Windows 7: Kicking Mac OS Butt?

There is a lot of bad blood this year between Microsoft and Apple. Apple has aggressively launched a negative political-style marketing campaign against the PC giant. While this advertising blitz – you know, the “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” shtick – has been well executed and very entertaining, it’s also had an uneXPected side-effect as well. In short, it’s lit a huge fire under the thousand or so people developing Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 7, and for the first time in over a decade, they’re properly focused on slapping Apple upside the head.

Much like Apple did with UNIX when the life of the company was on the line for OSX, Microsoft has taken Vista and made massive changes in the user eXPerience from how easy it is to use to how reliable it is and how well it integrates with the Web, including non-Microsoft sites and utilities (like iTunes).   Of course, one disadvantage Microsoft has is that it’s talking about most of this during the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) this week, and clearly Apple will see what was done and will have a little time to respond.

Nonetheless, Windows 7 looks to be a promising contender, as compared with the cluster-you-know-what that is Vista. Let’s walk through some of the changes it introduces.

Performance Windows Vista was much slower on the same hardware than Windows XP was. With Windows 7, there likely will still be some problems in terms of incompatibilities with hardware that was designed for XP too.   However, Windows 7 has been reworked to address the core problems that made Vista slower and has been enhanced to make better use of current hardware and scream on the PC hardware that will be coming next year. An example of the XP problem is that in Vista, open windows consume more memory for each window that is open until memory runs out. With Windows 7, each Window you open consumes no more memory, and memory utilization simply doesn’t increase appreciably regardless of the windows you open which speeds up the platform substantially.   An example of the latter problem is that, during boot sequences, all previous versions of Windows loaded things linearly. A slow-loading driver or application could cause the boot time to extend to painful lengths. In Windows 7 though, these same things load in parallel, so if something is loading slowly other things will continue to load in the background. It doesn’t fix the application or driver that is slow to load, but it does make it much less of a bottleneck.

Finally, Windows 7 was designed with Solid State drives and multi-core processors in mind, because they are a big part of the ecosystem while the product is being developed.   Vista didn’t work that well with SD drives in particular, and Windows 7 should be much better as a result.

Targeting Apple One of the biggest aggravations with the hardware OEMs is that while Windows Vista had iLife-like capabilities, they were neither obvious nor particularly distinctive. While Windows 7 won’t be going after Garage Band, the other core elements of iLife and iTunes are clearly being targeted.   Apple’s historic failing is interoperability with third parties: Neither iLife nor iTunes works well with third-party services or applications.   Windows 7 is designed to not only do what both do, but what they don’t do in terms of interoperability, and interoperate very well.   For instance, Windows 7’s media player will pull from iTunes libraries of non-DRM music and from the largest variety of music types it has ever embraced. In addition, it can take that music and push it out to media extenders, networked media players (like the Sonos), game systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and even other PCs. This is very much like the “embrace and extend” strategy that initially made Office successful and it is only limited by Apple’s unwillingness to license their DRM, something that may change as European Governments focus on forcing Apple to open up or Apple naturally moves to non-DRM technologies.

For pictures and movies, you’ll also be able to quickly drop them into blogging environments, social networking sites and a variety of photo sites near automatically and, once set up, with a minimum of clicks. In addition, cameras, all of which are non-Microsoft, show up as applications under Windows 7 in the tool bar and can be easily connected to related applications which show up in aggregated menus and can be initially set by the camera manufacturer.

User Interface Microsoft has also cleaned up the user eXPerience a great deal and the simplification of the taskbar is only the start. This OS is multi-touch enabled, but will be limited to ten fingers at once and the hardware implementation, which will likely take it down to one or two fingers depending on the technology used. Evidently, massive multi-touch pulls a lot of power which may keep it from some laptops at the start. Then again, it was interesting to note that in terms of intellectual property risk Microsoft indirectly cited prior art and they did have touch on PCs and PDAs before Apple did, suggesting that the company clearly believes it can push back if Apple challenges here.

The taskbar is much simplified with the icons stacking and permanently in place doing double duty as launch icons and as a way to manage applications that have already been launched.   This is something you have to see to really appreciate, but it both simplifies the work of current XP and current Vista users and is, for once, more advanced than the Apple equivalent. This once again showcases the increased competition between the two platforms that likely will eventually benefit both groups as Apple responds to this threat.

Reliability In Windows 7, much like was done in a more primitive way in Windows XP; there is an automated self-correcting process for software that was hard coded for older versions of Windows.   In most cases, an application that won’t install or crashes on load will automatically be analyzed and corrections automatically applied, or applied with the help of the user, so that no help call needs to be made and the problem is repaired in a few short minutes.    For example, in the case of an application that was hard coded to look for Windows Vista or Windows XP, after two crashes, a shim will automatically be applied that should force the application to look at Windows 7 just like it would the OS it was written for, effectively correcting the fault.

For applications that won’t install for the same reason, the user is engaged and asked which platform the application was written for so the right shims can be applied for the same result.   Current applications evidently don’t report back reliably what platform they were hard coded to require which is why this can’t yet be fully automated.

Wrapping Up

A maintenance release has a number of advantages. At its core it’s typically a platform that has been tested in market, in this case Vista, and on the edges are refinements that correct and enhance the offering to levels that can’t be done in an initial release. This is because the initial release is focused largely on making the major changes required and there isn’t yet enough known to determine what buyers will want after they see what has resulted for these adjustments.   In terms of Vita, the initial release missed on a number of key points from performance to reliability and compatibility, resulting in the most successful counterattack from Apple ever.   The result appears to be a maintenance release that redefines the class and creates what feels, initially, to be a whole new class of offering.   One, that is, that not only has the feel of a major release in terms of improvements, but also the painlessness of a minor release in terms of compatibility, usability and reliability.     Many I should have simply said that Windows 7 will be what Vista should have always been.   I think it will be that, and with changes that couldn’t have happened in 2007, something much more.   Look for this product after mid-next year and, unless something drastic happens, eXPect it to change your perception of Windows as an operating system in general.    Still, for Windows 7 to present a real threat to Apple, the one part that remains undone is assuring a quality overall user eXPerience, and much of Microsoft’s success here will still be left up to PC OEMs to secure. Several are attempting to step up to this challenge, but we won’t know if these providers will make enough strides in this regard until the offering launches.   It is in this last part that most of the execution risk resides, and where Apple, as of press time, remains well in the lead.  In short, Microsoft, this time, appears to be doing their part to deliver an operating system consumers will actually want. Now it’s up to their strategic allies, PC OEMs, to close the gap and truly take the battle back to Apple.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


EA is losing out on the true potential of Titanfall studio with ‘Apex Legends’

Apex Legends is a solid battle royale game, but one can’t shake the feeling that its creation was dictated by Respawn’s new owners: Electronic Arts. In the process, the studio’s soul could be lost.

Get the most out of your high-resolution display by tweaking its DPI scaling

Windows 10 has gotten much better than earlier versions at supporting today's high-resolution displays. If you want to get the best out of your monitor, then check out our guide on how to adjust high-DPI scaling in Windows 10.

Tablet or notebook? Our favorite 2-in-1 PCs give you the best of both worlds

If you can’t decide if you need a tablet or a notebook, then don’t bother. The best 2-in-1 laptops are both, and they can provide all the power you need. Check out our list for the best 2-in-1s for any user.

Get the best of both worlds by sharing your data on MacOS and Windows

Compatibility issues between Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS may have diminished sharply over the years, but that doesn't mean they've completely disappeared. Here's how to make an external drive work between both operating systems.

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.

The 'Anthem' demo's crash landing raises more questions than answers

Bioware bravely allowed gamers to see a large chunk of 'Anthem' over two demo weekends, but it backfired. Lackluster missions, performance issues, and muddled messaging over micro-transactions leaves the game with an uphill battle.

In the age of Alexa and Siri, Cortana’s halo has grown dim

In a sea of voice assistants, Cortana has become almost irrelevant. The nearly five-year-old voice assistant is seeing little love from consumers, and here’s why it is dead.

Apex Legends proves battle royale is no fad. In fact, it’s just getting started

Apex Legends came out of nowhere to take the top spot as battle royale in 2019, and it now looks as if it'll be the biggest game of the year. Its sudden success proves the battle royale fad still has plenty of life left in it.
Home Theater

Apple is arming up to redefine TV just like it did the phone

Curious about what Apple's answer to Netflix will be? Us too. So we combed through some patents, and looked at the landscape, to come up with a bold prediction: Apple's streaming service will be way bigger than anyone thinks.
Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?

DMC 5’s greatness is a reminder of all the open world games that wasted my time

Devil May Cry 5 modernizes the stylish action combat while retaining its storied PS2 roots. More so, though, it reminded me that we could sure use more linear, single player games to combat the sea of open world games.