Microsoft Copies Apple With Windows 7 Launch Surprises


I’m at the Windows 7 launch event as I write this, where Microsoft has clearly taken a page from Apple’s playbook. It has held back a number of things in the months running up to Windows 7, so the launch wouldn’t be a rehash of things we’ve seen for months. This is historically been one of the key marketing advantages Apple has: Because it doesn’t do public beta tests, it can release a product and surprise you with its new features. Granted, with Leopard and Snow Leopard, part of the “surprise” was how buggy they were.

So Microsoft held some stuff back and kept it secret, and this launch actually isn’t entirely a rehash of stuff we’ve seen over and over again. Let’s take a look at some of the last-minute reveals.

Amazon’s Surprise

This started yesterday when Amazon reported that preorders for Windows 7 were the highest it had ever seen, exceeding Harry Potter, which previously held the record. Think about this: Harry Potter is arguably one of the popular book series of all time, and an operating system beat it in numbers. This would be like an educational film having longer lines the first day than a Pixar or Disney flick. This just doesn’t happen, yet this week it did.

Best Buy’s Surprise

Not to be outdone, Best Buy attempted to corner the Windows 7 market with a huge list of deals, starting with a bundle of an HP laptop, netbook, monitor, router and a Geek Squad visit to set it all up for less than what an iMac typically costs. They’re selling a total home solution for less than the cost of an average Apple desktop or laptop. This is just part of a number of very aggressive offers from a number of retailers and OEMs (though it is the most aggressive I’ve so far seen).

Best Buy's PC Home Makeover includes a notebook, netbook, desktop, LCD monitor, and router for $1200.

Best Buy's PC Home Makeover includes a notebook, netbook, desktop, LCD monitor, and router for $1200.

Windows 7 Themes

Microsoft launched a series of Windows 7 downloadable personalities (I like the Infiniti theme the best because I drive one). These ranged from car and motorcycle themes, to country themes, to game themes (Gears of War 1 and 2) which allow you to customize the background with rotating pictures tied to the theme. In addition, you can make your own theme, and have it run instead.

New Windows 7 Themes

New Windows 7 Themes

Media Center Goes to War

Media Center has been one of the most underappreciated features of Windows, historically. As we moved to consuming media from digital cable, it increasingly felt out of date. Well not anymore. The product has been optimized for touch, tied to a new set of digital tuners (including those that can take cable card), and now has an Internet TV feature with a huge number of Internet channels to keep you entertained. While the new tuners, at least the ones with bi-directional cable card support, won’t be out until next year. Media Center now looks like it might have legs, which is a nice and unexpected improvement.

Performance and Usability Improvements

We had a chance to meet with a number of companies that had deployed or tested Windows 7, and it was interesting to hear what they liked best about it. They mentioned a number of features that stood out. For instance, Windows 7 will notify you that you need to open a Web browser to fully access the Internet, rather than leave you wondering wonder why the damn thing wasn’t working even though dialog said you were connected. They also liked the incredibly fast boot times (they demonstrated 15 seconds and Lenovo said it was getting 10 seconds in the lab with next generation hardware), improved networking, better drivers, and vastly better battery life. It was like a Windows love fest, and I haven’t seen that in a long time.

Returning Pride to Windows Users

Apple users clearly have a lot of pride in their hardware and this, once, was true of Windows as well. As I spoke to the various test and deployment sites (one had actually deployed 2,300 Windows 7 PCs) I heard, once again, some of that old pride. Folks felt ownership for the product, because they had contributed to it, they were excited about how well it worked, and for once in a very long time were deservedly proud of the platform. Now, if I could get Microsoft to read and understand the book Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, they could really showcase Windows 8 the way it deserves to be showcased. (The event was a little dry, given how fired up the beta testers and customers were.)

In general, though, it’s nice to have a Windows product we can be proud of. Let’s hope this is a trend, and not a onetime shot.