Microsoft polishes Vista into Windows 7
Last week, Apple launched the latest in its series of ads attacking PCs, this time ridiculing Microsoft for spending millions on advertising rather than on “fixing” its Windows Vista operating system.
On Tuesday, Microsoft finally will be able to change the subject.
At the company’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, the company is expected to detail for the first time its successor to Vista, Windows 7.
Rather than a major overhaul, Microsoft is spinning Windows 7 – in the words of CEO Steve Ballmer – as “Windows Vista – a lot better.”
In turn, the company expects that the approach will eliminate some of the problems that hampered Vista’s premiere almost two years ago and continue to define the operating system’s reputation.
When Microsoft introduced Vista in early 2007, the company changed the underlying architecture of the operating system’s predecessor – Windows XP – to improve security. That had the unintended consequence of making a number of applications not work well with Vista – an issue that Microsoft says it has since fixed.
PCs designed to run XP also needed much more memory to run Vista. And some Windows XP PCs, heralded as “Vista Capable,” could not run premium versions of the operating system.
But Microsoft has promised that there will be much greater compatibility between Vista and the new operating system, which is expected to premiere in early 2010.
“How do you not repeat this with Windows 7? All those architectural changes we made? Not doing that again. All that application investment we did to improve Windows Vista? All appear in Windows 7,” said Mike Nash, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Product Management. “So that will be a very big difference in terms of the initial experience with 7 and the initial experience of Vista.”
“The applications and devices that work well with Windows Vista should work by and large with Windows 7.”
Microsoft has been close-lipped about what exactly the new operating system will bring.
During a conference earlier this month, Ballmer said there would be a “clean-up” in the operating system’s user interface, as well as performance improvements.
Nash – who would not specify features ahead of this week’s announcement – said that the operating system would embrace new trends, such as the increasing number of applications that are run on the Internet, as well as the growing popularity of laptops.
“As laptops become more the norm, you have to realize laptops are more than just desktops with a battery and a fold up screen. They get used different,” he said. “That requires a system to really be able to adapt.”
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates also indicated during a conference last spring that the operating system would support multi-touch technology.
Nash said that on both an architectural level as well as a user interface level, when compared to the difference between XP and Vista, the changes between Vista and Windows 7 represented “more of an enhancement.”
“It’s not like we’re blowing the whole thing up,” he said. “But rather looking at what we have there, making sure we can enhance it to make it more compelling.”
Neil MacDonald, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., said the strategy presents risks.
“Here’s the dilemma,” he said. “If they do too much, they break applications and they’ll have the same problems. If they do too little, it will be treated like Vista bar two.”
MacDonald, who described Windows 7 as “more of a finish and polish release than a major release,” said that, in addition to some new features, he expects Microsoft to revamp its operating system’s user interface.
“They need to visually reinforce that this is not Vista,” he said.
Michael Cherry, an analyst at Redmond’s Directions on Microsoft, also said it is key that the company move beyond Vista.
“They need to address some of the perception of the problems that are in Vista,” he said.
Apple, of course, has been working away at any positive perceptions of the Vista brand that remain.
One of the ads that Apple launched last week suggests that Microsoft no longer wants to use the “Vista” brand.
Nash dismissed the notion.
“What do you call the thing that follows Vista? Trista?” he asked. “It’s not intended to minimize or disrespect Windows Vista.”
But he acknowledged that it is difficult to change widely held opinions of the operating system.
“The problem is the cognoscenti, the people who are most influential, established their perception of the product back in 2007. Getting them to change their minds is kind of hard,” he said.