Did you hear the one about the Mac family that opened its doors - and its mind - to Microsoft Windows?
For one night, Windows 7 took center stage in my living room as a half-dozen or so friends stopped by for one of the official Windows 7 preview parties hosted by Microsoft employees last night. My cousin Raquel, who works in college recruiting in Redmond and has long been a good sport to my Mac smack-talking, was working in Silicon Valley this week and needed a place to host her party. How could I resist?
Earlier this week, an official party kit arrived, complete with streamers, balloons, party bags, Windows 7 napkins and, most importantly, a Steve Ballmer Signature edition copy of Windows 7 Ultimate. Add in some food, drink and fall cupcakes improvised to look like a "7" and you've got yourself a party.
Raquel connected a Dell laptop running Windows 7 Enterprise Edition to my living room TV screen and went through some basic features, including the new look to the task bar and some customization settings. My buddy AJ, who works with both Macs and PCs in his job, made some interesting comparisons not just against Mac OS X but also what he liked and didn't like about Vista, as well as XP.
Search became a big topic among everyone gathered around. Everyone agreed that the system for storing files in Windows made it too hard to quickly locate a file and that the search tool in the past hadn't been that great. The search bar on the Win7 Start button was well-received, largely because of the way it populated with results as she typed.
That sparked a bit of a discussion about the simplicity of a Mac, which has a spotlight icon in the far right corner of the screen for search, against the complexity of Windows. On a Mac, the icons and shortcuts are in the dock or on the desktop. One click and you're there. But on Windows, even in Windows 7, everything is a process, even when it's a shortcut. The pinning feature, which allows you to "save" a file in the submenus of the Start button (Start/Programs/Office/Word/MyDocument), still takes something like five clicks to get there.
That's not to say we spent the entire evening comparing Windows 7 to OS X - we didn't. We actually spent some time comparing Microsoft's Bing to Google's search engine, as well. Raquel had a Bing widget on her desktop and folks offering queries to test the two against each other. And, we spent a lot of time judging Windows 7 based on improvements from both Vista and XP
Initially, I didn't think of my guests as particularly tech-savvy, probably because they don't live and breathe the tech industry the way I do, but I was proven wrong. These folks clearly use Windows in their lives, both at work and at home and they're familiar enough with all of the Mac vs PC stuff to know what the key differences are. They could relate to real-life applications, like having multiple programs running at the same time, having many Word documents or Excel spreadsheets open or having to jump from one browser window to the next.
The consensus was that Microsoft has gone to great lengths to think about the users and their experiences with the PC. Overall, my guests seemed to be impressed with what they were seeing - notably a boot-up time from pressing the power button to the log-in screen that took less than a minute (47 seconds, to be exact.) But, more importantly, they were impressed what they weren't seeing. The system didn't hang or crash or freeze. There were no blue screens of death or program crash errors. The WiFi connection never broke.
Also see: The Windows 7 judge and jury: Your mom
I'd sort of mocked those YouTube videos of the Windows 7 parties because they were so cornball. But this party turned out to be a smart idea. My guests were eager to know when they could get their hands on Windows 7. They're either frustrated with Vista or longing for an upgrade from XP. Clearly, there's pent-up demand and, even if the enterprise doesn't move quickly on rolling out Win7, consumers appear to be ready.
I will note, however, that a few of my guests seemed to recall the nightmare when Windows 98 systems were upgraded to WIndows XP. There were plenty of horror stories and uninstalls until Microsoft could issue some patches. Yes, I know Windows ME was between 98 and XP but it, like Vista, is better placed in the can't-we-just-forget-this-ever-happened folder.
Just based on the handful of people who came out for a Thursday evening geek party to get a peek at Windows 7, I'd say that there's more interest in a new machine with Windows 7 installed than there is in installing Windows 7 on to an existing PC. I'd also say that these folks are ready - now. (Did you hear that, bosses?) I don't expect anyone in this group to go running out on October 22 for a copy of Win7 (OK, maybe one). Mostly, I suspect that the holidays or shortly after the new year, after the inevitable bugs have been worked out, is a more realistic time frame for seeing an uptick.
As for me, I think I'm going to take that signature edition of Win7 Ultimate - which Raquel has graciously given to me as thanks for hosting the party - and install it on a Vista laptop that had been banished out to the garage by the Mac faithful living inside my house. My kids didn't stand a chance. They are definitely Mac kids (My son altered one of Raquel's "I'm a PC" stickers on his own, without my prodding.) And I can't imagine that I'll stop being a Mactard anytime soon.
But an NPD Group report the other day did reveal that 85 percent of Mac owners also have a working Windows PC in the house. With Windows 7, I think it's time for me to push that percentage higher.