With Windows 7 set to make its public debut Wednesday at CES (it already has, if you count the BitTorrent leak), in honor of the seventh major version of Microsoft’s operating system, I’ve come up with seven things I think Windows 7 must do.
Redmond is at a crossroads. Apple is resurgent–the iPod and now the iPhone Effect are driving users away from Windows. Vista isn’t helping much either: the negative feedback loop caused by Microsoft’s bungled launch and marketing is also contributing to the exodus.
Windows 7 could be considered a critical release for Ballmer and Co. Either the new operating system plugs the hole in the dam, or the cracks grow bigger and wider. Microsoft needs Windows 7 to be a success more than I think it currently realizes. The threat from Apple is real.
So what does Windows 7 need to do?
1. It needs to work correctly out of the box. The launch of Vista was one of the worst in recent memory for Microsoft. Dozens — if not hundreds — of devices did not have proper drivers. This meant that peripherals (some not even a year old) stopped working once Vista was installed.
In some cases, users had to wait months for the manufacturers to catch up. For whatever reason too many partners were caught with their pants down. This cannot happen again.
2. It needs to be marketed correctly from the start. Why should people buy this? Microsoft needs to sell the end user on Windows 7. The company certainly did not do its job with Vista, and the statistics show that. That operating system released 26 months ago, and after all that time only 1 in 4 Windows users have installed it. That’s pretty bad.
Redmond needs to make the case for Windows 7 clearly, accurately, and succinctly. It will take more than a window dressing (no pun intended) to move this product off the shelves. And to many that’s what Vista was no matter if it was true or not.
Who’s fault is that? The marketers.
3. It needs to be simple to use. As you may remember this was the source of some discussion in the tech blogosphere a short while back. Windows 7 needs to be simple to use. Part of the reason why Mac OS has seen such an uptick is the fact that it really “just works.” That’s not just marketing speak.
After a day or so with a Mac, you will be able to do just about anything. The operating system is intuitive, and is built for ease of use. From the early looks of what were seeing out of the beta, Microsoft has seen the light and has taken a good look at what is needed to make this a reality.
4. It needs to learn from Mac OS X, not mimic it. Yes, I argued in the above linked post that Microsoft could learn a good deal on OS UI design from the folks at Cupertino. However, the last thing they need to do is copy it.
I think the Dock-like taskbar is a good example of how copying can go wrong–which Paul Thurrott also seems to lament. While it does a good job in making it look like the Dock, in true Microsoft style they try to add to it rather than innovate it, which in turn makes it harder to use or understand.
Microsoft needs to seriously research some of these things with end-users before they release them. Some seem like they are a little half-baked.
5. It needs to be innovative. This goes hand in hand with basically everything I’ve said before this point. Microsoft has the biggest concentration of software development brainpower in the world, in addition to what seems like limitless resources.
There’s no reason why something innovative cannot be coming out of Redmond on the regular. Vista seemed to lack any innovation — no, an animated translucent UI does not count, and neither do annoying security measures (User Account Control, I’m looking in your direction).
6. It needs to understand the economic climate. This is a huge one. This will be the first Windows version since 3.0/3.1 to release in a recessionary environment (yes, XP released during the dot-com bust, but overall much less of the economy was affected). Disposable income is at a significant low for many. Thus, a shiny new OS is not going to be important to many.
Microsoft really needs to think long and hard about how it prices Windows 7: the multiple version strategy of Vista was more confusing than anything. Add to this the fact that nobody is going to pay $250 for an OS upgrade when they barely can afford their mortgage payment, and it just makes sense to keep Windows 7 cheap.
Let’s go back to one version for the consumer and one for the IT professional/business. Don’t cripple the budget version too much, either. Don’t make Windows 7 fail just because you are trying to squeeze a few more percentage points of profit margin from your customers, or confuse them with too many versions of the same thing.
7. It needs to be able to sell itself. Innovation and value will sell Windows 7: Vista seemed to have neither. The Microsofties will yell from the mountaintops that it did have both — but to the rest of us it didn’t seem that way. XP sold itself because it appeared to have value: Microsoft did not spend much money at all getting it out the door.
Vista had to be force fed to consumers. That’s not good: if Microsoft does not learn from the mistakes of Windows Me Redux, we’ll be saying the same thing in another three or so years.
Perhaps by then if Microsoft fails to impress again most of us will be on Macs anyway so the point will be moot anyway? Mac fanatics can only dream.