Has Microsoft Learned Its Lessons From Vista?

In a Wednesday post to the Engineering Windows 7 blog, Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, outlined several areas in which Microsoft will seek to improve the performance of the next Windows release, currently slated for early 2010.

As part of the Windows 7 development process, Sinofsky said Microsoft is paying particular attention to performance parameters such as memory usage, CPU utilization, disk I/O, boot, shutdown, standby/resume, and the operating system footprint. Many of these functions caused problems for Vista users, especially those who migrated before Microsoft's release in February of Vista service pack 1.

Sinofsky also described the difficult position Microsoft faces with regard to different groups of Windows users, some of whom want more Mac OS-type bells and whistles, and others who are clamoring for a more streamlined, bare-bones approach.

"We see this a lot with what some have called 'eye candy' -- we get many requests to make the base user interface 'more fun' with animations and graphics (like those found on competing products) while at the same time some say 'get rid of graphics and go back to Windows 2000,'" Sinofsky wrote.

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Sinofsky suggested that Microsoft is well aware of the wide-ranging needs of Windows users and will take this into account in the Windows 7 development process.

"The ability to have choice and control what goes on in your PC is of paramount importance to us and you will see us continue to focus on these attributes with Windows 7," Sinofsky wrote.

Joe Toste, vice president of marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder, says "choice and control" of the user experience isn't a primary benefit sought by end users, but rather a benefit that computer manufacturers want to offer.

"As a Microsoft OEM, I'd love to segment functionality of Vista, because the machines I offer in the low end mainstream consumer segment may not have the CPU and GPU power to run Vista correctly," said Toste. "I want to be sure that end user experience is the best and most appropriate for the performance of the machine."

Added Toste: "I think everyone wants a Mac OS experience or a Vista Premium experience. The marketing works in the Mac world because Apple isn't selling $399-$499 mainstream machines with yesterday's CPU -- they're selling $1,000+ state-of-art hardware."

Apple has the luxury of a much narrower range of hardware configurations to support, and thus provides a narrower user experience to go with that, says Brad Kowerchuk, president of Bralin Technology Solutions, North Battleford, Saskatchewan. "Microsoft is caught trying to be all things to all people and, as a result, can never completely succeed at it," he said.

That could soon change, however. Last month at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting, CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that Microsoft will change the way it works with hardware partners and provide users with "complete experiences with absolutely no compromises", in a move that will also extend to mobile computing.

"We're kind of being attacked from a single competitor with a point of view that is more closed and offers much less choice, that is much more narrow," Ballmer told analysts.

"And yet, we have to tell our story, and you'll hear more about that versus where Apple is coming from, and [we'll] make sure that the Windows PC doesn't just offer more choice, but it offers every choice that you can get on a Mac, or other machine."