Expect the level of hype for Windows 7 to rise again, now that Microsoft has made the Release Candidate widely available for testing. The download page went live a few hours ago and my download is on its way after a few false starts.


If you’re new to Windows 7, the successor to Vista, here’s what I wrote about the initial beta release a few months ago:

Windows Vista has been on the market for two years. It’s mature and stable. Everything works with it except a small number of rapidly aging devices and programs. It has improvements large and small over Windows XP and it’s far more secure. Most people using Vista wind up liking it quite a lot after a surprisingly short transition.

And yet the perception among people who don’t use Vista is that it’s something to be avoided. I heard it again last week from several people replacing Windows XP computers. They can’t describe any reason why they feel that way – they “heard” it wasn’t any good. And they did! From Mac users, who repeat talking points with an eagerness that would make the Republican National Committee jealous. From too many online bloggers and columnists with too much time and too much space to fill. From real people whose experience was spoiled by manufacturers that sold computers that could not run Vista adequately, or that sold computers with crapware that turned the Vista experience into a nightmare, or that failed to support their devices and software for a year after Vista’s release, or that used Vista as an excuse to extort money for upgrades that should have been free.

Microsoft allowed this debacle to develop with inept marketing and advertising, and crucially contributed to it when it created “Vista Capable” stickers to foster the illusion that underpowered computers would run Vista.

Microsoft desperately wants to sweep the “Vista” brand name under the rug, but it has no reason to abandon anything other than the name, since the OS is just great.

Welcome to Windows 7! It will be presented relentlessly as a “new” operating system. I expect Microsoft to avoid using the word “Vista” whenever possible.

So let’s be clear. Windows 7 is Windows Vista with a face lift, and a pretty modest face lift at that. Oh, there are some nice improvements in the arrangements of controls, a few new features, and it performs slightly better on underpowered equipment, but any honest reporting will tell you that it offers nothing important that isn’t already in Vista.

The Release Candidate is close to the finished version of Windows 7, available free for the asking and usable until early next year. Most of you should sit back and watch from a distance. This release is only for people who are comfortable formatting hard drives or creating virtual machines, not for folks using a computer to get work done. I’ll install it on my laptop and in a virtual machine and let you know what to expect.

Windows 7 will begin shipping on new computers in the fall. There was a plausible rumor today that Microsoft is so anxious to clear the air of the tainted Vista brand that it would take Vista off the market as soon as Windows 7 is released. Microsoft quickly denied the rumor and yet I think you can expect a serious effort to differentiate Windows 7 and disappear Vista, even though they are closely related.

Your computing world is changing again. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s for better or for worse; it doesn’t matter if you use a Mac or a PC; it doesn’t matter if you like it. Things are going to change regardless. Remember: you’re young, you’re agile, and you’ve developed a lot of skills in the last few years that you can use to get through these transitions, so you might as well get engaged and look forward to the new features. Heck, this might even be fun.

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