Now to be fair, this is not a dig at the quality if Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system. It is aimed more at the lackluster launch of the product itself. In past years, Microsoft would pull out all the stops when releasing a new OS. The hype machine would be running full bore. But this time, Windows 7 was launched with quite a bit of reserve. Sure there were commercials here and there. There was the ill fated attempt at creating launch parties. Did anybody actually go to one of those? I know I never saw or heard of one locally. Still by any standard, let alone the lofty standards of Microsoft, this was very low key. There are numerous theories as to why this occurred, but two of the most obvious are the lackluster state of the economy, and the fact that during the last big launch involving Windows Vista, Microsoft wound up with tons of well deserved egg on it's face. Now in past years, the latter would not have been a deterrent, but I think combined with the economic downturn, it was just too much for even the mighty Microsoft marketing machine to over come. Some have also surmised, that Microsoft's marketing machine just ain't what it used to be.
Since Thursday is one of my nights off, I decided to take a trip to a couple of my usual PC store haunts and gauge the reaction there. At Fry's for instance, there was definitely a bit more traffic than usual in the PC department. There were also quite a few more sales persons milling around than is normal for a Thursday. But alas, milling around was all they were doing. In the laptop area, where most of the traffic was, many folks were crowded around just a few select machines. Out of 60 or so models of laptops and netbooks on display, surprisingly there were only three Windows 7 laptops on display, and three netbooks containing the Windows 7 Starter Edition. The rest of the netbooks had Windows XP, and the remaining laptops sported Windows Vista. Two exceptions should also be noted. There were two Acer Aspire One netbooks which had 11.6 inch screens, one old model and its new counterpart. Microsoft considers this size screen to be a laptop, thus rendering it ineligible for preinstalled Windows XP or Windows 7 Starter Edition. As a result of this "flexing of Microsoft's licensing muscle", the older model had Vista Home Basic, and the newer model had Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. To say the two machines had sluggish performance would be generous. It is a shame really, as the machines are otherwise very nice. The 11.6" size allows for a full size keyboard, and a full 720p resolution screen.
Now over at Microcenter, things were a bit busier, especially in the laptop department. For one thing, Microcenter sells a low end Acer laptop for $299.99 which has proven to be very popular. With the exception of the larger screen, and slightly newer video chip, this is essentially the same laptop as my Emachines D620. Fry's price on this same Acer machine was $349.99. They do bump up the memory to 3gb, but an extra $50 for 1gb ram is a bit steep for my taste. At any rate, the laptop department at Microcenter is easily half the size of Fry's section, and yet they do seem to do a bit more business over there when I have been around anyway. In any case, they had a much larger selection of laptops and netbooks with Windows 7. Even with this, the older models with previous versions of Windows outnumbered the newer ones easily 4 to 1. Being lazy, I employed my cell phone for the rest of my spying. Reports from friends over at OfficeMax and Best Buy were essentially the same story as I found. The end result of all this "spying" was that most folks were just kicking the tires of Windows 7, and they were generally looking at low priced hardware. In other words, machines with older versions of Windows and prices over $500 were very lonely today. Also, as seems to be the norm these days, the desktop PC interest was nearly non-existent with only a few glances here and there. There are also other places locally to buy a PC such as CompUSA and Walmart, but I do not shop at any of those for such products. In fact, I no longer shop at CompUSA at all as their prices are "out of bounds" in my opinion.
The usual Microsoft hype was also mostly absent on the internet. There have been articles and ads to be sure, but nothing approaching the rabidness of yore. For those truly interested in a good review of Windows 7, here is one of the best I have read. A somewhat humorous take on Microsoft's' Windows advertising can be found here. The "official launch" in New York attended by Steve Ballmer was a decidedly a low key affair as well. Mr. Ballmer's alter ego, Monkey Boy, was no where to be found. On one of the internet's most popular computer shopping sites, Newegg, simple banner advertising on the home page is all that is noticeable. For that matter, see if you can spot the Windows 7 references on Amazon.com. All of this leads me to believe that this was definitely a coordinated "low key" effort on the part of Microsoft and it's "partners". They most certainly did not want a repeat of the whole Vista fiasco. While certainly odd behavior for Microsoft, I also find it to be a very smart move. Keep the expectations low, and you are likely not going to be disappointed. Sort of like what I tell women about dating me. But that is subject for another post.
Although this post is about my impressions of the Windows 7 launch, I feel I must include my impressions of Windows 7 itself. First of all, a couple of months ago I downloaded the 64 bit release candidate officially known as Build 7100 RC, and proceeded to try it out on 4 different desktop machines(which I no longer own), and my new laptop. Rather than typing the full "blow by blow" of all the testing and benchmarking I did, I think I will just summarize my overall experience with the RC, and also what I saw today playing with various retail machines. As to the RC version I had at home, the lowest end desktop machines I tried it on had an AMD Sempron LE1250 processor, 2 gb ram, and integrated Nvidia 6100 video. The other machine had a Celeron 420 processor, 2gb ram, and integrated Intel GMA 3100 video. Both machines performed just fine for normal every day use. Even with only integrated video, they ran the Windows Aero video enhancements with no trouble. The laptop specs are an AMD Athlon 2650e processor, 4gb ram, and integrated ATI x1250 graphics. Performance was at least on par with the desktops, and slightly better in some areas I think due mainly to the extra ram. Most desktop PC's being sold at retail today meet or exceed these specs, so you should be just fine as far as general performance goes. The exceptions would be "all in one" desktops and netbooks running the Intel Atom processor.
Speaking of which, the various machines running the Atom processor are just not designed for Windows 7 in my opinion. The few netbooks I played with all had a version called "Starter Edition". I have not really studied up to find out all the differences in this version, but casual research has indicated that it is limited by a few, mostly non essential functions over the other versions. You can let Google be your friend if you wish to find out more. Regardless of any other limitations, I would have to say that these machines are the computing equivalent of a garden snail. In fact, the garden snail would probably win the race. When compared side by side with netbooks running Windows XP, there was really no contest. Clearly Microsoft has some more work to do, or it could be that they are trying to kill the netbook all together as has been reported on the internet ad nauseum. Heck, the aforementioned 11.6" Acer Aspire One running Vista Home Basic could beat the Win 7 netbooks, and the Acer had a lesser processor and graphics to boot! The newer 11.6" Acer running Win 7 Home Premium x64 was also faster although it had one of the new dual core mobile Celeron processors. It was also $399,99 as opposed to the $299 range of the others. All I can say is, "Google, where the hell is that Chrome OS for netbooks you have been hyping!" Hopefully that will come out sooner rather than later as I do not see the netbook surviving after Windows XP peters out. Overall, I would say if you have a PC that is running perfectly well with a previous version of Windows, stick with it. That is unless you just want to upgrade, or you need/want one of the few new features of Windows 7.
And lastly, no review of the Windows 7 launch would be complete without Apple's take on the subject.