Is Microsoft Already Failing with Windows 7?

There’s great reason for optimism about Windows 7, but a few missteps are beginning to prompt concern.
Posted October 7, 2009

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Windows 7 got off to a great start with positive word-of-mouth from beta testers. Windows 7 features a "painless install," said one. "Totally compatible," gushed another. "Almost as good as XP," exclaimed a third.

But will Microsoft screw up the Windows 7 launch like it did Windows Vista?

So far, it's not looking good.

Windows 7 Multi-touch FAIL

Multi-touch displays will soon revolutionize computing, just as they have cell phones, cable news election coverage and the plastic screen-protector industry.

But you'd never know that looking at online demos of Windows 7 multi-touch.

It couldn't be more obvious that the best way to use a multi-touch display is at an angle, like a drafting tablet, or, secondarily, flat, like a coffee table. The exception to this, of course, is when using a multi-touch for public presentations, on TV news or, say, on a submarine.

Yet all or nearly all the Windows 7 multi-touch products and demos show or require the use of multi-touch on a vertical screen.

Vertical multi-touch is like a vertical mouse pad or a vertical bed. It takes a good idea and makes it annoying and absurd.

The most recent example is the new Gateway One, hawked as a Windows 7 multi-touch device. Here's a demo from Computex showing how the Gateway One is to be used. Notice how unnatural and even painful it looks to use? I'd rather have root canal.

At some point in the demo, a virtual keyboard even pops up, and at the top of the screen is roughly at eye level. Who's going to type on that?

You'll also notice that the multi-touch doesn't work well. The images are jerky, and the interface doesn't respond correctly to touches. A user tries to spin a picture (why would anyone want to spin a picture?), and it spins in the opposite direction. Pathetic!

The Gateway One would be an awesome product. But it's advertised as multi-touch, and the multi-touch represents an Epic Fail, because the hardware isn't properly configured for practical use.

(This is what killed the Apple Newton, by the way. The device was billed as a mobile gadget with handwriting recognition, but the Newton was too big for a pocket and the handwriting recognition didn't work well.)

In this YouTube video, you see Windows 7 multi-touch demonstrated in the wrong configuration (on a Dell Latitude XT laptop), then in the right configuration (on some experimental desktop). See the difference in usability?

Of course, Windows 7 multi-touch will be available on a smattering of convertible tablets (HP TouchSmart TX2z,Fujitsu LifeBook T5010, Lenovo Thinkpad X200 and others). Windows 7 multi-touch on a tablet is better than nothing.

But I'm not aware of a single hardware vendor that facilitates the use of multi-touch on Windows 7 devices at a proper angle. We're talking about a little bit of plastic on the case that props it up -- not rocket science, folks.

How can Microsoft allow partners to wreck the public's perception about both Windows 7 and multi-touch?

House Party Marketing FAIL

Microsoft came up with the dubious idea of Windows 7 Launch Parties -- like Tupperware parties, but to discuss and demo Windows 7 features. Selected party hosts are being sent "Signature Edition" Windows 7 Ultimate as we speak, plus a bunch of party favors, playing cards and other things people over the age of 7 never use at parties.

Unfortunately, Microsoft allowed its marketing partner to create and release a rambling, pointless, impossible-to-watch 6-minute video to promote the Launch Party idea. The video was created by a company called House Party, which specializes in such events.

Microsoft, having never heard of the Internet, approved this PR disaster.

"Pass the Cringe," wrote CNBC. "Painfully earnest," said A.P. "So bad I hurled," upchucked Beta News.

The inevitable mockery is helping to snuff out some of the genuine enthusiasm people had about Windows 7. (One parody video simply bleeps words to make launch parties sound like something dreamed up by Bob Crane, rather than Steve Ballmer.)

Windows Vista Honesty FAIL

Microsoft launched its disastrous "Mojave Experiment" last year. The sole point of this pricey marketing campaign was that Windows Vista's bad reputation was undeserved, and that the OS is really wonderful after all.

The campaign was an aggressive assault on all those, including me, who slammed the operating system as unready, undesirable or unusable. There appeared to be a major difference of opinion between Microsoft on the one hand, and naysayers on the other. Turns out no such difference existed.

Microsoft's general manager for corporate strategy, Charles Songhurst, admitted at a tech conference last month that Windows Vista was a "less good" product for Microsoft.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed that view by saying that Microsoft "made some design decisions to improve security at the expense of compatibility."

These confessions are nothing more than euphemistic corporate-speak for "we blew it, and we know Vista sucks."

So what was that load of hooey called the "Mojave Experiment"?

More importantly: Why should we believe claims about Windows 7?

Personally, I'm optimistic about Windows 7. I'll buy a copy, and reserve judgment until I experience it for myself. But if Microsoft keeps broadcasting "CLUELESS" from the mountaintops, I worry about the future of Windows -- and Microsoft.

Tags: Microsoft, Vista, Dell, Windows 7, Latitude

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