How Microsoft is snatching Windows 7 defeat from the jaws of victory

I made the point with rather more swearing on Twitter yesterday, but Joe Wilcox says it without the bad language:

“After commandingly executing Windows 7 development, Microsoft had run off the track right before the finish line. Suddenly, Windows 7 is a disaster potentially like its predecessor. Could anything be worse than Vista?”

What’s the cause of our ire? The insane hoops that Microsoft is making customers jump through to upgrade to its latest and greatest operating system. In response to a query from Walt Mossberg about the upgrade process for different legacy versions of Windows, Microsoft a chart which consist of  6×11 matrix, 66 different options, and a few hundred words explaining the different options.

On one hand, I can understand Microsoft’s predicament. There are a lot of potential versions of Windows that you can upgrade from, and testing all of them with all the different widgets, bits and pieces is tricky to do and even trickier to explain. 

But it’s not the explanation that is at fault: it’s the fact that Windows XP users, the people who Microsoft most needs to get to upgrade to Windows 7, will have to perform a complete wipe-and-reinstall of Windows, plus every application they have, plus all their drivers, and restore all their files from a backup.

I’ve done this a few times. It’s not trivial. It’s not fun. And for the average consumer, it will be a terrible experience as they have to look through old boxes trying to find original install disks, root through their email for download and license details, and generally go through a day’s work.

Here’s the deal: Microsoft cannot consider Windows 7 finished until there is a single-click upgrade from Windows XP. If it ships the product without one, it will miss out on millions of potential upgrades, cause its users considerable pain, and leave Apple laughing all the way to the bank next time those users upgrade their computer.

Windows 7 is a good operating system – in some ways better than the current version of OS X. If Microsoft messes up its release it will not get another opportunity from a big chunk of its consumer customers, and will be handing Apple another couple of points of market share on a plate. 

This might not sound too bad when you consider the commanding lead that Microsoft has in operating system market share. In my next post, I’ll write about why it’s not only bad news – it could spell disaster for Microsoft, and turn John Gruber’s prediction into reality faster than even he imagines. 

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  • John Molloy

    So basically they are saying to get the best experience you have to effectively have a new computer. I wonder if W7 will suffer from the same grinding to a halt that other Windows systems suffer if you just keep using them rather than re-installing and starting again? Do you think, perhaps, that this is a way of Windows 7 appearing to be less kludgy than it’s forerunners just to get it through Christmas? By the time February comes around and everyone’s machine is running like a dog then Microsoft can claim victory again in the OS war as it will take that long for people to discover the downside.

  • Ian Betteridge

    I know. It’s a total facepalm moment. I cannot believe they are being this stupid.

  • Travis

    Almost as much of a facepalm moment as Apple’s current addiction to shooting itself in the head with App store decisions. I think Apple is headed for trouble with respect to mindshare if they don’t stop this nonsens.

  • http://nicksweeney.com nick s

    If the XP to Win7 upgrade is non-trivial and has been withheld for business purposes (keep OEMs happy, cover arse w/r/t Vista), then it’s an absurdity.

    But, has there ever been a release — even a leaked dev build — that has contained an XP updater? I don’t think so, and that makes me wonder if it’s a more challenging process than just slipstreaming the XP-Vista updater. Or whether it was ruled out of the dev process. Or whether the OEMs don’t want it. Or… well, the ‘why’ is as fascinating as the ‘how’.

    Clearly, forcing a wipe-install-migrate (or a ‘new HD or PC’) on XP may present the OS in its best light, by avoiding typical upgrade crud. But whether you’re an apathy holdout or an active Vista refusenik, the idea of reinstalling all your software and customisations on an OS you may have been using for seven or eight years — got all those serials and installer disks? — is not a pleasant one.

  • Ian Betteridge

    Nope, there’s never been a release which included it – and I’m sure it’s not trivial. But it shouldn’t be impossible, either. After all, you could upgrade from XP to Vista as I remember…

  • Wes

    Why couldn’t microsoft ship everybody who preordered 7 a copy of Vista to use as upgrade bate, then? If you bought Windows Vista now, you’d still get a free coupon to upgrade to 7 later.

  • larry

    Upgrading from a similar OS is one thing, 95->98->ME all similar based applications, NT4->2000->XP all same basic NT core architecture. They tried with Vista, which aside from all the problems Vista had with itself, all the additional legacy NT registry keys, system files, etc… it was 100 worse. So, as with many things, its time to let the old things go. That’s why they are starting to remove legacy code… the more old things they have to support, the more bloated and bogged down the new OS becomes. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Windows 8 doesn’t support any applications prior to Vista, especially since they are rumoring about dropping 32bit version from the product line.