            - With Fedora? EPIC FAIL. Wouldnt even tell me why honestly...

            - With Mandriva? It worked - more or less, but it has NOTHING on Windows Vista Ultimate x64. I tried upgrading Flash on Mandriva, using their package manager- EPIC FAIL. I couldnt even uninstall Flash, somehow the RPM says its there..but its not.. Plus World of Warcraft - for the most part works, but has glitches under WINE (latest version).

            - With Kubuntu? Again it kind of worked, except I couldnt get WINE to run correctly and detect the hardware, which was a show stopper because I want to run World of Warcraft.

            Now everything I need to do, on this 2006 computer, under Windows Vista Ultimate x64 works FLAWLESSLY - with the current SP1 and all updates applied. So how has he been debunked?
          • Flash (from binaries) is easily installed on Linux From Scratch

            Some of the problems afflicting those distros you mention are caused by their choice of letting the Windows way influence them.
            InAction Man
          • Wow....

            After repeated calls for you to debunk the guys assessment you still ignore. This is my biggest beef with people on here. They play politics and throw cheap shots with no debunks to be found. Maybe you are not educated enough to do so or maybe you just can't come to grips with reality? Why can't you bring some detail and some experience to the table, instead of your childish ways of throwing stones. I see this everyday and it never seems to get any better, only more vicious and childish.
          • @daMan25: no debunks to be found? You must be blind!

            or you're just in denial.
            InAction Man
          • Hrm..i'll buy that....

            Yea it wasnt but so bad - after i did a bunch of research and found out i could "manually" install the Adobe Flash 64 (Alpha) - I couldnt get the 32-bit plugin to work at all on a 64bit installation. I read soemthing referencing NDISWRAPPER, but decided it much too complex. My point being Linux is difficult enough for the advanced/patient user and way too difficult for a regular user.

            but I also have to ask, WTF? [i]"Some of the problems afflicting those distros you mention are caused by their choice of letting the Windows way influence them"[/i]... Um how does placing a DVD into the drive and trying to run it (in the case of Fedora 10 - I was using both the 64 bit AND 32 bit live media) and it failing to run have to do with anything? If Linux was so viable, it would just "work", now wouldnt it?
          • @JT82: NDISWRAPPER with flash? You are clueless aren't you?

            For legal reasons flash cannot be shipped with regular open source packages, that's the reason it usually goes into the extras section together with acrobat, java, etc. I can't rememmber where I picked it since it was so fast and easy but I suppose it was directly from adobe. Im no fundamentalist so I mix plenty of proprietary packages with open source ones.
            InAction Man
          • Ok now you went from annoying to clueless

            See thats the typical Linux Fanboi response...attack the user, not the OS. However, if you read what i wrote i said i READ soemthing about using <strike>NDISWRAPPER </strike> NSPLUGINWRAPPER to get 32-bit plugins to work on a 64-bit distro of Linux. I honestly have no idea - i didnt do it and have no intentions. Also if you read what i wrote earlier, i said i was using Mandriva 2009.1 (Powerpack) - MEANING it comes with the proprietary drivers/apps loaded into it because its being sold as a commerical version. So who is the clueless one now?

            Also for your viewing pleasure I'll link to the talkbacks where i Posted the issues with Flash...

            Read through that thread and you'll see what im talking about. So lets try and not attack the user and look at the process. Thanks.
          • re: Hrm..i'll buy that....

            [i]I read soemthing referencing NDISWRAPPER, but decided it much too complex.[/i]

            It's not that hard but I take your point. It should be unnecessary in an OS that claims to have mainstream aspirations.

            But does it have? I'm not sure. Obviously some people care a great deal that Linux "wins" over Windows. I'm not one of them. It works so well for me it really doesn't matter what its market share is. (And Windows' market share is unpersuasive as a reason to use it, too.) I don't care if it stays "niche" or whatever. As long as Patrick Volkerding is developing Slackware I'll be happy.

            BTW one solution to the 32-/64-bit issue is to run native 32 bit unless you need >4G ram.

            none none
          • Sounds Like You Didnt Try...

            Ubuntu. I didnt care much for Fedora or some of the other Distros, but Ubuntu for me works right out of the box on a 2006 machine. Also if you are trying them with Live CDs and expecting full functionality, its not going to happen.
          • Vista flawlessly?

            So in other words you got Kubuntu to work but you wanted Windows software to run under Linux and since you had problems you call Linux a failure. Gee I have Linux software that I can't run under Windoze so I guess Windoze a failure, too. I had Vista 64 Ultimate and it never work flawlessly even with SP1.
          • re: Vista flawlessly?

            This is the response that I'd expect from a person with the username "LinuxandMacforlife".
          • I want YOU to debunk them.

            So put up or shut up.
            Sleeper Service
          • Since he seems unable to find fresh "arguments" perhaps you

            could step in and find them yourself, them we could all debunk them together.

            If you can't then just put up or shut up!
            InAction Man
          • Summary: You can't.

            Sleeper Service
          • @Sleeper Service: Where are your arguments? I'm waiting!

            Oh, you have none!
            InAction Man
          • Flounder. It's not just a fish.

            Sleeper Service