Why Windows 7 marks end of an era - TechCentral

Why Windows 7 marks end of an era

Duncan McLeod

Windows 7 has landed. After months of hype, Microsoft has finally delivered its newest PC operating system. Reviewers are raving about it, and it looks set to sell well. But its release marks the end of an era.

Microsoft’s launch of Windows 7 at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton last Thursday evening was interrupted by a powerful Highveld thunderstorm. Torrential rains flooded the marquee, tripping the electricity.

The storm provided an easy metaphor for the way “cloud computing” threatens to disrupt Microsoft’s business model.

The era of large operating systems, delivered once every few years at great cost, is drawing to a close. Windows 7 could be the last time Microsoft delivers an operating system on shiny discs sold in retail stores. The world is moving online — into the “cloud”.

What does this mean? Well, for the computer industry, it’s a big deal. The shift online is changing the way people think about monetising software.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Windows 7 is going to sell like cold beer on a hot summer’s day. It’s a very good operating system and, unlike Vista, will finally persuade the very many companies still running Windows XP to upgrade. Companies will still be running this software 20 years from now. I don’t think the same thing can be said about Windows Vista, 7’s much-maligned forerunner.

Windows 7 will give Microsoft’s income statement a real fillip in the short term. Longer term, however, there are real threats emerging to the company’s business model.

The principal among these is cloud computing. People are increasingly turning to the Web for their applications, be it e-mail or accounting or calendar scheduling. Microsoft arch-rival Google is building a powerful set of tools delivered almost entirely through a Web browser.

The problem for Microsoft is that computing in the cloud makes the operating system less relevant. The more people turn to the Web for their productivity tools, the less they come to rely on the operating system — and the easier it becomes for them to switch platforms.

Google, which is already making quick inroads in mobile phone software with its Linux-based Android operating system, has begun working on a Windows replacement that will facilitate easy access to its online services.

The software will be distributed free online, allowing anyone to tinker with it. Google’s giving the software away, hoping to monetise its online services through advertising. Where Linux failed, Google may succeed.

Also based on Android, the software is slated for a 2010 release, and will initially be targeted at low-cost netbook PCs. But if it proves successful on netbooks, expect Google to make it available on other hardware in no time at all.

It’s not clear what Windows 8 — assuming Microsoft calls it that — will offer that Windows 7 doesn’t. There may not even be a Windows 8. It’s entirely possible that Microsoft will deliver new functionality incrementally to consumers online, through its Windows Update service.

You’ll continue to pay for it, of course — at least for now. Consumers might be expected to subscribe (an annual fee, maybe) to receive updates. The subscription model appeals to software makers like Microsoft: it provides a recurring source of income and helps smooth the revenue and profit lines.

Of course, Microsoft is very aware of the dangers ahead. It’s experimenting with a free, advertising-supported version of its popular Office suite.

And it’s working on a cloud-based operating system called Windows Azure. Business customers, wanting guaranteed interoperability with their Microsoft-based corporate systems, may be more drawn towards a Microsoft cloud-based solution.

However, consumers are likely to be drawn to whichever service works best for them, and that may mean them turning to Google, or another company altogether. And whoever wins the consumer market eventually wins the corporate market, too — as Microsoft knows only too well.

  • This column is also published in the Financial Mail

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10 Comments

  1. What can MS do in Windows 8? How about getting rid of worthless legacy NT code and build on BSD/Unix foundations? Windows 7 is still prone to malware, it’s still just a single user desktop OS with network capabilities stuck on. The fact that it doesn’t run as Admin by default is great but it’s not enough – and get rid of worthless eye candy.

    In fact security is the only reason to upgrade from XP to Windows 7? What does Windows 7 offer that XP SP2 does not? Eye-candy? Direct X11? UAC? An XP virtual machine which only runs on some CPUs and is only present in Win 7 Ultimate – the most expensive consumer version? When that runs it runs less well than native Win XP.

    If your software works under XP and you’ve secured your system properly– what reason is there to upgrade? For eye candy? For the half-baked new Taskbar which tried to copy Apple’s Dock? Pretty OMGPonies!!!!!1 themes? The need to buy new software to work properly under 7?

  2. Jeff, on what basis do you say that “legacy NT code” is worthless? I think that NT is in almost all ways a much better OS than UNIX, especially when it comes to “legacy” leftovers that should have been discarded 30 years ago! (We’re STILL stuck with X Window System, for crying out loud!)

    UNIX’s success has much more to do with the way it could run on a variety of hardware, with minimal re-coding. I.e., like a virus, it could easily mutate.

    I’m looking forward to Google’s Chrome OS, if only to finally have a full Linux system without the rubbish that is X.

  3. Ugh, Duncan, please try to avoid using that horrible American neologism, ‘monetising’. Rather go for ‘commercialising’, the old fashioned way of saying ‘we’re going to sell this sucker’. Too bad if Yanks can’t understand what that means and have to invent a new word which they think makes it more obvious. Let’s try not to perpetuate it, whatcha say?

    Talk about nitpicking, I know. Good story, though.

  4. clapclapclap good comment Jeff, especially regarding ‘worthless eye candy’. I’ve switched all of that nonsense off on my Windows 7 machine. All I want from an OS is to be able to turn on my computer and load the apps I need to get to work.

  5. if i remember, vista was supposed to be the last big os when it came out.
    From my point of view, i will never use the cloud for personal use. It is very nice to have your data at your fingertips but i would never be able to trust other with my data. large corps who will hold this data will be the ceter of attraction for hackers for whom it will be a holy grail of info. I would rather have my os and data on my system.
    cloud in my opinion is better for ppl who just use their comp for browsing hearing songs and probable watch videos.
    if you are a gamer as in not mmorgs, do editing work etc then cloud is definitky not the way to go.
    Another thing is that all isps are putting caps on your bandwidth. unless they remove it which is not going to happen, cloud is not going to take off.
    personally i do not even use social sites anymore because of the amount of data you share with others.
    im pretty sure you would not want others to access your private photos. You want others to see it send them by mail after encryption.
    Just my 2 c i might be way off.

  6. I’m a bit amazed at how many people complain about the eye candy. I’m on a budget triple-core system and my processor typically hovers at 0% with Firefox open and task manager displaying the three graphs. Honestly, if your system is lagging from eye candy its not the fault of the eye candy, its the fault of the old clunker you’re running.

    Computers are getting more powerful and software is getting even more demanding. Attempting to run current software (like Windows 7) on older hardware is perfectly fine. It appears to run on anything from the past three years. But if the system can’t handle Windows 7, don’t blame it on some random fault of the OS. Blame it on the real issue – the PC just wasn’t made for it.

  7. Ja, whatever, Michael. What about a brand new netbook? The thing only punts a 1.6 Atom processor and 2GB RAM. Eye candy doesn’t help me get my job done.

  8. I’ve been in the PC world now for 20 years, and I’ll tell you this, cloud will never work for the corporations out there. There is no way that they will put data out on the cloud. This cloud is just another hype and will be replaced again in 2 to 3 years with something else. There will be people using it, for sure, but that will be totally only for your stuff that you dont care to loss. I use to have a myownemail.com email address, and 1 night they just disappeared! So put your data on the cloud if you dont care who see it, or dont care it it gets loss.
    Also, I’ve been running XP on my desktop at home for many years now, and bought a new desktop with 1gig ram and 2mhz intel processor about 3 years ago. I’ve always waited for XP to start up and there way never a feeling that wow, this is fast. From last week I installed Windows 7 Enterprise with SQL Server 2008 & the visual studio 2008 and many of my older software on my D drive, and I tell you what, Xp is slow, Windows 7 beats the crap out of starting up and shutting down! The applications on 7 works almost just as good even if not beter and thats with the eye candy!
    I would like to csutomize the start menu on 7 to look like XP as I really dont like it but I sure there will be a way around it.
    My oldest software, KatMouse which is from 2002 runs perfect on 7, so why not change? I’m all for 7!