Microsoft, Windows 7, and Linux

I read an article on Slashdot detailing an announcement by Microsoft. This announcement states that Windows XP will be available to OEMs, or computer system builders, until May 2009.

Vista was supposed to replace Windows XP on new computers in January of this year. However, sales of Windows Vista and a public outcry persuaded the company to extend the sales of OEM copies of Windows XP through 2010.

Recently, Microsoft has been working hard on it's next version of Windows, dubbed Windows 7 and it's rumored to be released late 2009 or early 2010. This seems to be true with the pending OEM doom of Windows XP.

So what's wrong with Vista?

Many people like Vista very much as an operating system, and I am impressed by it's interface, but it was not without it's share of problems.

Along with Vista's "glass" interface, Microsoft rearranged the start menu and changed, and renamed many options and familiar items. In my experience, major user interface changes are not welcomed by most users.

The primary buzz about Vista, the new "glass" interface took some hefty hardware to fully utilize. This was acceptable on a new computer, but it made upgrading just for the impressive interface impractical.

Vista, upon initial release, was not compatible with much of the existing hardware users were using. It was, of course, compatible with the hardware it was installed with, but not many peripherals or older hardware. This lack of backwards compatibility was a real reported issue, especially with business.

To solve security issues that have plagued Microsoft's products, Vista implemented several new security features, including an annoying confirmation dialog box that many, many users complained about.

But I had to ask myself why would an average user want Windows Vista?

Obviously, anyone who purchased a new computer would be using Vista, and this fact alone was still a shock to some people. Many people wanted Windows XP back.

But the average user, who's computer still worked, really has no need for Vista in my opinion. After the "wow effect" of a new interface fades, what you're left with is a bloated, slow, different operating system you must now spend time learning.

The average user has a few applications they use, such as email, internet browsing, a word processor, and maybe a financial management application. The average user does not want to relearn the basics of using their computer.

Nor is it the issue, as it has been in the past, where a user feels they need to upgrade because the computer is too slow. Granted, today's modern hardware is very powerful and cheap, but the average user just doesn't utilize it. We're not all running video rendering software or the latest games. There is little noticeable difference between your machine at home and your work machine, or your neighbor's brand new computer. There may be a difference, but for most people, it's negligible.

The average user may use a digital camera, but only wants to plug the camera into the computer and copy the photos to their hard driver. Better yet, the application should do that with one click or even less. They want to power on the printer and print, after installing it one time.

The average user does not care about security and they should be able to browse the internet without getting infected by a virus. Updates to the operating system, and preferably the installed applications, should be easy or even automatic.

And I believe Windows XP was just about there. The average user was accustom to it. It has a familiar interface, it's fairly stable, everything is where the user expects it, and the user's programs will run on it. The few annoyances of the operating system have become expected.

Microsoft has quite a dilemma. On one hand, it has a very successful, well liked operating system. On the other hand, Microsoft does not make money supporting Windows XP. It makes money selling software.

Power users, are a different story.

Power users, or technology enthusiasts, are a different story. Many of these types of users have, like early adopters of Windows XP, have migrated to Vista and are perfectly happy, after working out the bugs implementing "work-arounds" for issues. Most power users love the latest technology, and most of the latest technology is built to work with Vista.

However, Microsoft does not make it's money from power users.

Microsoft cannot simply change a default file format like it did in Office to get people to upgrade. And I highly doubt most users care about panoramic photos. It will need to wow users with an easier to use, but still familiar operating system that just works.

Is Linux a threat?

Not at this point. I love Linux, but it's not an option for the average user, barring a few examples.

If the average user only uses their computer for simple tasks with no specialized programs, the conversion to Linux can be very easy and can be beneficial, especially if the user is motivated because of problems with malware or Windows itself, or if the user is on older hardware.

The documentation is lacking and the in person support for Linux is just not there. However, I have shown several people how to use Linux in less than an hour and they are still happily using it, and discovering more and more about the stable and free operating system as time goes on.

If the average user has someone to go to with questions, or has a decent, intuitive resource for assistance, I believe the user can easily and happily move to Linux. The problem comes when a user is dependent on a specific application that only runs on Windows. There are solutions, and some viable, but most are hit and miss.

The need for accessible, in person support has been recognized by Macintosh (the Mac store) and many people have switched. There are comparable, free replacements for nearly every popular application available on Windows, but it does take time and intuitive, easy to understand documentation and help is lacking.

And again, in person, face to face help is nonexistent.

Power users love Linux.

That being said, power users, once introduced, tend to love Linux, or use multiple operating systems. The user who takes the time to explore and learn the operating system and associated applications finds themselves quickly rewarded and productive. I think that's where Microsoft feels threatened.

Window's market share has been decreasing since the release of Vista, while the number of computers running other operating systems such as Linux have been increasing. The mini PC, or "netbook" market is weighted heavily in Linux's favor and Microsoft is rumored to be responding to that threat with a scaled down version of Windows 7.

From what I've read, I don't believe Microsoft is listening to their users yet. Many are stating that it's little more than a polished Vista. Better hardware compatibility will help, but most users don't need 4 GB of ram and an expensive graphics card to check their email.