The chances of Windows 7 suddenly winning over Windows XP users in droves are slim to none. Windows 7 is a better Vista but doesn't deliver enough advantages or differentiation from Windows XP to woo XP users from their stable, reliable and functional desktop OS. Windows 7 successes will come from new computer sales, NetBooks and Vista users treading water waiting for a lifeline out of Vista's turbulent and tragic waters. Windows 7 “Mac-like” improvements to the taskbar may even stave off some users considering the move to a Mac over buying another Windows PC. What will it take for Windows XP users to convert? I've been using the Windows 7 public beta as my full-time laptop OS and have reached some pretty firm conclusions about Windows 7's ability to woo XP, Vista, Linux and Mac users over to the new OS. I believe it will require an OS with strong client OS and application virtualization, or some of the promise of a tightly integrated Live Mesh and Windows Azure services to significantly differentiate Windows 7 from the same old desktop OS it presents itself as today.
Why such dire predictions for Windows 7 ability to convert Windows XP users? As I've said, Windows 7 will do very well but just not with XP users. Like our new President Barak Obama, Windows 7 is overburdened with expectations from many constituents, especially Windows XP users who've strongly resisted moving to Vista. Windows 7 has a lot of making up to do for the Windows Vista debacle and that clearly is Windows 7's aim. But merely achieving par with what Vista promised to be at its launch more than two years ago isn't compelling enough to move XP users from their now hardened position about upgrading. Let's dig into why this is the case and why Windows 7 will win and lose with different users.
First, lets start with the obvious — Vista was guilty of many sins. The most talked about were its instability, compatibility issues and lack of drivers. But Vista also did a makeover on the Windows UI, masking XP dialog boxes and settings with new Vista windows. That meant users had to search and dig to find things they already knew how to do in Windows XP. In many cases the makeover wasn't any better or was worse than the original XP design (wireless networking is a good example.) Windows 7 yet again has redesigned the UI as well as added some new and redesigned features, landing it somewhere between Vista and a newly designed Windows OS.
Where Windows 7 Wins
New Computers: Windows 7 will be much more palatable as an OS shipped on new computers purchased at Best Buy, Micro Center or online at Dell, HP, Sony, etc. Users won't be faced with the “Vista dilemma” as Windows 7 doesn't carry with it the same stigma and baggage as did Vista. In retail stores and as an OS on new computers, Windows 7 will be a big hit.
Upgrade For Vista Users: For existing Vista users, a Windows 7 upgrade is pretty much a no-brainer. Its faster boot up, shutdown and sleep, and overall improved performance alone make it worth the upgrade. Add in the UI improvements and you have a clear winner. Windows 7 even narrows the gap a bit between Windows and Mac OS X's ease of use, though it certainly doesn't bring with it the cool factor Apple does with many users.
NetBooks: Vista's girth and bloat make it a no-op for NetBooks. XP fills that role today just fine (as does Linux, btw). Both Windows 7's improved performance and its ability to be slimmed down into smaller OS disto's means Windows 7 can easily replace Windows XP as the default NetBook OS.
Where Windows 7 Loses (or Doesn't Over Woo Users)
Windows XP Users: There's no doubt Windows 7 is a huge improvement over Vista, but is it enough to get XP users to upgrade? I suspect not unless users are forced to make a change as Microsoft begins to drop support for Windows XP in 2012 and beyond. Lets look at why.
Windows 7 is very much aimed at being a better Vista, not a better Windows XP. Windows 7 brings us both improvements to existing Vista and some XP features, as well as some new features added in the OS. Examples of improvements are the simplified (and more powerful) taskbar interface, improved wireless networking setup, faster boot, shutdown and sleep, and less chatty balloon and UAC messages. Added features are things like the new Device Center, PowerShell, Libraries for managing data across storage and computing devices, and redesigned home networking paradigm. Windows 7 also benefits from the security improvements originally designed into Vista, but these benefits have been intangible to most users and IT shops.
The net-net is when you peel back the new improvements and additions in Windows 7, what's underlying all these changes are many of the very same redesigned screens, features and changes found originally in Windows Vista. Windows 7 is the OS Microsoft should have (and wish they had) shipped as Vista. Fundamentally, Windows 7 is playing catch up to get back to square one.
It's not obvious the improvements in Windows 7 will get XP users to shell out the dough and go through the pains and effort to upgrade to W7. If anything, Vista fortified XP users belief they already have a perfectly good OS in XP and it's going to take a pretty compelling story to get them to go through any kind of Windows OS upgrade. The upgrade justification from XP can't be made on productivity improvements or economic benefits. It can't be made on better security (the difference isn't tangible enough). It can't be made on new features or capabilities in Windows 7 – they just aren't compelling enough.
If I look into my crystal ball, I do see a future where XP users want to upgrade (aside from being forced to my Microsoft cutting back support for XP.) In an upcoming podcast (that will be posted next week), Citrix CTO Simon Crosby makes a supposition that we're moving into a world where businesses don't necessarily buy computers from some or all of their employees. Rather, users can freely use their own computers or computers employees purchase with a stipend provided by the business. It's an interesting possibility and is actually a world many of us live in today. Contractors, consultants, and increasingly employees, use their own laptops to connect to the corporate network. Personally, I've not used a corporate supplied computer for the last five to six years.
Despite corporate policies, today many end users use their corporate-supplied computers for both a mix of personal and business purposes. In some respects, businesses are giving into this practice just as they've given into allowing many users to customize their Windows environment, install their own applications and play music on business computers. In my experience this is much more prevalent in knowledge worker environments vs. call centers or other task orient operations.
The future Simon paints is one where these personal and business computing environments are virtualized onto the same computer, rather than intermingled as they are today. Businesses will deliver virtualized full OS plus apps, and stand-alone virtualized apps, to computers that users own. This maintains the security of corporate data and applications, and allows the business to viably deliver a computing environment they manage on computers they don't. Obviously this vision is in line where Citrix is going with XenServer, XenApp and their newly announced Project Independence, and given my own views about desktop and application virtualization I can see merit in a lot of Citrix's vision.
While we haven't seen much of this yet, I believe it would be wise for Microsoft to continue to improve Windows 7 as an easily virtualized OS and a platform for delivering virtualized applications. Microsoft has partially move Live Essential apps into the cloud. As they move Office and other apps online, the OS becomes thinner and thinner, less bloated with applications that entangle themselves into the registry and Windows folder of Windows 7.
The degree to which Microsoft improves and refines Windows 7 to function as a virtualized OS and support virtualized applications, Simon's vision can become one that's possible beyond just through Citrix's offerings and product plans. Add in the synchronization capabilities of Live Mesh and applications that tie into Live Framework (LiveFx), you have a significantly differentiated and compelling environment to shift XP users to Windows 7.
Is it going to take all this to get Windows XP users moved over to Windows 7? Maybe not, but XP users and IT shops need to see a lot more differentiation between XP and Windows 7 than exists today.
By Mitchell Ashley