Foley on Microsoft

2009: The Year of Windows 7?

Consumers have good reason to be excited about the next OS -- and Microsoft has good reason to ship it sooner rather than later.

If you believe the leaked schedules, whispered timelines and mounting anecdotal and factual evidence, 2009 should be the year of Windows 7.

Yes, I realize that Microsoft officials are still citing their "three years after Windows Vista went generally available" ship date as the target for Windows 7. But any Windows watcher worth his or her salt knows that "early 2010" is a more likely timeframe for Redmond to ship the product.

Microsoft has every incentive to get Windows 7 to market sooner rather than later. Among them:

  • Vista isn't getting the corporate (or consumer) buy-in Microsoft hoped for. Many businesses are planning to skip Vista and go straight from Windows XP to Windows 7.
  • No matter how many marketing campaigns Microsoft launches to offset the negative public perceptions of Vista, nothing seems to undo the damage that's been done.
  • First public impressions of Windows 7 from those playing with the pre-beta bits are quite positive. This, despite the fact that the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) build of Windows 7 is missing the flashy "Superbar" bits Microsoft showed off at the conference in late October.
  • In spite of Microsoft's insistence to the contrary, Windows 7 is not a major release. It's a lot of fit-and-finish improvements that will make Windows 7 the product that Vista should have been. That said, the ability of Windows 7 to support up to 256 processors is impressive.
  • As Microsoft experienced with Vista, a January launch of a new OS is pointless. It needs to launch in the second or third quarter so it hits the back-to-school and holiday PC market.

From what sources tell me, Microsoft intends to deliver a public, feature-complete beta 1 of Windows 7 by the end of this month. I hear there's no planned beta 2 of Windows 7. The product is slated to go from beta 1 to Release Candidate to released to manufacturing (RTM). Increasingly, it appears Microsoft has a real chance to RTM Windows 7 by mid-2009.

With all this momentum, why am I questioning whether 2009 will be the year of Windows 7? There are still a couple of potential hurdles that could delay this fast-moving train. There's the chance a showstopper bug could rear its ugly head in the eleventh hour of testing, but there are a couple of bigger worries:

  • Google. Google is, no doubt, lining up its antitrust arguments about Windows 7 right now. Possible problem areas include integrated desktop search and more tightly integrated Windows Live services. Windows 7 is designed to deliver the most up-to-date mail, photo, calendar and other service bits via Windows Live. Microsoft is working to win over PC makers so they'll preload the Windows Live Wave 3 bits on new PCs. Do you think Google-especially an angry Google, if its ad deal with Yahoo! is blown up by the 'Softies-is going to take this lying down? Get ready for more European Union antitrust suits, as well.
  • PC makers. One reason Microsoft didn't launch Vista at the end of 2006-even though it was RTM in early November-was because some of the company's OEM partners weren't ready for it. Some of its biggest PC-maker allies couldn't get the final bits from RTM to pre-load on new machines in less than two months, so Microsoft delayed its Vista launch until late January 2007. Depending on when Microsoft RTMs Windows 7, a similar situation could arise. If Microsoft RTMs Windows 7 too close to back-to-school time or the holiday preload-cutoff dates, the company might have to "pull a Vista" and push back its Windows 7 product launch.

What do you think? Will Microsoft release Windows 7 at the optimal time to head off these potential problems at the pass? Do you expect to see Windows 7 RTM in 2009, or do you care if it slips into 2010?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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