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Windows 7 to the Rescue

A few teams at last weekend's NFL draft needed arms. Microsoft, though, needs a shot in the arm. Hopefully not a flu shot...but we digress. It's no secret that Redmond is struggling in this recession the way many of us are, and if anybody needed any more proof of Microsoft's woes, it came last week with an historic earnings report.

That report was historic for unfortunate reasons, of course. By now, you know that Microsoft experienced its first year-over-year earnings shortfall ever, or at least since it became a public company more than two decades ago. That means, of course, that Microsoft made less money in the first three months of this calendar year than it made in the first three months of 2008. Microsoft's funky fiscal calendar makes the first three months of the year the third quarter, but it's still January-March on the calendar.

The news for enterprise partners wasn't actually that bad. Microsoft's server and tools division -- the one that rakes in so much cash for the channel, with products such as Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 -- actually managed to grow 7 percent year over year.

But nothing else did. In fact, all of Microsoft's other divisions experienced revenue shortfalls, including the business division, home of Dynamics. Windows, the heavy-hitter of the company's client division, was the big loser as PC sales dropped and netbooks continued to eat away at traditional PC revenues. And while Windows sales don't make that much of a difference to the enterprise channel, a stable Microsoft is always a steadying force for partners.

It is, then, perhaps appropriate that the NFL draft was held last weekend, as rarely does an event pile expectations on the back of the young and mostly untested the way the draft does. Matthew Stafford, this year's can't-miss quarterback prospect from Georgia, now steps into an unenviable situation in Detroit. For those of you who don't follow football, the Lions lost every game they played last season, a rare occurrence indeed.

Windows 7 doesn't have it quite so bad. Microsoft is more like, say, the Dallas Cowboys than the Detroit Lions -- a historically successful entity that has hit a bit of a rough patch recently. But with Vista now pretty much officially the Ryan Leaf of operating systems, and with Microsoft's earnings reports bearing its scars, Windows 7 needs to be a superstar, and fairly quickly.

That's why Redmond has been rushing the young star onto the field, preparing a release candidate for launch on April 30 for MSDN and TechNet subscribers. The RC launch for everybody else will happen on May 5. (Of course, some early scouts got an unauthorized sneak preview of the new kid last week.)

Windows 7 will need to be most things to most people -- compatible with existing applications and drivers (a virtual "XP mode" should help that), nimble enough to run on netbooks but powerful enough to satisfy power users. Of course, with multiple editions, the idea is that there will be something for everybody.

About a decade ago, there was a great debate among football fans at draft time regarding two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. None of them would admit it now, but the aforementioned Leaf had plenty of supporters. Well, as any fan knows, Peyton Manning became a Super Bowl winner, and Ryan Leaf -- well, his career didn't go so well. Microsoft needs a Peyton Manning with Windows 7. The new operating system will even wear a quarterback's number. But will it be a legend or a flop? For Redmond's sake, it had better be a legend.

What's your take on the importance of Windows 7 to Microsoft...or on the NFL draft? Send it to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 04/28/2009 at 1:22 PM


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