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?