By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 1:31 pm
I may have sat down and cranked out my first impressions of Windows 7 last night, but I’m still pondering what we’ve learned so far about the OS–and what we still don’t know. Mind if I do a quick brain dump as of 1:31pm on Tuesday afternoon? (Hey, that’s right now!)
1. Annoyingness. And the lack thereof. One of the things that’s appealing about Windows 7 is the extent to which Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make it less pushy and intrusive than past versions of Windows. There are new features for taming the System Tray, racheting down UAC, and preventing Windows from interruping your work with notifications about things you don’t really need to know about right then. It’s work well done, and long overdue. But I can’t help but wonder: How much better would Windows be circa late 2008 if avoiding ticking off its users had been a core design goal from the get go?
2. Crap. The loaner Dell notebook I’ve been using W7 on boots up quickly, runs smoothly, and is in general surprisingly robust given that it’s running a pre-beta operating system. But most of the computers that W7 ships on will be different: They’ll be larded with adware and applets would allegedly make Windows better but often make it worse. (My blood pressure rises every time I use a computer that replaces the standard Windows Wi-Fi finder with something with fancy little animated maps of routers in the neighborhood.) For all the bashing that Apple and others do of Windows compared to OS X, it’s PC manufacturers to do grave damage to the Windows experience. And there’s not much evidence they’re going to stop.
3. Names of things. Or more specifically, Microsoft’s habit of changing the names of elements in Windows from one not particularly memorable phrase to another roughly similar but different one. All it does is make it harder to remember what stuff in the OS is called. The company seems to have kept this impulse under control for the most part in Windows 7, but it is renaming Themes as Style. Big improvement, huh?
4. Names of things part II. The Windows 7 world involves Windows Live Essentials (which consist largely of applications which would have been bundled with Windows in the past) and Windows Live Services (which are Web services, some of which do similar things to Windows Live Essentials). The concept of Windows Live has always been elusive, but I used to think it at least meant that an item was Web-based. No more. And I’m sure I’ll get Windows Live Essentials and Windows Live Services confused. Proposal: What if Microsoft were only allowed to use a maximum of two words in the name of each of its products, at least one of which was required to be unique to the product in question?
5. Names of things, part III. The name of this operating system is Windows 7. One of its distant predecessors was called Windows 95. You and I understand the logic here–sort of, at least–but will our great-great-great-grandchildren get confused and think that Windows 95 shipped 88 releases after Windows 7 did?
6. Names of things, part IV. Everybody I know calls the area with the icons on the right of the Windows Taskbar the System Tray. All the Microsoft folks here at PDC call it the System Tray. But its official name seems to be the Notification Area. Maybe that’s one area where Microsoft should do a formal name change. (Note: If there’s some subtle difference between what the System Tray is and what the Notification Area is, I don’t wanna hear about it.)
7. Hey, it bluescreens! Or at least it did for me once, when something went wrong when it tried to come out of suspend mode on the Dell laptop I’ve been using W7 on. On some level, it was perversely comforting. Especially since there’ll still a chance that whatever caused it to crash will get fixed before Windows 7 ships.
8. Am I the only person who will call this product “W7?” It’s awfully handy to have a version of Windows that can be abbreviated in two characters. I guess. Although I’m not sure why. (Maybe I’m still remembering the days when I had to fit articles into a print magazine and would crunch “Windows 95″ down to “Win 95″ to save four characters.)
9. What will Windows 7’s advertising be like? I’m thinking it’ll lack the vague-but-overweening hubris of Vista’s “The Wow Starts Now.” And Microsoft’s rollout of W7 so far has been so low-key and humble that the ads might err on the side of making accurate statements of the product’s value that may or may not cause anyone’s pulse to pound faster. But will it have the guts to explain to potential customers that W7 is interesting in part because it may aggravate them less than the version of Windows they currently use?
10. What about Apple ads? I’m guessing/hoping that Apple will grow tired of sucker-punching Vista well before Windows 7 ships. But will ads taunting Windows 7 resonate with anyone?
11. What about Windows XP deadenders? Microsoft has had to repeatedly extend XP’s life to avoid the prospect of customers descending on Redmond with pitchforks and torches. I now fully expect that XP will remain available in some form until W7 ships. But will all those people who loathe Vista look at W7 as the OS they’ve been waiting for…as as warmed-over Vista?
12. The calculator. It’s new and improved–with features like unit conversations and touch input–and Microsoft must be reasonably proud of that fact, since it’s mentioned at some length in the W7 reviewers’ guide. Every OS I’ve ever encountered from Microsoft or anyone else has included a calculator, but has even one human being ever factored one into his or her buying decision? Does Microsoft have a Windows Calculator team? One guy who does it in his spare time?
13. Versions. Of Windows 7. How many will there be? How easy will it be to remember which is which? I don’t see Microsoft ever streamlining Windows down to one version, but I wonder if it’s considering three: a low-end consumer one, a high-end consumer one, and a business one.
14. PC configurations. Will W7 run decently on even the netbooks that are current when it ships? (They’ll have more CPU muscle, RAM, and hard disk space than current netbooks.) Will there be any desktops or laptops on the market round about release time that shouldn’t really run it? Microsoft’s misbegotten “Vista Ready” and “Vista Capable” marketing programs not only confused customers and led them to buy machines poorly suited to running Vista, but also resulted in legal trouble. Here’s hoping it manages to avoid that scenario this time around.
15. Is this the last version of Windows? It won’t be in any technical sense–there will be something called Windows in 2018 and will probably be something called Windows in 2028–and I wouldn’t be stunned if there was something called Windows in 3028. But there’s no question that we’re at the beginning of the end of desktop operating systems of the sort that have been at the heart of our computing experience for three decades now–Microsoft initiatives like Windows Azure confirm that even it wouldn’t dispute that. If Windows 7 arrives at the end of 2009 or early 2010, it will be the current version of Window until 2013 or so–and it seems quite possible that whatever replaces it will be more Web service than desktop software.
That’s all the random questions I have for now–but I wouldn’t be startled if I have another fifteen by tomorrow, and another fifteen a day after that. You?