Windows 7 might come out much earlier than many expected (including me). If what several new sites have published during the last few days is true, then Windows 7 might even show up during the 2009 holiday season. It is obvious why Microsoft is pushing Windows 7. Vista still has a bad reputation (which is unjustified in my view), and Microsoft hopes that all of the Vista bashing will be history soon. However, I doubt somehow that those organizations who want to skip Vista will be much happier with Windows 7. Nevertheless, the reaction of the media to Windows 7 is quite positive thus far. Could that change?
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Even though Infoworld tries to keep the Windows-slapping business alive, I somehow doubt that the media will bash Windows 7 because their readers are already tired of this topic. Perhaps more important is that the user experience of Windows 7 will be better. The most significant improvement in Vista is the new security model. It was also one of the main reasons why the Vista-bashing wave started rolling in. It caused numerous compatibility issues, which resulted in user frustration - the perfect breeding ground for the anti-Vista meme virus. Since Microsoft did most of the dirty work in Vista, they can focus again on new end-user-related features, which makes the media happy because they have something to write about.
However, from a technical point of view, things probably won't really change with the release of Windows 7. It will certainly not be more compatible with Windows XP than Vista. Windows 7 is just Windows Vista with quite a few additional features. Most media sources write that Windows 7 won't cause new compatibility problems, but I am not convinced. The fact that Microsoft made some major changes to the Windows kernel makes me suspicious. So, we will only know more about compatibility when Microsoft releases a public beta of Windows 7. Furthermore, there are still many compatibility issues with Vista. Read this revealing article at apc about Vista driver woes. These problems won't go away with Windows 7.
Microsoft is quite aware of the fact that hardware and software compatibility was the main reason for Vista's marketing disaster. It is obvious that they are working hard not to repeat the mistake. They are pushing third parties to do their homework, too. The fact that there will only be one compatible-with-Windows 7 logo demonstrates this. But this is only what we see on the surface. The other question is whether Microsoft's efforts will be successful.
I think the only mistake Microsoft made with Vista was that they underestimated the size of their own ecosystem. Vista's beta's phase was extremely long, and so they expected that all third parties would have had enough time to adapt their drivers and applications. Obviously, that wasn't the case. The number of third parties is certainly much bigger than when Windows XP was released. There will always be hardware and software vendors who can't match Microsoft's pace. Thus, the only way will be to introduce compatibility affecting innovations in smaller doses. I think this is what we will see now with Windows 7. Perhaps that is another reason why Windows 7 will be coming out much earlier than expected. Five years between two major OS releases is much too long nowadays.
It also sets high expectations and increases the tension in the Windows community, which makes it more likely that it will be perceived as a failure if there are no real "wow features". Smaller release intervals give the media less time to decide whether they should bash or praise a new operating system because they will be too busy speculating about new features and release dates. Once the user feedback comes in, the next version is already on track, which makes it boring to bash the old one. One of the reasons why Vista bashing stopped in the media is because everyone is now focused on Windows 7.