Monday, May 20, 2024

Does Windows 7 Threaten Mac OS and Linux?

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Earlier this month, Microsoft lifted the veil of secrecy that’s surrounded their upcoming operating system, Windows 7, and allowed anyone who wanted to take the new OS for a spin to download the ISO file, burn a disc and give it a go.

Feedback from people who’ve actually tried the OS (as opposed to armchair beta testers who seem to have the amazing ability to try out an OS without even downloading it) seems to be very positive indeed.

Sure, a few bugs have come to light, but that’s to be expected – after all, it’s a beta – but despite this the praise keeps on rolling in. While performance, reliability and compatibility issues quickly mired the Vista beta (issues that persisted in the final RTM code), the Windows 7 beta is drowning in praise.

Does a good OS from Microsoft put the pressure back on Apple and the Linux development community? After all, both the Mac OS and Linux have benefitted from the fact that early adopters of Vista experienced declared the OS a lemon, with the worldwide market share in both OSes climbing significantly over the past couple of years.

I was fortunate enough to get early access to the beta 1 code for Windows 7, and despite it being Christmas Eve, I took the time to install the OS on a couple of test systems, along with a few virtual PCs.

[Editor’s note: Adrian, on Christmas Eve? Get a life, man.]

Immediately I was impressed by the speed of the OS, and after a little time using the OS, I found that both reliability and compatibility with my current ecosystem of hardware and software was excellent.

I had absolutely no trouble getting the Windows 7 beta installed on both new hardware and older hardware. Whereas Vista had presented one headache after another, Windows 7 just worked.

But what impressed me the most about Windows 7 was how fast it was. Not only was it perceptibly faster than Windows Vista (an OS that many claim – incorrectly now following SP1 – is a dog when it comes to performance), but on the same hardware it was significantly faster than XP.

And remember, this isn’t the final code that’s been optimized for speed, this is beta code that contains a lot of diagnostic stuff that’s temporary. I can only assume that the final release candidate code will be faster. At the very least I’m not expecting it to be any slower!

So, putting my Windows 7 beta experience together with the experiences of others that I have come across on forums, blogs and in person, it would seem that Windows 7 has the makings of being a good OS, better than both XP and Vista no matter what metric you use to measure. To be sure, I expect that Vista will slowly but surely sink into history and eventually be labeled Windows ME MKII (which is a bit of a shame because Vista with SP1 installed is a very good OS … but those early adopters who got burned will be the ones with the final say).

But given that Microsoft will once again have an OS that they can feel proud of, and that users won’t hate or dismiss out of hand, does this mean that the easy ride that the Mac OS and Linux distros have had over the past few years is over?

Apple, maybe … Linux, probably not.

Next Page: Apple’s price problem and Linux’s freedom issue

See, the way that I look at it is that over the past few years Microsoft has handed Apple a whipping stick and allowed it to thrash Vista in public through countless ads. And Apple has become very good at coming up with negative adverts, so much so that some of its ads don’t even mention any Apple products and spend the entire thirty second slot poking fun at Microsoft.

And it has worked. Over the past twelve months alone the Mac OS has gained more than two percent market share, as measured by NetApplications. During the same period Windows market share has fallen by nearly three percent.

While it is possible that Apple could carry on regardless with the negative ads (after all, who says they have to be based on fact) there’s a chance that such ads wouldn’t have the same effect. After all, the Apple ads worked because there was already a widespread belief that Vista was a lemon, as demonstrated by the Mojave Experiment (for more background on the Mojave Experiment check out this earlier article of mine).

My guess is that given the sort of feedback Windows 7 is getting now, any continuation of the smear ads by Apple would be seen by many as disingenuous. This means that Apple will need to focus on the benefits that Mac has to offer. That could be tricky and Apple might find that the transition costs it both market share and momentum.

So why is Linux mostly immune to any Windows 7 halo effect? I put this mostly down to the demographic that’s shifting to Linux – those that are sensitive to price (and as such aren’t moving to the Mac OS) and those that want the freedom that Linux offers.

While I’ve come across plenty of people who’ve said that they’d “move to Linux once Microsoft pulls the plug on XP,” the reality is that the numbers actually migrating from Windows to Linux are quite small. For Microsoft the issue is either shifting people who stubbornly cling to XP, or stop them moving to Mac (or maybe tempting a few back … who knows, hell might freeze over for a few Mac users).

If Microsoft manages to get Windows 7 out of the door during June and July it’ll be well placed to pick up a fair bit of back-to-school sales, especially if the economy remains soggy, no matter how much little Dick or Jane protest about how everyone else has a Mac.

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