Over at Cnet News, Ina Fried has posted some news that I find both startling and pleasing: Microsoft has told her that Windows 7 won’t come with applications for e-mail or for editing photos and movies. Windows Mail (née Outlook Express), Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker will live on, but as free downloadable Windows Live applcations rather than bundled into Windows.
I think that’s potentially a very encouraging sign about Microsoft’s priorities for W7. Operating systems shouldn’t be about e-mail or photo tweaking or movie making–they should be about being a fast, reliable, and intuitive platform for all of those applications and thousands more. By insisting on making those programs part of earlier versions of Windows, Microsoft hobbled both the apps and the OS in multiple ways:
–There’s no way that applications that move at the speed of OS development can keep up with the rest of the world. Windows XP shipped in 2001; how could a photo app tied to it compete with services like Flickr that arrived years later, even if it received updates?
–Applications bundled with operating systems are destined for mediocrity–nobody pays for them, or even chooses to use them. They’re defaults–at best, they get good enough to be good enough. And then they stagnate.
–Bundled apps are just a distraction. There’s so much fundamental stuff that Windows could do better on every front, from performance to security to usability; why lard up the OS with apps that are clearly optional and which have strong third-party rivals?
I don’t think Microsoft would nod its corporate head in agreement with all of the points above, but some of the things it told Ina about its decision aren’t wildly different in terms of the bottom line. That’s a striking reversal from marketing for Windows XP and Vista, both of which often played up the bundled applications that came with the OS. Here, for instance, is the XP ad with Madonna’s “Ray of Light”:
It’s also strikingly different than Apple’s OS-application strategy. It too makes an operating system and creative applications, but OS X and iLife only get bundled together on a new Mac. iLife will only live as long as it’s compelling enough to get real people excited enough to pay real money for it. Otherwise, they’re standalone products that must be purchased separately. Good for OS X; good for iLife; good, ultimately, for Mac users.
I think Microsoft could go way further with this basic idea: Should it be a given that Windows comes with Windows Media Player or even Internet Explorer? Maybe Paint should be retired after 23 years? (That’s apparently not going to happen–actually, it’s apparently getting a major makeover, with the Office 2007 Ribbon interface and multi-touch support.) But losing some apps is a good start–and I think that Windows Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker all stand a better chance of being really competitive if they stand on their own and only get used by people who make an effort to find, download, and explore them.