Microsoft Partners: MinWin Could Soothe Vista Headaches

In the year that has passed since Microsoft released Windows Vista to business users, the operating system has gained a reputation in the channel as a bloated memory hog that many companies are avoiding like a trip to the dentist.

But Microsoft partners have a more positive opinion of Windows 7, the next generation of Windows that Microsoft expects to ship in the 2010 timeframe. That's because Windows 7 will be based on MinWin, a scaled down version of the Windows core that will also serve as the framework for Windows Server and Windows Media Center.

MinWin's source code base takes up about 25 megabytes on disk, compared to about 4 gigabytes for Vista. Solution providers see this as a sign that Microsoft has learned its lesson from trying to cram too much into the Windows OS, and some feel that Windows 7 will be a roaring success in the market.

"There has definitely been a huge amount of resistance in the market to Vista, but I think Microsoft has learned a lot from the experience," said Todd Swank, director of marketing for system builder and solution provider Nor-Tech, Burnsville, Minn. "I also think they realize they waited too long between the release of Windows XP and Vista."

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Swank says it makes "a tremendous amount of sense" for Microsoft to offer a slimmer version of Windows because it'll help the vendor realize its goal of extending the OS into mobile devices and other platforms.

Dan Hogan, vice president and COO at DSR, an Elkridge Md.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, says the logic behind MinWin is likely to make sense to businesses of all sizes.

"There is definitely a market for a stripped down version of Windows for people that don't want an operating system that requires lots of memory and drains notebook battery life," said Hogan.

Paul DeGroot of Directions on Microsoft, a Redmond, Wash.-based research firm, says Microsoft appears to be adopting a model very similar to the Linux approach.

"That doesn't mean Microsoft is going open source, but the two approaches to OS development have always contrasted sharply," said DeGroot. "Linux has this lean, mean, kernel, protected by Linus Torvalds, who guards it like a three-headed dog. But outside of that, it's literally a free-for-all."

"Microsoft has adopted a different approach, for good reasons. In Microsoft's case, adding more and more to the OS has been a smart business decision," DeGroot added.

Next: The Minimalist Approach

However, some Microsoft partners who've been fighting the good fight in trying to steer their customers toward Vista are puzzled that Microsoft is now talking about a minimalist approach to Windows development. Other partners say the allure of Windows 7 could cause a significant number of companies to wait it out and avoid Vista altogether.

This is most likely to happen with larger enterprises that have been putting off migrating to Vista due to the logistical enormity of the task, and for whom the desire to streamline the OS is most acute, says Larry Piland, president at Datel Systems Incorporated, a San Diego-based solution provider.

"Many of the features Microsoft is pushing with Vista simply don't apply to customers whose users are only accessing accounting software and using the Web," said Piland.

Enterprise customers would also benefit from MinWin and Windows 7 because they often want to offer a basic level of functionality to their employees, in the form of Office and perhaps a few packaged applications, says George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Microsoft partner.

"I think the small business segment is going to take whatever comes in the box and deal with it. But enterprises will say 'We'd like to see what MinWin is all about, because we don't need all that extra functionality'," said Brown

Despite all of the negativity surrounding Vista, the OS does bring improvements in usability, collaboration, and integration with Office 2007, says Joe Toste, vice president of marketing at Equus Computer Systems, Minneapolis, Minn.

Still, resistance to Vista is so strong among ISVs that these firms could decide to either wait it out until the release of Windows 7 or seek alternative operating systems, says Toste, who estimates that Vista Business accounts for 12-15 percent of the systems Equus sells.

"ISVs obviously have some long-term plans and have significant investment in Windows XP where they're looking to go to a different kernel or OS that's much more stable and has a longer shelf life. I think those ISVs have reasons to wait," Toste said.

While MinWin has created a bit of trepidation among channel partners that are evangelizing Vista, Nor-Tech's Swank doesn't interpret Microsoft's move to downsize Windows as a sign that it's abandoning the work it has put into developing Vista.

"I can't imagine that Microsoft is going to give up on Vista, in the sense of engineering a complete redesign. If anything, MinWin will extend off of what Vista is providing," said Swank.

Database Solutions' Brown says MinWin is simply a sign that Microsoft is trying to figure out what customers want and meet their needs. "If the end result of MinWin is that customers have more choices, then that's a really good thing," he said.