Windows 7: Good enough to pay for?

Windows 7: Good enough to pay for?

Summary: I finally installed the Windows 7 release candidate that the folks from Microsoft were kind enough to pass on a couple weeks ago at the Intel Classmate Ecosystem Summit. I could have installed it on my Mac, but I already have Vista running with Boot Camp with a fair amount of Windows software that I didn't want to reinstall (or couldn't for lack of install media).

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I finally installed the Windows 7 release candidate that the folks from Microsoft were kind enough to pass on a couple weeks ago at the Intel Classmate Ecosystem Summit. I could have installed it on my Mac, but I already have Vista running with Boot Camp with a fair amount of Windows software that I didn't want to reinstall (or couldn't for lack of install media). I thought about installing it on my primary desktop at work (running Ubuntu 9.04 at the moment) since that's a bit older and I could assess its speed on legacy hardware, but it lacked a DVD drive.

So I installed it on my oldest son's laptop. This was the same kid who, almost a year ago, declared that he "hated Linux". He has since grown to like Ubuntu, particularly 9.04, since it's rock solid no matter where he manages to skulk about online. However, it doesn't work with his Zune and he prefers Office 2007 to OpenOffice. Until now, I've told him to suck it up and have an old XP desktop in the study that he and his brothers use for syncing iPods and Zunes. Ubuntu, after all, is free, and requires no maintenance from me, no matter what dark, malware-infested corners of the Internet he happens to explore.

However, Windows 7 has been very well-reviewed, the release candidate has a reputation for being more solid than most retail releases from Microsoft, and I had a free copy on DVD that I really wanted to test. So on it went. And I have to admit that it went on very quickly, with no challenges or drama. The install speed was certainly comparable to Ubuntu's and everything internal to the machine has worked out of the box. We'll see about peripherals soon enough, but I'm not actually anticipating any problems.

Here, however, is the real question. With speculation on Windows 7 pricing keeping the blogosphere busy, will 7 be good enough to actually pay for? Ubuntu, after all, is free (along with lots of other *nix distros). Most of us with working Vista installations have also managed to turn off enough services to keep it snappy. XP continues to trudge along as well. I installed it on my kid's machine because I had a free copy of it. I love the kid, but I wouldn't have gone out and purchased a boxed copy of Vista or 7 (if it was available yet) for him.

While there is talk of good deals to be had on Windows 7 for consumers (check out this InformationWeek post for a few upgrade deals), the Wall Street Journal makes one heck of a good point for those of us who do our purchasing outside of retail channels:

Citigroup analyst Brent Thill told clients Friday that because retail versions of Windows account for a relatively small portion of overall sales, the Windows 7 price cuts are unlikely to have much of an impact on Microsoft's finances.

"The million-dollar question," he wrote, is what Microsoft will do concerning pricing for versions of Windows 7 provided directly to PC makers - a business that usually accounts for roughly 80% of revenue in the client division that includes Windows.

So whether I'm acting as a consumer or a technology director or a CIO, I have to ask, is it worth the price when free alternatives (either the status quo or *nix) abound? A little more time with the release candidate will speak volumes, but we are still in a recession, folks, and jobs are being cut in education (and lost in the private sector) every day. Can I justify whatever cost Windows 7 represents? Is it that good?

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

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • The blog title is very interestng.

    A few years ago such a title "Is Windows Good Enough To Pay For?" would be unthinkable. Of course! We all were in Worship mode - everything MS threw at us (even if it was crap) we paid for. It was the normal thing to do. And if you had the nerve to criticize MS, well, there were boatloads of 'MS Consultants' (who of course Know Better) to whip you back into shape, and convince you of your erring ways.

    But this blog title is telling now: MS now actually has to fight for our money. (thanks Linux!)

    Why pay if MS can't show what I get more, than what I already have - be it XP, or that dawg Vista, or even a Linux distro a la Mint?

    For me - I'm not in upgrade mode. It's up to MS to show me what 7 can do what I can't do with XP / slowdog-Vista / Mint. And despite the Bott-blogs and MS-screamers around here - the value-added isn't there yet.
    nizuse
    • A salient point there

      [i]But this blog title is telling now: MS now actually has to fight for our money. (thanks Linux!)[/i]

      Linux has gotten to a point where it's on par with XP/Vista on features for the average user. Why pay at minimum $199(full Win7 Home Premium) when a perfectly fine and free OS is already here? Increasingly the ONLY value proposition that Microsoft can pull is that most PC game companies are still Windows-only. Everything else is perfectly doable without Microsoft.
      Tony Agudo
      • Perfectly doable?

        Only if you don't do anything with people and businesses that do real stuff on Windows.

        Also, MS has always had to fight for our money. Especially so for businesses.


        Sounds like more superficial platitudes from those who use computers just to say they use computers. For the rest of us, computers and OS, etc, are just a tool to get the real work done.

        Which OS is more dictated by what our clients/work uses or the principal software being used. For those earning an income from computers, the software cost is a very minor overhead, especially compared to the time spent in a learning curve just to get an alternative for the sake of it.

        And if the clients/work changes sortware, well we just change along with it, as and when it happens.
        Patanjali
        • So, in summation, the only thing that Win7 has going for it is the

          familiarity and application compatibility. In all other areas Linux is equal or better. And, the biggie is security, where Linux holds a huge advantage.
          DonnieBoy
          • Missed the point - again!

            I was trying to point out that technical superiority or otherwise was not all that relevant, and that what is more in use by those people and businesses with whom you interact dgitally are more likely to be a far greater influence upon OS decisions.

            So that Linux's purported technical and security superiority per se will not really be a significal reason for most to spend a significant amount of time (and money for businesses) changing to it.

            Decisions will tend to favour the most popular, and, unless they stuff something up, are most likely not to be significantly affected.

            While MS did stuff SOME things up with Vista (by no means ALL - it IS a very usable OS), they have re-picked up the ball with Win 7.
            MS may well regain some of its small lost market share.

            For most, Linux is not a quantum leap that is worth changing for. That there is a difference between the hype being propelled about Linux and its reality in use is amply demonstrated by the huge return rate with netbooks. 'Equivalent' didn't cut it in reality. That is NOT saying the Linux does not have merit nor that is not superior in some aspects than others, but when faced en masse with Linux, many people preferred an old version of Windows, for whatever reason. Too many differences beyond the 'equivalence', perhaps.

            I think Linux adherents rely too much on its supposedly natural superiority, and tend to ignore or discount the possibility that, for most, that is not enough to change. Excuses do not make it better. Only by being a high profile, and clearly demonstrated to BE significantly (in the eyes of propective adopters, not proponents) superior to Windows et al, will it NOT have any hope of being any more than a peripheral player.

            Personally, all this focus on decades old OS technology is not getting us the quantum leap in OS design that could really make a quantum leap in computing.

            I mean, how many OS are really ready for the possibility that RAM may become totally non-volatile, where installing a program makes it actually a halted running program, instantly ready to continue at a sub-microsecond's notice. The conventional difference between HDD and RAM image of a program would disappear.
            PCIe based Flash RAM is very close to making that a reality. For some applications now, that may actually be a faster solution overall than having a super fast CPU and slow HDDs, with the consequent delays while loading programs.

            I say that these continued attempts to make Linux et al seem better alternatives to MS products keeps them in MS's shadow, because it keep the focus of the public on MS as the yardstick.
            Patanjali
          • Other things...

            Its not just outstanding forward and backward application compatibility, its also hardware compatibility and that typical plug and play ease of use.

            And the whole security issue is not particularly relevant for Windows users any more, and it looks to be even less worrisome for Windows 7. Sure, Linux may be even more secure but is Windows 7 going to be secure enough that users do not have to live in some kind of real fear? It looks to be the case that Windows 7 is not going to be some kind of security risk so where is the problem. There really isn't one.

            Its always the standard story; those who hate Windows simply do not get the fact that Linux or OSX may work fine for their needs but for millions of others its Windows they want and there are plenty of good reasons for them wanting Windows and no reason good enough for them to switch. If you are happy with Linux or OSX then great. Use it and be happy about it, don't feel your world is incomplete if everyone else doesn't feel the same way.
            Cayble
          • so what you're saying

            is that Linux beats Windows 7 but you're trying to twist it, at least in part.

            Linux has a wider variety of hardware that is plug and play compatible. You can install Ubuntu on a hard drive, completely remove that hard drive from the machine it was installed on, install the hard drive on a completely new machine and it will work perfectly. On top of that, a lot of hardware that's no longer supported by Windows is still supported by Linux. All those peripherals that "needed" an upgrade even though they worked perfectly can still work under Linux.

            As for the security issue, Windows 7 is less secure than Windows Vista and both are less secure than Linux. Because Windows 7 allows a sliding scale for UAC, things can slip by. Vista was annoying but at least it didn't let anything slip by.

            As for the millions of users who "choose" Windows, they don't. They're scared of change sometimes, ignorant that they have options, haven't learned that Open Office is more compatible with older MS Office versions than the newest MS Office, haven't realized that the GIMP has more functionality for free than any other free image manipulator and that it's closer rival costs $1k (photoshop). Maybe they haven't realized that Linux comes preloaded with more abilities out of the box than Windows and that, even with all those extra abilities, Linux takes up less room on the hard drive and runs faster on older machines.

            Give consumers a real choice along with a good education and consumers will choose what gives the most bang for the buck or, in this case, for free. I switched, I've gotten my neighbor interested in switching, my bank manager, my landlady, a teacher friend and another neighbor all want to at least give it a try. None of them are overly tech savvy and none of them really knew there was much of a choice. I gave them one and they're making it, one by one.

            If you're happy with Windows, keep it. Maybe the world isn't as set in its ways as you think though. People just need to see there's another path.
            tmsbrdrs
          • You're missing the point...

            Linux id equal or better to those who don't need (or want) Windows. Trying to make everyone love your particular "flavor," however, is a losing proposition.

            Linux has no equivalent for Quicken. It has no equivalent for MP3 Tag. It has no equivalent for Media Center (J. River software, that is).

            I can find workarounds in Linux but nothing as good as those programs, nor is there anything as good as Outlook. So the wquestio becomes, is the $200 or less I spend on Windows compensation for the new learning curve and the abandonment of invested dollars in programs I can manipulate skillfully?

            I actually love Linux and would happily use it, except my time is worth far more than the time required to master it (and accompanying software). If I were a company with hundreds (thousands?) of employees, I might well have a different answer.
            Vizsla1086
          • You're missing the point...


            So your saying that quicken online or mint.com doesn't work on Linux? Funny enough I've used both on OpenSuse/Fedora/CentOS/Ubuntu without a problem.

            MP3 Tag is a nothing program I can think of a dozen OSS programs that has all the same feature sets.

            Yea Media Center is nice and even luddites can use is but if your really interested in not paying the Microsoft tax there are semi-easy solutions to that it's just the fact that most baby-boomer aged people are unwilling to change anything to there set in stone mind-set while Gen-X/Y and younger can and do change OS's depending on there needs.

            This is more of a generation gap than a "Microsoft/Linux/Mac is the bestest!" debate.

            - Brad
            bradac56
          • You Miss the point Old boy!

            99% of the world don't want to use Linux as mentioned in a previous article, I also had a racking full of returns of Linux net-books a very very expensive exercise never to be attempted again. You may cream your knickers on it but the good public who pay for it want nothing to do with it.I do have a PC with Linux installed its basically for playing with, incidentally Quicken on line is not what the TAX office want..they want the real thing.
            Richard Turpin
          • Win 7 Media Center is bad to the bone.

            It is. It just is.
            pcguy777
          • Win 7 Media Center is bad to the bone.

            I disagree I am personally really enjoying the program.
            KingJ50
          • bad to the bone = very, very good

            Given the widespread use of the phrase, you're either being sarcastic, or proving you're hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the world.
            Dr. John
          • strange

            I did a search for each of those apps on Google, found entries for each one and I even realized most of what those apps do are taken care of by very easy to use apps already present or easily available on Linux.

            For example, most of the functions listed on the website for MP3 Tag are carried out by every media player made, not excluding Rhythmbox as well as many others available on Linux. I looked at the features of Outlook, couldn't find any that Evolution doesn't have, although I was just looking on Microsofts own website for that one.

            Media Player has a direct competitor in Boxee, though Boxee does one up Media Player by allowing access to media directly from the internet as well as on your local network or hard drive. And there's actually a good app for the iPhone for controlling Boxee.

            Liking Linux doesn't mean you're not still in the dark. I've been on it for slightly more than 5 months, I know enough now to see where you were wrong in your comment. Maybe if you gave it a solid try, you'd realize it's actually easier to do all of that stuff than you think.

            tmsbrdrs
        • What ?

          "Only if you don't do anything with people and businesses that do real stuff on Windows."

          Like what? I do my PhD in physics on Linux (Something I would do no Windows), isnt that real stuff?

          Dont get me wrong, I still agree that some professional programs are still better on windows, like photoshop (even though one can install it on Linux too)

          "Also, MS has always had to fight for our money. Especially so for businesses."

          Well, arguably in some cases...


          "Sounds like more superficial platitudes from those who use computers just to say they use computers. For the rest of us, computers and OS, etc, are just a tool to get the real work done."

          Some tools are better and more reliable than others. Pragmatism can lead to Free Software too.

          "Which OS is more dictated by what our clients/work uses or the principal software being used. For those earning an income from computers, the software cost is a very minor overhead, especially compared to the time spent in a learning curve just to get an alternative for the sake of it."

          The software cost can be a big issue, especially the ones in the 2500$ range. I wanted to see how much Mathematica cost :

          Student price ~$140
          Regular License : $2500

          My decision, use a lesser but free version instead (sagemath). It's an online software, no need to install it, and I get some stuff done with it.

          And if the clients/work changes sortware, well we just change along with it, as and when it happens.
          zelrikriando
        • windows 7 the ripoff of the decade

          Once more into the abyss. Here we are again with six different versions of windows, and the two versions being discounted are the versions most people will learn to hate because they are so limited. You would think after taking so long to release Vista and it being completely unstable pre SP1 and us not receiving the new file system and us being cheated on the Ultimate Extras that Microsour would have practically given away all versions of Win 7. Alas this is not to be the case $319.99 for Windows 7 Ultimate full version. Personally I have been running the Win 7 RC since it was released and I can tell you for a fact that it is nothing more than a Vista Service Pack. The only items in it that even make it worth $60.00 are the touch screen features. Would I even pay full OEM dvd pricing at say Newegg or some other online retailer which will probably be around $160.00 for Ultimate? NO, NO and NO again. The biggest mistake Microsoft is making is the fact that Win 7 will run on newer hardware that Vista will not run on meaning more component sales. The second biggest mistake Microsoft is making is the fact Win 7 will run on more older systems than Vista meaning more smaller computer upgrades. Microsoft has the chance to be responsible for kick starting the computer hardware market sales and again they only think of their bottom line. In short again Microsoft cheats the OEMs and the consumers.
          KrazdKiller
          • Ok it's not that Bad...

            First of all you can UPGRADE to windows 7 which is significantly less than buying the whole thing as long
            as you have Vista. AND YES you can upgrade Windows 7 to
            windows 7. Upgrading also includes a 'Clean' upgrade
            which is practically a normal install but you need to
            set it up again and you paid for an upgrade. THATS
            FIRST OF ALL.
            Second of all MS has an OS that is Much faster and
            will WORK on slower machines. That makes older machines
            the ability to use Win7 to get the security updates and
            other things that make it such an unwanted target by
            hackers. I don't even run antivirus anymore, and I
            rarely do checks with spy bot search and destroy
            because I never find anything, and its a waste of time!
            I WOULD LOVE to switch over to Ubuntu or w/e flavor I
            would like to try out. they seem really cool and not to
            mention they are free and very secure since they are
            such a small market share it doesn't make sense to
            attack via viruses and all that stuff. Not to mention
            they open up the ability to use very advanced features
            and would actually teach me A LOT more about computers
            than Windows can. BUT!!! The problem is that they do
            not have everything I need. Linux and Google want
            everything to be online apps because then Windows is
            basically useless. I have also invested my time in
            learning C#.Net which as many of you know is very best
            to develop in probably the best IDE there is named MICROSOFT VISUAL STUDIO which is impossible to run in Linux via WINE or anything other than a VM which is
            impractical because I could just run windows and gain
            many performance improvements. And don't tell me that
            the IDE's for C# and .NET are good enough cause they
            aren't. Not enough to get rid of Visual studio. I
            personally I think Windows 7 is the best OS out there
            today. It's built on code that is CONSTANTLY tested by
            the attacks of hackers and malicious websites.
            chrisportela
          • How would you know anything???

            [i]"I don't even run antivirus anymore, and I rarely do checks with spy bot search and destroy because I never find anything, and its a waste of time!"[/i]

            MS security patches are reactive (even if some morons think they some are proactive)... Someone had to have found a hole in order for MS to design a patch for it. (think about that for a moment brainiacs).

            You could be getting tore up with anything malicious and you wouldn't have a clue... Waste of time??? Reading that rant was a waste of time.

            I have to agree with ggossett001 and Christopher Dawson... MS is going to have to work to get people to migrate from XP. I've ran 7 beta.... It's awesome when compared to Vista... But windows 3.1 is awesome compared to Vista.

            If windows 7 was released instead of Vista I would still wait for a decent reason to upgrade.

            And schools,hehehe, yeah, with the serious budget constraints we are facing (Thank you Republican Party and Mr G. Dumbyah Bush) A windows 7 upgrade is really far off in the future (if at all).
            EdumacationIT
          • How would you know anything?

            Appearantly he knows enough to know he doesn't know everything which is more than you seem to know. If you would do a little research you would know that it was the Democrates(Barney Frank, Harry Ried)and that crowd that caused the current economic problems not the Republicans. I also do not like vista, I do however like Win7. I do not run as an admin even though I do have the account activated with a strong password, I run as a power user which gives me almost all the permissions I need. UAC works for me since anything that tries to make a change to my system is asked about and if I did not initiate it I don't provide the permission. I just wish they would cut down on the number of flavors and the pricing a bit.
            lobo1953
          • How would you know anything???

            The approach is getting better but the outcome is as dumb as usual. "You could be getting tore up with anything malicious and you wouldn't have a clue." Either you are getting tore up are you are not. Its been my experience that you know you've been had in Linux, when you have been had? As far as the upgrade, ordered two copies under pre order for my two vista machines. Have RC7 on another older machine, and will upgrade with and OEM version when RC runs out. Would have done the same thing without the preorder offer, but what a killing under preorder. Excellent deal on the most used software inthe world, and may I add the the best software.
            eargasm