Thursday, I covered what I like about Windows 7 beta. In a nutshell, I think it's a great operating system that could become my favorite of all time with more updates and proper development.
But that doesn't mean I don't have reservations. There are still some lingering issues that Microsoft hasn't addressed.
Is Windows 7 designed to be just the next iteration in a long line of Microsoft operating systems or does Microsoft want it to be something different, something new? Answering that question isn't as easy as I once thought. The look and feel of Windows 7 is great. It reminds me more of a Mac than any previous version of Windows. I like that, but especially for Windows XP users who have never switched to any other operating system, that's not necessarily good.
Is it a Mac or is it Windows?
As a Mac user, I like the Dock, enjoy Mac OS X's user interface, and typically appreciate its design. After using Windows 7, I have the same feeling. Windows 7 is easily the most attractive OS Microsoft has ever released and its revamped Taskbar is a treat to use, thanks to snazzy thumbnail features that actually put Apple's Dock to shame.
But after using Windows 7 for a while, it quickly became apparent that in Microsoft's quest to make Windows "prettier," it sometimes makes it harder to perform basic functions. The same Windows you're familiar with is still there, it's just harder to find under all the makeup. Especially if you're an XP user who skipped Vista.
On more than one occasion, I clicked on an open application in the Taskbar expecting another window to open (after all, this is Windows). But just like the Mac, it didn't happen. Instead, Windows 7 highlighted that app and brought the window to the front. To open another window, I was forced to right-click the icon and click another option. For the veteran Mac user, that's expected. For the veteran Windows user, that's something new that will take some getting used to.
That's just one example of many that I found in Windows 7. A slight glare in the upper corner of an icon indicates a program is running. After a while, you'll get used to that. But for someone who has used every other version of Windows and isn't as tech-savvy as some, that will undoubtedly be confusing at first.
I'm afraid Microsoft has placed too much stock in Apple's design and not enough in usability. That's appealing for Mac users, but if I had never touched an Apple machine, I don't think I'd want my Windows box to be a Mac clone. I'd want it to be Windows. I'd get over it. It would just take some time.
Windows 7 has the same basic security features as Vista, which does make it more secure than most previous iterations of Windows, and I'm definitely heartened by the operating system's "Action Center," which tries to make it easier for users to secure their computers. But security is still a major issue with the OS.
According to a report last year, the security company PC Tools found 639 unique threats over the first six months of 2008 for every 1,000 machines running Vista. That tally is actually better than XP, which was plagued with 1,021 issues. Ironically, Windows 2000 was safest, suffering 586 threats that penetrated the operating system's defenses.
But as CNET's Ina Fried reports, as far as Windows 7's security goes, "it appears to draw heavily from the investments the company made with Windows Vista."
"The most notable change," Fried writes, "is probably the fact that users now have the option to choose how often they are required to authorize changes to their system. One of the most frequent criticisms of Vista was the annoyance of the User Account Control dialog boxes that forced users to authenticate many types of changes to their systems."
In other words, Windows 7 is about as secure as Windows Vista, which was plagued by 639 threats over a six-month period. That's an improvement over previous iterations of the software, so sticking to XP probably isn't advised if security is a major concern, but let's face it--that track record isn't ideal.
Learning curve and the enterprise
A major issue I see with Windows 7, which is underscored throughout this discussion, is the operating system's long learning curve. Some say Windows 7 is more "intuitive" than previous versions of the software. Intuitive or not, unless you're a Mac user or a Vista convert, it will probably take some time to get used to Windows 7. Some enterprises didn't switch to Vista for that reason and I'm afraid Microsoft will face that same issue with Windows 7.
Many companies are still operating in the "pre-Vista era" where the same basic computing operations were used since Windows 95. Employees have grown accustomed to Windows XP and expect any product from Microsoft to work in kind. Windows 7 won't.
And that's why enterprises may be loath to switch to Windows 7. Many businesses are content with XP and until Microsoft finally kills the old OS, some may believe that there's really no need for any enterprise to switch. The way I see it, Windows 7, because of its learning curve, will increase a company's training costs, licensing fees, equipment costs, and lower productivity in that time. Maybe a company can recoup that investment over the long-term, but in an economy like this where the next few years are very uncertain, higher costs are not something a company is looking for right now. But what other choice do they have? Windows 7 is a superior operating system to XP. Switching to Microsoft's latest OS needs to happen eventually.
Although the issues outlined above could pose some trouble for Microsoft, they aren't major enough to justify sticking with XP or Vista. There will be growing pains and undoubtedly some companies will have trouble switching, but Windows 7 isn't Vista and moving into the next phase of the storied software's history is worth it. Just don't expect it to be easy.
Want the other side of the story? Check out Thursday's column, "Why I can't get enough of Windows 7"