Windows 7 is coming, and even major Apple fans like Walt Mossberg are saying some rather surprising things about it. With the layoffs and financial results that Microsoft announced last week, you have to wonder whether it will be enough to light a fire under the market like Windows 95 did. A lot has changed, and I’m beginning to wonder if, like it was in the ’80s, the market is getting ready to move to something else.
Recall that the hot products for 2007 and 2008 were iPhones and the hot product so far in 2009 is the Palm Pre (which Apple is ironically trying to FUD out of existence). Even Apple isn’t holding much PC interest at the moment. So let’s talk about my Windows 7 experiences and whether the market is getting ready to move to something else.
We’ll close with my product of the week, a product that took what is likely the last Macworld ever by storm and isn’t even from Apple.
Living on Windows 7
I’ve actually put Windows 7 on four machines: Two desktop computers running Intel’s new I7 processor and my new HP Mini 1000 netbook. The fourth machine was a cutting edge water-cooled desktop and it ran into driver problems, which showcased why beta testing isn’t without risks, as I spent several hours getting it back to where it was (hint: Always do a full backup before you mess with beta software).
As others have found, Windows 7 feels like what Vista should have been. It is slick, fast, doesn’t drive you nuts with warnings (though it still has some) and much more intuitive. It is particularly handy when you, like I often do, run multiple monitors and have a tendency to open lots of windows.
I’m also getting the hang of moving between a netbook for ultra portable computing and a desktop for full-power work. This week I wrote one column on the netbook and this column on my primary I7 and, once I got used to the netbook’s smaller keyboard, I found both experiences very nice. One of the things Windows 7 seems to do vastly better is connect to wireless networks.
I’ve run a series of games, including the full set of Futuremark benchmarks and, so far, everything seems to work more seamlessly than it did with Windows Vista, suggesting some strong improvements in compatibility.
Overall, this is easily the best first beta experience I’ve ever had with a Windows product, but I wonder if any product could be good enough to bring the excitement back to Windows.
Can the PC Become Exciting Again?
There may be potential, because the Apple MacBook Air did capture a lot of excitement when it was launched even though it was priced out of the market and made some ugly tradeoffs to get as thin as it needed to be. At CES, one of the hot products was the HP DV2, which was nearly as thin as the MacBook Air but priced much more aggressively, and even the expected to be more expensive Dell Adamo pulled a lot of interest. But it was the Palm Pre that took the show, and that, coupled with the fact that the hottest single product for the last two years has been the iPhone, has me wondering if the market has moved on and forgotten to leave a note.
We had terminals for a long time, and PCs were brought in by users and line management long before IT blessed them because they fulfilled a very real need. In fact, as Microsoft grew to dominance, it did so while being accused of “not getting the enterprise.” Apple, which clearly doesn’t get the enterprise, is gaining share against Microsoft and, according to a recent Laura DiDio survey, is being considered by a large number of companies at the moment.
This points to the fact that the user is key to both getting into and holding the enterprise, and right now, the buyers actually seem vastly more excited about phones like the iPhone, Palm Pre, and Google Android phones than they do about any Microsoft product.
I notice in my own behavior that increasingly I’m not opening my laptop but working off my cell phone, and currently, I panic more if I forget my phone than if I forget my PC. Apple is rumored to be building a bigger iPod touch, and Google is rumored to be testing Android on netbooks, so it may not be long until we see a true alternative to both Apple and Windows PC emerge.
Seeing the Old PC With New Eyes
The trick may be for Microsoft and the OEMs to get people to look at the PC with fresh eyes and see it differently than they now do. I’ve seen a number of designs that will be coming later in the year and will challenge how small, how thin, how connected and how inexpensive really cool personalized PC hardware can become.
At the right price point, with the right appearance, the right user experience, and strong benefits-based marketing, the PC could be made relevant again. You get something as small and sexy as the Sony Vaio P at the right price — it’s a little pricey at the moment — and you might actually have something folks will line up for.
Given the diversity of hardware that is coming, the challenge for Microsoft and the OEMs is to get folks excited about the top offerings without overwhelming them with so many choices it dilutes the focus of the launch. One of the reasons the iPhone and Palm Pre get so much attention is that attention is focused on these singular products and not spread across a diverse product landscape.
Windows 95 got focus as an operating system, but the market is clearly now favoring solutions, and that increases the degree of difficulty here substantially. I’m impressed with Windows 7, but I have to admit, I’m more impressed with how difficult it will be to make the product a star in the current environment.
Product of the Week: Second Generation MediaSmart Server
At a Macworld, you expect that the “Best of Show” award would always go to an Apple product and that a company like HP winning this award would be impossible. Yet that was what happened at what was likely the last Macworld ever to have been held. It wasn’t even a desktop product that won but a home server, and the reason it won was because it integrated so well with Macs and the make backup solution Time Machine. I’ve been using the first-generation MediaSmart server for over a year now, and it remains an amazing product. It quietly hums along in the background and serves up my files around the home, and in case I forget something, up on the Web under a secure link.
Because this product is one of those that quietly backs up my own machines, but especially because it is the first time an HP Server has ever won Best of Show at a Macworld, the MediaSmart Server Generation 2 is my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.